Lesson 7: Do you speak English?

I can’t count how many times I’ve asked if the Japanese person I was about to talk to could speak English — and they could!

It’s so nice when they can speak English, even just a little. You’ll find many Japanese people can speak some, but they’re a little shy to try. 

This is a Japanese cultural thing. If they aren’t skilled speakers, they often won’t try — they’ll hide from it.

But you can still ask. To ask if they can speak English say:

anata wa eigo ga hanasemasu ka?

This means exactly what you think “can you speak English?

You can use this phrase almost anywhere. I often use it over the phone when I can’t be face-to-face with someone, and I know the conversation might include some rather difficult Japanese language.

Nope, no English

If they can’t speak English, you’ll typically see the universal sign for no: forearms crossed in an X shape — or you might hear a timid “no” in response. 

If they can speak some English, no matter their level, they’ll usually say “a little.”

Give it a shot though, this phrase can save you in some situations — you’ll get some help from friendly Japanese people with the ability to speak some English.

We’ll talk a little more about the Japanese people in tomorrow’s lesson.