When you live in Japan, from time to time you will encounter words or expressions dropped here and there in casual conversation that might seem familiar, but which you don’t quite understand. These are wasei-eigo (和製英語 — literally "English made in Japan"): pseudo-English words and phrases used in the Japanese language that can actually be quite confusing for native English speakers.
Welcome to a new series, where I’ll be walking you through some of the stranger twists and turns of the Japanese language. As languages go, it’s probably the most reasonable one I speak (certainly makes more sense than English), but it’s different enough from most other languages that there are still lots of things to trip over for a potential student.
Picture this: a typical Japanese junior high school class is suddenly interrupted by the entrance through an open window of a large bee which swooping low and erratically over the heads of the students causes them to duck and squeal creating quite a commotion. Their teacher, a gentleman in his early 50's, beams at the class and announces:
This is the second part of our step-by-step guide to answering a business phone call in Japanese. In Part 1 we looked at appropriate greetings, how to ask the caller’s name, and how to confirm the caller’s details. In Part 2 we will introduce the language you need to put a caller on hold, how to pass the call on to a colleague, and what you should say if your colleague is unavailable.
If you work in a Japanese company, at some point a telephone is going to ring in your vicinity. Being able to answer it in a professional and competent manner will both impress your colleagues and help you feel like one of the team.
Japanese conversation has the added benefit of making it difficult to eavesdrop on peoples’ conversations and understand immediately what they’re talking about. Japanese people can listen to a conversation, but without the background knowledge, even they might struggle to work out what it’s about if the speakers are being careful not to mention the subject of their conversation.