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Essay

English aizuchi

By Kip A. Cates

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Having a conversation is like playing a game of tennis. When two people play, they take turns hitting the ball back and forth. If you don't return the ball, you can't enjoy the game!

The same is true for a conversation. If you listen without responding, people think you're not paying attention. If you don't give people feedback, they usually stop talking.

Every language has a special set of expressions to give this feedback. In Japanese, these conversational responses are called aizuchi. They include words and phrases such as hai, naruhodo and wakarimashita. These play an important role in promoting communication and building interpersonal relations.

When giving feedback, listeners have four important tasks: to show that they're listening, to confirm that they understand, to express interest and to provide sympathy.

Let's start with the basics. In informal conversations, the most common expressions to show that you're listening are "Yeah," "Uh-huh" and "I see." These are used when the speaker is explaining something or giving directions.

If a bus driver is explaining how to get to your hotel, listen carefully and keep repeating "Yeah... Uh-huh... I see..." in the pauses he provides. To confirm that you understand, use expressions like "OK," "Got it" and "I understand."

Like other languages, English uses special phrases to express interest, sympathy and surprise. One way to express interest is to echo statements using the verb "do." If your friend says, "I went to Kyoto last week," a good response is "Did you!" or "You did?"

If someone tells you something surprising, use phrases such as "Really?" "Wow!" or "Unbelievable!" If your classmate reports, "I saw Lady Gaga at Haneda Airport!" just reply "Really? That's amazing!"

English has different ways to express sympathy for happy and sad occasions. If someone tells you they're sick, just say "That's too bad!" If they failed an exam, say "I'm sorry to hear that."

If your colleague says, "I got a job!" you can reply "That's great!" If he says, "I'm getting married!" just say "Congratulations!"

If you practice these responses, you'll find that your conversations improve and that people enjoy talking to you. Most of these expressions can be learned from books. Another way is to watch movies to see how native speakers use them.

When practicing, it's important to use an interested tone of voice, proper facial expressions and appropriate body language. It's no good responding to your partner if you talk in a monotone, sound like a robot or look like a statue!

When I study a foreign language, I always begin by learning these conversational responses. I'm proud of the fact that I can use aizuchi expressions in French, Arabic, Russian and Chinese — even if I can't always understand what the other person is saying!

英語の相づち

相づちは会話をスムーズに進め、人とのよい関係を築くために欠かせないものだ。相づちには、聞き手が注意を向けていること、内容を理解していること、興味を持っていることを示す働きもある。

The Japan Times ST: April 14, 2017

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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