Comic: Talking in a Foreign Language

OB_12_18 comic comics cartoon texan in tokyo foreigner gaijin japan japanese

I’m sure other people have experienced this too.

There is a HUGE difference between one-on-one conversation and hanging out in a group. Ryosuke is the same way when it comes to English. When it’s one-on-one, neither of us really has problems communicating in the other’s language (I mean, of course his English is way better than my Japanese, but I’m getting there). When it’s in a group, though… it’s a lot harder.

I can be having a great conversation with a friend – and then we will run into one of her Japanese friends. Suddenly, they are firing jokes back and forth. I can follow it for about five minutes… but then my mind just kind of gives up. And I start wondering (for example) whether or not penguins can fly.

Can they fly?

Google says they can “fly underwater.” So… kind of?


Like these comics? Check out my comic books (on Amazon):

My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book


My Japanese Husband (still) Thinks I’m Crazy


Confessions of a Texan in Tokyo

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

17 Comments on Comic: Talking in a Foreign Language

  1. Yes same problem here T_T. I would just space out until someone saw me and explain the whole thing to me.. Its muzukashi ne to keep track of group chat haha

  2. I have the exact same problem. My boyfriend is Brazilian and I get lost when he’s having a conversation with his mother. They speak unbelievably fast! And when there’s a group, I really have to concentrate and just end up zoning out after I feel a splitting headache coming on.

  3. I loved this comic because I see my wife going through it. Her Tagalog is basic, but she picks up on stuff when my mom “slips” into it while talking to her. However, when my mom and I start talking or my grandmother and I start talking, she starts to blink a lot and her eyes start following the words from person to person. Usually I try to steer it back to English but sometimes I cant. I just have to translate after.

    I tell her, she’ll get it someday. I think.

    • I used to be like that when my husband spoke to his parents in Japanese. Now I can follow along like 70% of it when it’s just two other people… but if you add in another person, it drops down to like 30%.
      Good luck to your wife!

  4. Funny. I lose track of the conversation so quickly, that my mind just floats away. The conversation comes back my way eventually though and I am caught flat footed. Sometimes I completely miss that they are even talking to me..

  5. Omiiiigooosh, I understand your feelings so much. And it’s only been recently that I realized I shouldn’t beat myself over not understanding Japanese in group situations. xD

    Every week I go to group language exchanges, and I also meet 1-on-1 with a tutor.
    Whenever I meet with a tutor, we always talk entirely in Japanese. I can usually follow along with what their saying. I don’t always know how to respond properly, but I can, at the very least, hold a conversation.

    But whenever I go to the group language exchanges, or meet with a bunch of Japanese friends all at one…Ooooh boy. Yeah. Suddenly I can only understand like 15-35% of whats going on. Even if they aren’t speaking at full speed! Gah! It’s so hard to follow!
    So my mind starts to wander a bit too… But I keep doing aizuchi, so it looks like I’m following, but then suddenly someone will ask a question to me, and I’ll have a moment of “oh shi- what were they just talking about” lol. (Which in turn makes it obvious that I wasn’t fully paying attention, and can be a bit embarrassing,)…But whatever. xD It’s all part of the learning experience!

  6. My former Chinese coworkers always used to ask my husband how it was possible for us to communicate. Most of them probably thought that my Chinese is really bad because they only knew me from group settings where I obviously didn’t get most of the conversation and just sat there not saying anything. I often ask my husband what people were just talking about and this has helped me learn to follow group conversations a little better.

  7. Whenever there’s a group of us Chinese hanging out with my Australian brother-in-law, I make it a point to try and steer the conversation back to English. But he thinks we’re crazy anyway.

  8. Anonymouse // 29 January, 2015 at 3:35 pm //

    Grace, I think you’ll find that most (if not all) of the bilingual/multilingual commenters here can sympathize with your comment. The good news is that you won’t feel like that forever!

    For me, the first two years here I spent learning the language at a school. Since I was surrounded by other foreigners who were also learning the language, we developed a way of talking with each other that worked well. But after graduating and entering into normal Japanese society, I suddenly was in a position where understanding my Japanese classmates and friends became almost impossible. They spoke dialects, had common interests with each other that I didn’t share, and used words that I never learned in my language school. For the first year, talking one-on-one with someone was fine, but any time we were in groups, it was all I could do to keep up with the conversation–the only time I could contribute anything is when I was directly asked a question.

    But over time I found myself struggling less and less to understand the conversation and being able to contribute more and more. As I found more friends who shared my particular interests, less conversations left me in the dark. My ability with the language improved and my speaking became more natural because of all the exposure I had to those groups. Now, while speaking one-on-one is still easier, I have no problem participating in group conversations.

    Obviously, you are in a different position than I was so your experience will be different. But, I think I can safely say that there WILL come a time when you will feel comfortable chatting in groups of Japanese people. And, even though it’s hard now, believe me that the experience you get IS going to help your Japanese improve. Good luck!

  9. Oh man, I do that in English too. XD I just have a terrible attention span when it feels like there’s something I can’t really relate to (inside jokes/references to TV shows throw my mind into thoughts of “I wonder if teleportation were to ever become a real form of transportation, how would it be regulated? Would you need a machine, or would it be a skill? Part of your physical body?”)
    I think brain tune outs are great for extra creative thinking, don’t you? XD

  10. Same here! That’s something you can’t really experience in a classroom either><

    I find watching Japanese TV (variety shows) helps me practice following the conversation and gives me a bit more pop-culture knowledge to contribute with.

  11. Love that you actually went and found out!

  12. Hi Grace! Finally found my kids a Japanese tutor so hopefully when they get older they don’t have that issue but I cam imagine it must be hard.

  13. Shingo Nakatani // 29 January, 2015 at 11:49 am //

    Dear Grace

    You might like to check this website???? LOL

    All the best,


  14. Hahaha! I am the same way! Most of the time I personally tune out the conversation. For example, my husband and his family are trying to decide which restaurant we will go to eat. I don’t listen to the process of how they arrive at their decision because half of them are speaking Taiwanese (which I don’t understand) and half are speaking Chinese (which I do understand), I just tune in for the outcome.

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