What is “Yasashii Nihongo Training,” And Why Does It Help English Learning? Let’s Take a Deep Dive into the Course Material!
Hello, I’m @Maz from the Language Education Team (LET), a team that works on language policies within Mercari! I am a Yasashii Nihongo trainer and a facilitator for internal communication training. I usually conduct Yasashii Communication training that covers both English and Japanese, but for the course featured in this article that we conducted with the TnS Team, we focused primarily on Japanese. Afterward, participants and facilitators came together for a dialogue in which they reflected on the program and exchanged opinions about what they learned and about what actions they may want to take moving forward as a result.
Featured in this article
Mai Ikeda (@mai.i)Mai joined Mercari in January 2016. After being assigned to handle user inquiries about bugs in the app, Mai transferred to her current post where she is in charge of fraud prevention.
Wataru Yokota (@wataru)Wataru joined Mercari in November 2014 and was assigned to the Trust and Safety Team, where he was in charge of monitoring listings. Currently, he is working on intellectual property rights.
Emi Shimizu (@AmyShimizu)Emi joined Mercari in March 2018 and was on the team that cooperates and communicates with the authorities, responsible for the maintenance of operational flow in the TnS area. Now, Emi is in charge of intellectual property operations.
Yu Akahane (@Hane)Yu joined Mercari in October 2019. After first being assigned to the Trust and Safety Team, he then worked in intellectual property before arriving at his current position where he is in charge of fraud prevention.
Nina Matsumoto (@nina)Nina joined Mercari in May 2022 and is a member of both the Global Operations Team and the Language Education Team. As a specialist in multicultural and multilingual communication, she also acts as a trainer for Mercari’s original D&I training programs such as the Unconscious Bias Workshop and Yasashii Communication that are intended to create an inclusive and comfortable working environment for everyone.
Masayo Oyamatsu (@Maz)Mayaso joined Mercari in July 2018 and is a member of the Language Education Team (LET). She is in charge of the internal Japanese language program and speaking test development and also leads Japanese language lessons. Currently, she is in charge of both Japanese and English program management and she is also a trainer for the in-house Yasashii Communication program.
What does “Yasashii Nihongo” mean at Mercari?
“Yasashii” is the Japanese word for “easy and kind,” and “Nihongo” is the Japanese word for “Japanese,” so “Yasashii Nihongo” means using grammar and vocabulary that is adjusted to be easily understood by non-native speakers.
While this article will highlight our Yasashii Nihongo, Mercari is also unique in that we have Yasashii Eigo initiatives (eigo is the Japanese word for “English”). Yasashii Eigo is a mindset that Mercari members practice on a daily basis so that even non-native English speakers can feel comfortable communicating in English.
At Mercari, we value the concept of “meeting halfway” between Japanese and English. In 2019, we created a unique training program called Yasashii Communication to help more members learn Yasashii Nihongo and Eigo, thus improving daily communication.
We started Yasashii Communication because Mercari has diverse members from more than 60 countries and regions around the world. We asked ourselves, “What can we do to promote inclusive communication without leaving behind anyone who speaks a different native language?” The result has been the Yasashii Communication training program.
Specific examples of Yasashii Communication training
Yasashii Communication training is available on a team basis. The content of the training varies slightly depending on the specific issues of each team, but here is an outline of the training program for the Japan Region Trust and Safety Team (the TnS Team).
We created a program around the theme of “Yasashii Nihongo that is also useful for learning English.” Because we only had an hour for the program, we focused on just the following four topics:
1) Simplify into a sentence, 2) make negation easier to understand, 3) examine sentence subject in Japanese, and 4) Go Bold and rephrase!
The reason we chose these four items is because, although the TnS Team currently has no issues in communicating with each other in Japanese, there are work situations in which they may need to communicate in written or verbal English. Therefore, the first challenge of the training program was to have them transform the Japanese they normally use into easier-to-understand phrases.
Here are some specific examples of what we practiced with the TnS Team; for each of the four topics, we worked on one task at a time.
For topic 1, we focused on coming up with simpler sentence structures.
For topic 2, we worked on paraphrasing double negative expressions. For topic 3, we looked at the subject of a Japanese sentence from the perspective of when it receives a “wa” versus a “ga” particle. We also tried rephrasing the unique term “GMV.” Finally, for topic 4, we worked on rephrasing the Japanese expression for “stuck in limbo.” TnS members took what they learned during the training to formulate and share their own responses from the perspective of making Japanese sentences that are easier to turn into English. Below are examples of the responses our participants came up with for each of the four topics.
1. “Our job is to protect the safety and security of our users.”
2. “I am capable of finishing this task by tomorrow. However, I will have to work very hard to do so.”
3. “This month’s sales have been the best.”
4. “The project is not going well.”
In this session, we tried to tackle each task with more emphasis than usual on sentence structure and subject matter, and it was evident that each member was working out their own unique writing style. Of course there is not only one correct answer, so rather than simply learning to regurgitate sample answers, participants got to experience searching for the correct answers themselves through trial and error.
How did participants really feel about the training program?
We asked the TnS team members who participated in the training what they thought of the training program! The TnS team is responsible for promoting the safe and secure use of Mercari’s services by verbalizing and explaining Mercari’s fair and sustainable rules and policies to internal and external stakeholders.
Below, we will hear from four representatives of the participating TnS team members and two Yasashii Communication trainers who will talk about what they have learned and how their communication has changed as a result of the training.
@Maz: My name is Maz, and I am a Yasashii Communication trainer!
@nina: Hello everyone! My name is Nina and I am also a Yasashii Communication trainer. First, I’d like to start by asking everyone why they wanted to receive training in Yasashii Communication.
@mai.i: Sure! Basically, the TnS Team as a whole was experiencing challenges in communicating with English-speaking members on other teams. Before I joined the TnS Team, I was on a team that reported issues in development and bugs on the app, but many of the engineers with whom I interacted were English speakers, and all meetings and meeting minutes were done in English.
I tried to use translation tools to communicate, but the translation tools weren’t communicating my Japanese very well. That was when I realized that I might be able to solve this problem by changing the way I use Japanese. I consulted @Maz with the hope that if I could write easier-to-understand Japanese, they would be machine translated correctly into English. I hoped that learning Yasashii Nihongo would in turn help me learn English.
Mai Ikeda (@mai.i)
@Maz:After that, we scheduled a meeting with @mai.i, who brilliantly wrote “forget about the Japanese you think you know” in the agenda beforehand! Many people who have trouble communicating with English speakers ask questions about recommended English study methods or English teaching materials, but I was impressed by the fact that her first thought was to look inward and analyze her own language—I thought that was very perceptive.
@AmyShimizu: The TnS Team started to really focus on Yasashii Communication after @mai.i had that realization. Then @Hane found and shared a local government website that provides information on Yasashii Nihongo. That showed me that even local governments, which are closely involved in people’s lives, have also adopted Yasashii Nihongo in a very tangible way.
@Hane: At the time, when I was looking through that website, I noticed that the text was designed to be easily understandable by anyway, and I felt that this could be applied to our daily work at Mercari.
Yu Akahane (@Hane)
@Maz: While it is definitely important for non-native Japanese speakers to learn Japanese if they want to live comfortably in Japan and build good relationships with their peers at Mercari, it is also important for native Japanese speakers to think about the best way to communicate with others in easy-to-understand Japanese. We believe that this will help to achieve smoother communication across the board.
What did participants learn or change about their communication as a result of the training?
Masayo Oyamatsu (@Maz)
@Hane: I have become more aware of phrases that I used to use without even thinking, but can actually be quite difficult to convey in English. For example, when ordering food in Japanese, we sometimes casually say “watashi wa ramen.” However, when translated literally into English, this becomes “I am ramen” (laughs). So, I have found that if I instead use “watashi wa ramen o taberu” (“I will eat ramen”) or “watashi wa ramen o chumon suru” (“I will order ramen”), the translation tool will translate it accurately into English.
@wataru: This program helped me realize how complicated my Japanese used to be; the most important thing I learned was that I was speaking in a way that was not easy for others to understand.
@AmyShimizu: I also had a similar surprising realization about myself—I was unintentionally writing very long sentences with difficult words in my Slack messages. This training program really made me rethink the structure of the Japanese language.
Emi Shimizu (@AmyShimizu)
@Maz: Whether you are interacting directly with a person or indirectly through the use of a translation tool, sometimes you will get a response that is not what you were expecting. Before learning about Yasashii Communication, so you might think, “Why doesn’t this person understand me?” Now I think, “Maybe it was me that didn’t communicate the message well enough… what do I need to change?”
@nina: Were there any specific situations that made you more aware of Yasashii Nihongo?
@Hane: Yes! I actually had something like that recently with the Japanese expression “gadoreru shihyo ” (“guardrail indicator”) used to mean “an indicator used to check if a measure is progressing smoothly.” This was on Slack, so I was able to understand once I looked it up, but if it had been a face-to-face conversation, I think I would have been totally lost. Something I have noticed recently within the TnS Team is that people are more frequently trying to rephrase their Japanese.
@AmyShimizu: TYeah, there are definitely more opportunities for us to think about Yasashii Nihongo on the team! Like if we see someone using Yasashii Nihongo, we react with the “Yasashii Nihongo” Slack emoji.
One specific example of a shift we have made to Yasashii Nihongo is with the Japanese word for “throw,” which is often used to mean “send a message (on Slack).” However, this is not very “Yasashii,” so we have switched to using the Japanese word for “post.” Although there are words and phrases like “throw” that we tend to use colloquially due to familiarity and habit, we believe it is important to acknowledge that these words may not be easily understandable for non-native speakers and make the necessary adjustments.
@Maz: When we don’t understand a word or a difficult phrase, our brains automatically starts to think, “maybe I’m the only one who doesn’t understand,” so it can be hard to ask for clarification. In that sense, I really appreciate when the speaker offers to rephrase in Yasashii Nihongo.
@nina: Yes, I totally agree! At Mercari, people often speak and type using a mix of Japanese and English words and phrases, for example business terminology. Have you ever experienced a situation like this where there was a word you didn’t understand?
@AmyShimizu: Yeah, when I returned from maternity leave about 6 months ago, the first thing I didn’t understand was the phrase “insaito o eru” (“gain insight”), where the word for “insight” was English and the word for “gain” was Japanese.
@mai.i: I have a question for @nina: Which do you find easier to interpret for, a conversation that is completely in Japanese or one where there are lots of English words mixed in?
@nina: I don’t think there is much difference actually. It’s more that if you don’t know the intent behind the words, it can be difficult to translate no matter the language. For example, is the speaker asking a question or just sharing? Who is the target listener? Is the speaker asking someone to do something or not to do something? When I can’t understand the intention is when I have the hardest time.
Nina Matsumoto (@nina)
@Maz: Right, the most important thing for the speaker is to be clear about the basic thing that they are trying to communicate.
@nina: So far we have been talking about changes in how everyone perceives the Japanese language, but have there been any changes to your perception of English?
@mai.i: Oh definitely. After the training program, we took a survey of the participants and found that the number of people expressing resistance to communicating in and learning English dropped to below 50%.
All: Oh, wow! That’s great!
@Hane: Before the training program, I was always stressed out thinking that I have to study English or buy some textbooks, but now that I have had the opportunity to think about “Yasashii Nihongo,” my difficulty with English doesn’t worry me so much anymore.
@Maz: Okay, last question, is there anything you all would like to work on in the future in terms of language learning and communication, either as a team or as individuals?
@mai.i: In terms of English, I think the first step is to understand your own current level. As for Japanese, I want to share anything I learn about Yasashii Nihongo with the rest of the team so that we can have more Yasashii Communication in the TnS Team.
@AmyShimizu: I regularly take a test that assesses my English level, and I want to improve at that. I am organizing a bukatsu (club activity) at Mercari to make handmade cosmetics, and I would like to be able to explain things in easy-to-understand English to non-native Japanese speakers. I would also like to be able to use English more effectively in my own work.
@wataru: I want to be able to smoothly conduct meetings with English speakers without interpreter support. The Yasashii Nihongo training helped me feel more comfortable with English, and I want to keep studying so that I can carry out my projects more quickly!
Wataru Yokota (@wataru)
@Hane: When giving feedback to other teams on documents, I want to try to write in a way that others can easily understand. I think we will continue to communicate in Japanese, but also be communicating more and more in English moving forward, so I want to put more effort into learning English while also keeping Yasashii Nihongo in mind.
When we asked participants about what they thought of the training, they all seemed to share the same opinion—Yasashii Nihongo makes it easier to communicate not only with non-native speakers of Japanese, but with other native speakers as well. Another interesting thing to note is that one participant surveyed responded that after taking the course on Yasashii Nihongo, their resistance to using and studying English decreased. So, if you’re having trouble with English communication, try thinking about it from the perspective of “rethinking your Japanese” instead of just “studying English,” and you may just notice your feelings on English communication start to shift!