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Learn Why Keigo Earns Respect for Students of Japanese

written by: Thomas P. Walton•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 1/8/2009

Keigo is the polite form of Japanese that show respect for both the language and the people who speak Japanese at the native level. Learn why you should incorporate the polite forms of Keigo into your Japanese studies.

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    The First Impression Can Make You or Break You

    When you begin learning Japanese, you study tons of vocabulary, and the basics of sentence structure. As quickly as you would like to start speaking the language, you abruptly become aware that something is missing from your studies. This should not surprise the student too much. Most of your basic Japanese language courses, particularly at the community college level, do not teach the student to recognize the multiple language forms in the Japanese language. Various language forms are used in different everyday situations, including where the speaker and listener stand in terms of social status and age. It becomes necessary to use the respectful form of speaking, especially if you are younger than the listener. People of high status—teachers, professors, lawyers, priests, chiefs, bosses, political figures, and doctors—will well receive a polite speaker. Obviously, one can see why a college course on Japanese omits the complexities of using Keigo (complex, polite language), especially when the student must memorize a foreign writing system which incorporates thousands of characters, grammatical rules, and tons of vocabulary. Never-the-less, when the student takes that first step toward communicating with Japanese native speakers, it becomes clear to the listener whether or not the student has taken the time to learn how to communicate respectfully. In a sense, you’re marked by the first impression you make. As you don’t want to speak like one of the riffraff, you will need to spend some extra hours studying the usage and vocabulary of Keigo. By no means should the student of Japanese consider Keigo an extraneous endeavor. Look on the bright side… being a student of Japanese and speaking Keigo will earn you respect regardless of how well you use Keigo. The fact that you make an effort to incorporate Keigo into your Japanese marks you as one who respects others, as well as having a respect for the language you’ve been studying all this time. As you start to make friends and meet co-workers, or whoever you associate with in Japanese, you will gradually pick up the different forms of Keigo in your conversations, as well as learn how these forms of speaking apply to different situations. The point is to implement basic Keigo in to your manner of speaking, so that in effect Japanese people will regard you with the same courtesy.