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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

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ドイツ-日本研究所 Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien
〒102-0094 東京都千代田区紀尾井町7-1
上智紀尾井坂ビル 2F
Tel: 03- 3222-5077


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Communication with Foreigners in Japan: A Sociolinguistic Discussion(日本における「外国人とのコミュニケーション」を問う)

2006年11月22日 / 6.30 P.M.

Teja Ostheider, Kinki University

This presentation deals with the communicative behaviour of Japanese people when talking to foreigners. Based on the results of an empirical survey I conducted with Japanese nationals and foreign residents, I will discuss how psychological factors such as attitudes, stereotypes and former experience affect the communication between these two groups.


The results show that communication with foreigners in Japan is widely associated with the use of English. However, the respondents reported communicating primarily in English only with foreigners from Western countries, while with Asian foreigners Japanese is the primarily used language. Stereotypes that tend to associate a “foreigner” with a person from the West and “foreign language” with English can be regarded as a significant factor in this contradiction. Another one is that native speakers’ experiences imply that the ability to communicate in Japanese is lower in the case of Western foreigners in comparison to Asian foreigners. In relation to this result I will discuss attitudes amongst Japanese native speakers concerning the “difficulty” of the Japanese language itself. Further results of the survey suggest that non-linguistic factors such as outward appearance and origin of the foreigner may have a greater impact on the linguistic performance of the native speaker than the actual language ability of the foreigner and therefore may lead to inappropriate communicative behaviour.


I summarize by pointing out the necessity of a more objective and realistic education and awareness about “foreigners in Japan”; especially in order to abolish stereotypes on “communication with foreigners”, which are based on a one-sided orientation to the West and therefore not applicable to the majority of foreigners in Japan.

Teja Ostheider holds a Ph.D. in Sociolinguistics from the University of Osaka. He is full-time lecturer in the Department of Language Education at Kinki University, Osaka.

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