A Japanese person I know and who works where I do, came out of his building at the same time I was walking by, as I was leaving work the other evening. His English is good and he asked me in English why my Japanese skills aren't better. His question caught me off guard and I didn't really have an answer. Soon after, we parted ways, leaving me to think about the encounter.
In the first place, I felt attacked. How do my Japanese skills affect him? In the second place, what does he know about my skills? At work I only speak English. I am an English teacher. My job is to speak English. If someone doesn't understand me, I say it another way or speak more slowly, or at times have drawn a picture on my white board. But, at work I only speak English and I only see this person at work.
If I had been asked if I’d like to have better skills, of course I would say yes. That said, I get by rather well with the skills I have. I live in an area without naive English speakers, and outside of work, not many people who speak any English. I can handle my local business at the bank or the post office, or when shopping. I can't read an entire food label but I know some food kanji and know I don't want to buy something when meat 肉 is an ingredient. I can greet my neighbors and answer questions that people ask me when I am out and about. (Yes, people ask me many questions, like where am I from or if my hair is real, or comment on things I do, like going to work earlier than usual or walking fast). I was able to make online vaccination appointments on a Japanese website. I have traveled all over Japan mostly by myself and don't have language difficulties. My kanji recognition and sign reading is getting better, and I can get where I want to go and do what I want to do. English signage in places like Tokyo is great, but I often go to out of the way places without much English.
Granted, I can’t do everything I need to do by myself. I am thankful for the help of my friends in those situations. Earlier this year, I received a notice in the mail from the gas company that I didn’t understand. My friend called the gas company and found out they wanted to change my gas alarm and she made an appointment for someone to come to my apartment.
I don’t know why I am so put out by this. I do feel attacked and I’m not used to anyone in Japan treating me like this. We all have just 24 hours in a day. I could choose to study Japanese more instead of stitching or doing the other things I do with my time, but I make my own choices. No one else can or should try to make choices for me. I resent being asked why my Japanese isn’t better.