There are various reasons why you should learn Japanese! If you’ve listened to plenty of Japanese conversations in real life, films, anime, and other instances, you may have noticed that the listener is often just as vocal as the speaker during the exchange. This is because grunting or interjecting is a natural part of conversational Japanese. Should you forget to say the occasional “hai”, “un”, or “sou?”, your silence may be misconstrued as indifference or disagreement. Meanwhile, including such utterances can go a long way in establishing rapport. Below, we talk more about 相槌 (Aizuchi) and its importance in your Japanese studies.
Defining and understanding Aizuchi
We all have been taught not to interrupt when someone is speaking from an early age, but this is the complete opposite in Japan where interjecting is important to show you are following what someone is saying. This is called Aizuchi, or the repeating interjections that indicate your attentive listening and genuine interest in a conversation. Aizuchi can be likened to saying things like “yeah”, “uh-huh”, “and then?”, “I get it”, and so on in English.
Many English speakers already use these interjections in everyday life, but Aizuchi takes this to another level by being relentless. Thus, Japanese listeners often talk just as much as their conversation partners.
As mentioned, neglecting Aizuchi may make you come off as a bit distant or uninterested if you don’t practice it when speaking Japanese. Seeing as how engaging in natural conversations with native Japanese people is essential to conversational fluency, this is one step you cannot afford to miss.
If you’re wondering why making eye contact is not enough, there are times when staring directly and nodding just doesn’t cut it. In fact, this could have the opposite effect, with the speaker getting frazzled and repeatedly asking if you understand or are paying attention. If you participate in a language exchange and your Japanese conversation partner is talking in English, they are likely to expect an “mhmm” at the very least.
Tips on using Aizuchi
Some of the most common Aizuchi words you’ll hear in Japanese conversations include:
“Un” is used by men and women alike in casual conversations, with their English equivalent being “uh-huh”, “yup”, “yeah”, and so on.
“Hai” is another common Aizuchi word used in casual and formal Japanese situations, but more so in the latter and among women. It is the same as saying “okay”, “yes”, and “uh-huh”.
“Ee” is another common word typically used among ladies who are close to one another or in a familiar setting. It can be interpreted as saying “gotcha”, “that’s right”, and “yes”.
“Sou” is the simple way of saying “I see” and can be repeated like “そうそうそうそうそう” for emphasis.
In English, saying yes is generally associated with agreement, and while you may not necessarily be of the same mind as the speaker, you should still use the above-mentioned Aizuchi words to express that you’re all ears and leave your disagreement to your facial expressions. Furthermore, take care not to interrupt with your opinion if the speaker does not ask for it first.
Should you strongly oppose what is being said, there is a silent way that Japanese natives express their disagreement: inhaling sharply through one’s teeth to create a slight hissing sound similar to when you see someone getting injured.
Responding To Aizuchi
Aizuchi can take some time to get used to for many Japanese learners as they may stop talking or apologise for interrupting after hearing an interjection. To avoid any potential awkwardness, here are three things you can try:
1. Include natural pauses when talking
Allow the listener to interject even when you already know what to say. Try pausing before or after saying “but”, “and”, “however”, and so on in your sentences.
2. Make a quick reply when the listener interjects
Reply with a quick “right?!” 「でしょ！」, any of the “yes” Aizuchi words if the listener interjects without you pausing.
3. Simply continue speaking
Pushing through with what you were saying is also acceptable and a simple nod will suffice to acknowledge an Aizuchi.
Aizuchi is one of those small yet significant concepts in the Japanese language that many learners tend to overlook. Recognising and incorporating Aizuchi in your conversations can take your conversational skills to the next level and get you closer to fluency.
To learn more ways to up your Japanese skills, consider enrolling in a Japanese class in Singapore today! At Japanese Explorer, our personalised and effective teaching methodologies conducted by native Japanese instructors come together to help you achieve your desired fluency sooner than later.
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