Business Japanese: Why Do You Need It?

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Business Japanese: Why Do You Need It?

[Guest Blog Post] Eli Wood is a freelance content writer from Massachusetts. Eli studied and tutored Japanese throughout college and now helps businesses grow by using the right words. You can connect with Eli on LinkedIn or visit their website.

If you know Japanese culture or have been studying Japanese for a little while, you’ve probably heard of business Japanese. Japanese is a hierarchical language, which means that there are different levels of formality, especially in speaking. This is especially important when it comes to the workplace and your professional relations. Learning business Japanese can go a long way in advancing your career and impressing those in higher positions.

What is Business Japanese?

Business Japanese, also referred to as Japanese respect language, is the most formal you can get in everyday life. It can cost you if you don’t use it at the right time, and if you’re looking for a job at a Japanese company, you definitely want to know when that time is. Being too casual can cause offense and may even cost you the job. As a Japanese language learner, if you make a mistake, it’s likely you’ll be forgiven while you’re still learning, but if you’re going to rise up in the corporate world, you’ll want to brush up on your 敬語 (keigo).

敬語 (keigo), or polite language, will get you far in business settings. This means mastering 尊敬語 (sonkeigo) and 謙譲語 (kenjougo) – honorific and humble language, respectively. If you get that far, you’re doing great, and you’ll be taken more seriously in business conversations.

Business Japanese is intimidating at first glance, but when you think about it, is it really that different from speaking respectfully in English (or any other language)? After all, you probably wouldn’t greet an English-speaking CEO with “hey, man” or use vulgar language at your Very Important Meeting. You’d greet them with a “good morning,” use phrases like “please excuse me” or “forgive me,” and address them using a respectful title like “sir” or “ma’am.” You’re already mindful of your language in business settings. The practice is more extensive in Japanese, but if you’ve already learned how to speak professionally in one language, what’s stopping you from doing it again?

When Should You Use Business Japanese?

There are a bunch of situations where respectful language is necessary, or at least preferred. You’re probably most familiar with its use in the corporate setting. You use business Japanese when speaking to your boss, or anyone else who is higher on the corporate ladder than you are, and in meetings or interviews.

You’d also use formal Japanese when you’re speaking to a customer or client. This is where the 謙譲語 (kenjougo) comes in. You want to appear humble in the presence of those you’re trying to sell to. If you don’t use business Japanese in these settings, you can lose the sale and some credibility. In fact, sales is one of the few scenarios where NOT using correct business Japanese won’t cut it. If you want to have a successful sales career, learn business Japanese and learn it well.

Lastly, respect language goes beyond the workplace. If you’re talking to someone who you view as your senior (even in age or experience), it’s better to err on the side of formality. Address them respectfully, especially if you’ve never met them before.

Why Do I Need Business Japanese?

We’ve already covered some of this, but basically, if you want to advance in your career, business Japanese will do you many favors. It will show those who are in higher positions that you’ve really made the effort to get where you are and learn about Japanese language and culture.

If you’re a Japanese language learner, knowing business Japanese and respectful language might give you a leg up on other candidates after the same job. Not everyone gets so involved in a language that they delve into its nuances. You might think it’s standard, but not everyone sees it that way.

Knowing Japanese respect language will help in your day to day life, too. If you’re not the one selling something, you may be on the other end of that conversation. Maybe you’re looking to buy a home or rent an apartment. Real estate is a big area for business language, and if you understand the seller’s speech and how to navigate it, it’ll save you a lot of hassle when making important purchases.

How Can I Learn Business Japanese?

There are tons of resources out there! There are plenty online, including this vocabulary guide for beginners from FluentU. When it comes to books, Japanese for Professionals from the Association for Japanese-Language Teaching is a comprehensive text that many learners find helpful. You might also consider getting a dictionary with business Japanese words once you’ve learned the basics of how to use it.

Whatever method you use to learn business Japanese, just make sure it’s updated. Like any language and culture, Japanese evolves all the time. Updated resources come out every year, and you want to keep on top of them as much as possible.

One last thing: if you want to test your business Japanese, try taking the Business Japanese Proficiency Test, or BJT. This exam is offered in a number of countries, and it’s worth taking to see how far you’ve come. Plus, if you can show a potential employer that you, as a Japanese language learner, have learned business Japanese, it can earn you points in the hiring game. You can register on their website and choose a day and time to take the test when it’s convenient for you.

In the end, if you’re planning to work in a corporate or sales environment, learning business Japanese is vital to your success. Even if you start out knowing a little, you’ll learn over time and advance more easily in your position. Business Japanese isn’t necessary for everyone, but even if you’re not entering a field where you’ll need it every day, it’s useful to have some knowledge of it if you’re planning to live and work in Japan.

Have you studied business Japanese or worked in Japan? Share your resources below and tell us about your experience!

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