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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lesson 1.2: Reading the Air

In Japan they sometimes use abbreviations of their words as rendered in Romaji, such as JK[Joshi Kousei(female HS student)], IW[Imi Wakaranai(don't understand the meaning) and KY[Kuuki o Yomenai(cannot read the air, in this sense meaning the situational context)]. This manner of speaking is dubbed KY Go(K.Y. speak, rooted from the aforementioned abbreviation), and ties into arguably the most important skill you'll need in speaking the language: reading the air and reacting appropriately.

The key point of this isn't simply stating what you want them to hear, but to sit, listen, and relate what they've told you at their level. This factors not only into what is stated, but also what is not, including reading a person's tone of voice, body and facial language, along with appropriately recalling any information they may reveal to you at some point. Of course, as one can completely fail to read the air, one may also over analyse it and read it wrong, so remember to find your balance and read the info you need to make the correct judgment of a situation.

Also keep in mind how a person acts in a public setting(called Tatemae, or public face) is often much different from what they truly think at the home, and how they act in a private setting(called Honne, or true face). Also bear in mind any social obligations they have to their company, friends or family, and you to them(called either Giri[which involves balancing the personal life with any obligations their way of life calls for] or Gimu[where when nothing else will do to repay something, loyalty is given in it's place. Also the blanket term for both concepts, when bringing them up in discussions. More on both later on]). Once you have a grasp on these, you can better read situations presented to you, and have the right action ready to go(there's more you need to know, and that will covered at a later date).

To help you build these skills, try it with your own friends and family. Ask them about their day and pay attention to the things they say and what they do as they say them. The more you do, the more you'll notice their habits, as well as nervous ticks they may do in response to not telling the full story. Rubbing the back of the neck, hiding their hands in their pockets, among many other actions that may be unique to them and their situation. Let everything they show you flow in to your memory banks, and use all of that to form your response and how you can best approach the situation while building your relationship to them.

If you're ever stuck or confused, ask yourself: Am I reading the air?(Kuuki o yometeiru ka). If you're not, do so and make the appropriate action. Be sure to further investigate these concepts (via Google or any on/offline literature you find on the subjects)to sharpen your knowledge on the subjects and better know what actions are needed when interacting with those you meet. (one book I'd recommend is I Know What You're Thinking, by Dr. Lillian Glass to start, and build on. Remember to use both the literature you pick up on the subject and your own experiences to help you make better decisions on each individual case)

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