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  • Christina Theodorakis-Itagaki

The Difference Between English and Japanese, Part 1

When you talk to people in English, have you ever realized how we ask a negative question and answer with a negative to agree?


Person A: We don't have an NDA, right?

Person B: No.

The funny thing about English that I never realized until I started learning Japanese is how we say no when we're agreeing to these kinds of questions. Before studying Japanese, I never used to think twice about how "right?" is just an unnecessary rhetorical question and the real question is "We don't have an NDA?"

As a matter of fact, in Japanese, even if the question were only "We don't have an NDA?", you would have to respond with a yes in order to say "Yes, you're right; we don't have an NDA." Before learning that answering no to the same question if asked in Japanese would contrarily mean "Yes, we do have an NDA," I used to misunderstand these answers in Japanese for the English meaning, which would always be the opposite. Now imagine if you were like the younger me but in a business setting with a Japanese partner or client. Japanese people use English with the same logic they use in Japanese, so in my example above, you could expect a Japanese businessperson to answer the non-Japanese businessperson with a confusing yes.

There are more situations where English and Japanese don't quite match up, leading to miscommunication. If you need help communicating with Japanese companies or employees, feel free to shoot us a message!

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