Expressions of Modesty and Deference in Japanese Communication
In this unit you heard a person expressing modesty when receiving a compliment from another person on his ability to speak Japanese. When someone compliments the Japanese on good work, nice clothes, a beautiful house, a wonderful dinner, etc., it is customary for them to downplay their abilities, possessions, etc. While negating a compliment may be considered a sign of lack of confidence or even insincerity in some cultures, the Japanese frequently use it as an expression of modesty and deference in daily communication. As a case in point, consider this conversation:

“That was a wonderful meal! You are a great cook, suzuki san.”
“Oh, no. I only followed a recipe. Anybody can cook.”
“I certainly can’t. Could you teach me?”
“Can I teach? Oh, no. You cook far better than I can. I’m the one who needs to take lessons from you.

Suzuki may be seen as too modest by American standards, but this is socially acceptable behaviorin Japan. This humility is only seen as avoiding appearing to be arrogant or conceited.

~ ne
In this unit you also heard ne at the end of sentences, as in nihongo ga wakarimasu ne. It is roughly equivalent to the English “isn’t it?” “aren’t you?” “don’t you?” etc. The use of ne shows that the speaker expects the listener to agree with him or her. You will hear this used frequently in Japanese; in fact, some people may end virtually every sentence with ne. Living in a more collectivistic society than the U.S., the Japanese value being aligned with and maintaining harmonious relationships with others. The frequent use of ne illustrates their desire to avoid creating any potential for conflict or disagreement with one another.

Conversation
A: すみません。 にほんご が わかります か。
sumimasen. nihongo ga wakarimasu ka.
B: すこし。
sukoshi.
A: あなた は アメリカじん です か。
anata wa amerikajin desu ka.
B: はい。 えいご が わかります か。
hai. eigo ga wakarimasu ka.
A: いいえ、えいご が わかりません。
iie, eigo ga wakarimasen.
Vocabulary
わかります か。
wakarimasu ka.
Do (you) understand?
にほんご が わかります か。
nihongo ga wakarimasu ka.
Do (you) understand Japanese?
えいご が わかります か。
eigo ga wakarimasu ka.
Do (you) understand English?
わかりません
wakarimasen
don’t understand
わたし は にほんご が すこし
わかります。
watashi wa nihongo ga sukoshi wakarimasu.
I understand a little Japanese.
はい、 わたし は アメリカじん です。
hai, watashi wa amerikajin desu.
Yes, I am American.
おはよう ございます。
ohayōgozaimasu.
Good morning.
おはよう
ohayō
early
ございます
gozaimasu
(suffix for politeness)
いかが
ikaga
how
です か
desu ka
are?
いかが です か。
ikaga desu ka.
How are you?
げんき
genki
fine
げんき です。
genki desu.
I am fine.
おかげ さまで
okage samade
thanks (to you)
げんき です、 おかげ さまで。
genki desu, okage samade.
I’m fine thanks (to you).
こんにちは。
konnichiwa.
(greeting – mid-morning until dark)
さようなら。
sayōnara.
Goodbye.

ne
don’t you
ありがとう。
arigatō.
Thank you.
ありがとう ございます。
arigatō gozaimasu.
Thank you (polite).
じょうず
jōzu
skilled/able/good
じょうず です。
jōzu desu.
You are skilled.
じょうず です ね。
jōzu desu ne.
You are skilled, aren’t you?
じょうず じゃ ありません。
jōzu ja arimasen.