Japanese, but a British mommy? (Part 2) 母としての言語はどちら?(Part 2)

What’s the Magic Word?

Several posts ago,(Here) I mentioned a friend (initial M) who was conflicted with her own linguistic ability as a mother.  She is Japanese and her dominant language is Japanese, but she is struggling with the use of Japanese with her daughter.  Well, I noted the other day that, even though she is trying to use Japanese more constantly with her daughter, she is still using English when she scolds, provides direction, or dictates for her daughter. When I asked her about it, she said that she is still conflicted when it comes to giving direction to her child.  She is looking for ways to translate how she speaks to her child in English into Japanese and running into some issues.

M and I have a fairly similar way of parenting. We both try to respect our children where we can, but at times, we scold (pretty harshly even).  The basics of Western (gross generalization here based on what we know of American and British parenting) style is to teach our children to say “please” by using it ourselves.  “Speak to a child as you would want to be spoken to”, is a golden rule. We repeat, “Please put your shoes on”, “Please finish that last broccoli on your plate”, “Please come sit next to mommy.” And we usually respond to most of what they say with “…and? where’s my please?” M, being more of a British mommy, does exactly that in English. Every action of her child starts with “Please”.

Here’s the trouble. The Japanese counterpart of Please is お願い or o-ne-ga-i. Simple enough you think.  So in Japanese, “Please come eat your dinner” would be, 「お願い、こっちに来て晩御飯食べようね」(Onegai, kocchi ni kite bangohan tabeyoune).  Now, if you are Japanese, this sentence sounds a bit off to you.  お願い in Japanese is not just a word that is similar in meaning to “Please”.  It also is the verb “to wish”, or “to request”, and that meaning is probably stronger when used in a Japanese context.

“Please” in English is a manner word.  You invite a few of your friends over for dinner, when dinner is ready, you call them over and say, “Dinner is ready, please come have dinner.” You’re not really requesting or wishing that they would come to the table, they came with the intent to have dinner and you invited them to your house for that purpose.  Therefore, in Japanese, the use of お願い in this scenario would not make literal sense. Even in English, you don’t need the word “please” to make sense, it just sounds nicer.

So as M is making the transition from her English to Japanese parenting, she doesn’t know what to do with her “please”. She feels like something is missing if she doesn’t say it, but in Japanese, it makes no sense.  In Japanese, manners are communicated by changing the whole sentence to the proper form.  For example, “Dinner is ready, please come have dinner” can take on the following forms:

With a very small (very) close group of friends, it would be,「準備出来たから食べましょう」(junbi dekita kara tabemashou)

With co-workers, 「準備出来ました、召し上がってください」(Junbi dekimashita, te-buru no hou-e irashitekudasai)

And so on.

The tone and the words used are very different.  And I’m making a lot of effort to keep the sentences similar.  In an actual proper situation, I would have an extra sentence or two apologizing for the wait, etc. and I would probably stop using the word table and instead use the term for individual seat. Even more complicated, in English, “please” is “please” whomever you use it with, in whatever situation.  In Japanese, it’s not so.

These are casual forms that sound like you’re just asking:

  • お願いね~  Onegaine~
  • お願いよ   Onegaiyo
  • お願い    Onegai

These are the more proper forms:

  • お願いします                        Onegaishimasu
  • お願いできますでしょうか    Onegaidekimasudeshouka
  • お願いいたします                 Onegaiitashimasu

There are many more, but I figured six would be enough to make my point. None of them really fit in with how a mother talks to a toddler, but they all translate to “Please”. The casual forms may become more appropriate when a child grows older, going to school on her own, and if you are asking them to pick up some sugar on the way home.

“Can you please pick up some sugar on the way home from school?”


Gakkou no kaeri ni satou kattekitekurenai? Onegaine.

That sounds much more natural in a mother daughter conversation.  Can’t wait to be able to have these conversations, but with toddlers, not there yet.  The very simple use of “please” in one language is very difficult in another.  So how do we address this?  How should a Japanese child request for things? ….That’s another topic for another time.


Mさんも私も子供を出来るだけ尊重しようとは普段から思ってるんですが、叱るとこはしっかり叱る、きつく言う、という子育てスタイルです。英語でそれをやる場合、Pleaseを頻繁に使います。“Please put your shoes on.” “Please finish that last piece of broccoli on your plate.” “Please come sit next to mommy.”みたいな感じにね。ま、最初はそこから始まって、だんだん時間が経つにつれ、崩れていくわけですが…

が、問題は日本語にPleaseに匹敵する言葉がないんです。ほとんどの辞書や学校で習うのは ’お願い‘ ではないでしょうか。でも、それが、実際に日本語にするとおかしいんです。 “Please come eat your dinner” が「お願い、こっちに来て晩御飯食べようね。」になると、おかしいですよね。お願い、には’Please’より、もとの熟語としての意味、つまり ’to wish’ または、’to request’ の意味合いが強いと思うんです。母親が小さい子供に晩御飯食べてってお願いするのはおかしいですよね。食べなきゃ後でお腹空くのは子供だし。(何故さっさと食べてくれな~い!?心の叫び)

考えてみたらPlease は英語ではマナーを伝えるために使う言葉と使われる事の方が本来の”お願い“の意味で使われる場合より多いんではないでしょうか。 例えば、前述の”Please come have dinner”も、友達が晩御飯を食べに来たとしても、普通に使いますが、別にお願いしてるわけでもないですよね、だって晩御飯に招いたわけだし、相手も晩御飯を頂くつもりで来たわけで、別にPleaseを着ける必要は特にない。でも、つけた方が優しい感じがするから一応つけます。そんな感じで使われてるPleaseの様な言葉をMさんは日本語で子供と話す時にどうしたら良いか分からなくなってしまっているわけで。英語での子育てで、いちばん大事にされているPleaseがない、となると日本語でどう子供に話しかければいいのかをまだ試行錯誤中。という話をして、私もそうだ!と気づいたんです。私もすぐに英語を交えちゃうのはそこなんだ!

日本語では、話しかける相手によって、話し方自体を変えて考えますよね。例えば、晩御飯の例で言えば、「OXちゃん、こっちに来てご飯食べようね」とも言えるし、「こっちに来て早く食べなさい」とも言えるし、それは日本人として母親をやっている人はきっととても自然に選べる言葉な筈なのに、Mさんや私みたいに中途半端になっちゃうと、どちらのトーンを普段使っているのかが分からなくなっちゃう。で、どちらもしっくりこない。英語では、Please come have dinnerの許容範囲が変に広い。子供じゃなくて、友人にも、会社の同僚相手でも、使えてしまうわけで。日本語では相手によって、「OXちゃん、こっちに来てご飯食べようね」とも、「準備出来たから食べよう」 とも、「準備出来ました、召し上がってください」と当然違う言い回しを使うんですが、英語では、”Please come have dinner” で全てオーケー。その手加減がとっても難しいんですわ~。(泣)




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s