I understand, I do. In Japan it’s difficult to find cheap English lessons that are convenient for a hectic schedule. Usually, real eikaiwa lessons run at about ¥20,000 per month on average. That’s one month where you might only get about three or four lessons because you need to cancel most of your lessons due to work, kids, hobbies, etc.
You also think perhaps, due to a very common misconception, that all foreigners don’t find random interruptions as rude. You see foreign people in movies and TV shows randomly finding each other and becoming friends, and your teachers may even encourage you to find a foreigner to strike up a conversation.
“Don’t be shy!” Your sensei might say, “Be brave and try it out!”
However, foreigners aren’t all the same. Some Americans are fun loving and extroverted people who love to make new friends, but then there are some Americans who don’t want to interact with new people, they like their own people and don’t really want to extend their social circle any further. Some Australians are adventurous and want to try everything, but then there are some who want to chill at cafes and never go out past city limits.
Basically every person, no matter their nationality, is different. Each person will have an introverted or extroverted personality, a good day or a bad day. I know you want to find people who will sit down with you to talk, because natural English can be hard to find at eikaiwas or school, but don’t expect every foreigner to be willing to talk with you.
I’m more of an introverted person at heart. I like to sit and talk for hours with my friends, but when it comes to meeting people for the first time I’m not very good at chatting. I like to meet new people through friends of friends, through commonalities, not randomly at cafes or on trains. It makes me nervous, anxious, and just all around uncomfortable.
I know many foreigners who aren’t like me, who come to Japan to teach English and feel it’s their obligation to teach English to everyone. Be they friend or stranger, some people take on this mantle of English teacher both inside and outside of the classroom, because they believe it’s so very important for Japanese people to learn English.
I applaud their enthusiasm and their commitment. Personally, I will gladly teach English in my classroom, I will talk with my Japanese English teachers, I will sometimes teach my Japanese friends new English words, but I don’t want to be an English teacher for every single member of Japan’s population.
Although, I wasn’t always in this mindset. I used to be the go-getter, the one who did free, random English lessons. But then I discovered there are people who can’t be trusted, and I shouldn’t be a free eikaiwa.
Usually, it was at cafes, and it was usually a man but sometimes a woman. They would say something like, “HELLO! My name is ______! Can I sit with you? I would like to practice my English.”
At first I just said, “Sure, no problem!” and I would have interesting conversations with new people.
Then many times, after I’ve allowed someone to use me as a free English lesson, I will get harassed again at the same coffee shop. They will come up to me the next time, and the next, and they will ask for my LINE or Facebook, or they might look me up on Facebook without my permission to add me. As a single woman living in Japan, this scared me, and I blocked these sorts of people, and then I would never go to that coffee shop again.
“But they’re Japanese!” You may say, “They can’t be dangerous!”
I disagree. Whether someone is Japanese or foreign, they can become stalkers. Perhaps they only wanted to be my English speaking friend, but I don’t want to be that kind of friend. I don’t want to be used for my friendship, it just feels wrong to me. Also, I don’t want to risk my safety, just for a possible “friend.” I would rather be cautious.
Still, people would ask for English lessons, over and over again. I would get so frustrated, because I felt it was necessary to teach them, so I tried to keep it to simple and short chats. In the five years I’ve lived here, I can’t count how many times I’ve been approached to become, essentially, a free English teacher.
By year four, I was done. I couldn’t let my job become my life, and I couldn’t let strangers take away my coffee shops from me.
Nowadays, when I sit down at a cafe, I want to sit in peace. I want to browse the web on my iPad and sip on my coffee. If I’m approached by someone like you, who wants to practice English, I’m sorry, but my answer will be no. Well, I’m usually very polite in saying no, “I’m sorry, but I just want to have some coffee and relax, so no thank you.”
Sometimes people are kind, they smile and say, “Ok, I understand!” and they leave me alone. Sometimes people are a bit upset and ask, “Why?” and I have to say something like, “Because I’m busy.” and then ignore them. I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t want to be a walking, talking eikaiwa anymore.
Sorry, but it’s just how I am. However, if you want to talk to people in English that’s more natural, here’s some advice:
1) Join an Language Exchange– There are many groups available on MeetUp. Search for one near your area with English and Japanese available. These are usually free or the price of a coffee, and they’re usually at cafes too!
2) Find a Teacher to Fit Your Needs- There are so many sites. My-Sensei or Hello-Sensei are both great resources for finding a personal teacher for cheaper than the eikaiwa. Also, there aren’t any package deals, you just pay per lesson! No contract, just direct message and contact. You can choose between one on one or group, so you and your friends can learn English together.
3) Go to International Events– Unlike at cafes or restaurants, international events will have many foreigners who are talking and mingling, and it’s less rude to strike up a conversation with someone foreign here (it’s actually expected). Find out where your nearest International Association is and sign up for their event newsletters.
If you take my advice, you’ll find that these settings are better for learning English instead of finding random English speaking foreigners anyway. After all, not every foreigner comes to Japan to teach English, and some foreigners don’t even speak English. And as I said before, different personalities means there will be different reactions to asking for an English chat. Besides, women like me who are very cautious simply don’t want to take risks with strangers.
Please don’t give up trying to learn English, but please keep in mind that not all foreigners are free eikiawas.