Aizuchi: Active Listening in Japanese Conversation
To master Japanese conversation, you must learn the art of aizuchi: the way to indicate to the speaker that you are listening with attention. Aizuchi covers all the interjections that Japanese people use during a conversation to show they are actively listening and paying attention to the speaker. The absence of aizuchi would signal the lack of interest, or even disapproval. Although interjections are common in other languages, Japanese takes it up a notch. To the beginner’s ear, it can seem like a constant interruption of the conversation.
Being silent during a conversation in Japanese can create an awkward feeling for the speaker. If you are not uttering any sounds at all, despite keeping eye contact and nodding, a Japanese speaker can start to become anxious and wonder what’s wrong.
It’s important to note that aizuchi and agreement are not one in the same. The nuance is a bit difficult to grasp at the beginning, but just remember that Japanese interjections mean “I understand, I got it” but not “I approve, I agree”. Be careful not to misinterpret “I am listening” for a mark of an agreement.
Here’s how you can express aizuchi:
– はい: hai Yes,
– ええ: ee Yes, right, sure.
– うん: un Yeah, yup.
All of these translate to “yes”. However, hai should be used in formal conversation whereas ee and un should be used in more casual contexts.
The Sou Variations.
Many Japanese interjections are based on そう sou that can simply be used alone as “I see”. It’s often used to express the listener’s excitement. In casual conversation, the expressions are shortened.
– この歌集が大好きけど、悲しい曲多くて・・ kono kashu ga daisuki kedo, kanashii kyoku ookute…
– そうそうそう！sou sou sou!
– I love this singer, but most of his songs are sad…
– Yeah, that’s right!!
Here is a list of sou expressions (note which ones are used in casual vs formal conversations):
– そうですか: sou desu ka “Is that so” or “really?” (*formal)
– そうなんですか: sou nan desu ka “Oh really?” (*formal)
– そうか/ そっか: sou ka/sokka “Is that so”, “really?” (*casual)
– へーそうなんだ: ee sou nan da “Is that so/right” (*casual)
– そうですね: sou desu ne “I see…”, “that’s true”, “that’s right” (*formal)
– そうですよね: sou desu yone “That’s right huh” (*formal)
– そうだね: sou da ne “That’s right” (*casual)
Expressing “I got it.”
There are a couple of ways to express “I got it” in Japanese, and naruhodo is one you will hear quite often. It can be broadly translated as “I see”, “Aha”, “Hmm” or “Indeed”. You can use this as a way of saying “that makes sense”.
– こうすれば、簡単ですよ。kou sureba, kantan desu yo.
– If you do it like this, it’s easy.
– I see!
You may also hear: たしかに（確かに）tashika ni which means “surely”, “indeed”.
Showing Your Surprise!
If the speaker is providing new/surprising information, you can mark your astonishment with a loud hee! (translated as “really!/what?!). The bigger the shock, the longer the vowel – just listen to a group of teenagers chatting and you’ll see there can never be too many vowels in へえ:
– 愛ちゃんがアメリカ人と付き合ってるって知っている？ai chan ga amerika jin to tsukiatteru tte shitteiru?
– へええええええええええ?! heeeeeeeeee?!
– Did you know that Ai chan is going out with an American?
– No way!? Seriously! Get out!
The surprise can also be marked with hontou (“really?!”) or hontou ni (“seriously?!”):
A: 愛ちゃんがロシア人と付き合ってるって知っている？ai chan ga roshia jin to tsukiatteru tte shitteiru?
B: へー本当？ee hontou?
C: 本当に？！hontou ni?
– Did you know that Ai chan is dating a Russian?
If you are told an incredible story, you can express your feeling using:
– うそでしょ。sou desho
– You’ve got to be kidding, no way.
Using Aizuchi Properly
To master aizuchi, a Japanese language learner must listen to Japanese speaking. Lookout for a pause in speech, often after a grammatical marker showing the end of a thought or idea. You can quickly punctuate the conversation with a sou or a naruhodo. A big part of learning to speak is listening, so try mimicking the interjections you hear around you and practice them in your own Japanese conversations!