AIZUCHI: Synchronizing Movements - An Interesting Culture of East Asian Countries

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Written by: Hoàng Nhi + Triều My

A GLIMPSE OF CULTURE | JAPAN

For East Asia regions, in cultural communication, humans demonstrate the politeness that humans frequently express like listening without interrupting others’ words, laughing uncontrollably, or doing noisy activities while the other person is talking, such phrases as “Really?”, “So, that’s it”, “Yep”, “Yeah”, and so on.  In addition, they either make direct eye contact to indicate their concern or employ body language if they intend to state their point of view. Namely, nodding in agreement, refusing with a shake of the head, or putting up your hand before speaking.

In contrast, there is a distinct difference in Japanese culture, they had a notion that silence synonym for non-concentrating, unwilling to listen, or not interested in what they are referring to. It could be said that no nation is as shy as the Japanese, and making eye contact when speaking to someone is not a favorable idea. Therefore, the Japanese have opted to incorporate Aizuchi into their daily conversation to substitute for phrases “Indeed”, “That’s it’’, “So, that’s it”, etc.

Aizuchi was evolving into a uniquely Japanese communication-based culture for which no other nation gets it. This article will assist those who are getting ready to learn Japanese and wish to seem more natural while speaking combined with utilizing Aizuchi.

1. What is Aizuchi?

Aizuchi (back-channel) are phrases, sounds, and conversational interjections speakers use to communicate with one another, and recognize the people who are focusing on participating in their conversation, including “Indeed”, and “Really?”.

Sometimes, Aizuchi points to exclamatory words such as “Ah”, “Wow!”, “Oh”, and “Ohoh” together with gestures of the correlative body, merely that wide eyes, gapes, and often brief words or sounds.

aizuchi japanese

   In English, some Aizuchi words would be translated as “Dear”, “Ah!”, “Oops”, Yep”, “Well’, “Wow” or “Oh” to convey the real feelings of speakers.

            In Japan, “Uh-huh,” “yes,” “truly,” “I see,” “I get it,” “right,” and other similar expressions are similar to aizuchi.

  •         Some frequently used Chinese exclamation words, and phrases, include “!” which means “Yep” or awesome, “哇!” means “Wow”, or “太好了!” means “Well-done!”.
  •         In particular, the exclamation words used in Korean are very varied such as “진짜?” – “Really?”, “우와” – “Wow”, “! ”​​ – “Ah!”, etc.

In essence, Aizuchi is primarily used for:

  • Responding to whatever the speakers are speaking.
  • It is guaranteed that you are genuinely listening and paying attention.

2. Common Types of Aizuchi

There are numerous Aizuchi varieties in East Asia, which are classified according to various standards. Here are 2 typical classification schemes:  

1. Rely on Functionality

Aizuchi is categorized into 5 fundamental types:

(1)   The signal that you are listening: this Aizuchi type has come up many times in Japanese conversations. Some words are often met , ええ, はい, うん (yes), そうか, そうなんだ (really?), etc.

(2)   The comprehending signal:  はい (yes)わかった (got it), うん (uh), うんうん (Uhuh), etc.

(3)   The approving signal: そう, そうそう (yes/ yes yes), ほんとうだ (it’s real!), ねえ (yeah), そうね (that’s true), etc.

(4)   The negative signal: いや (no), いやいや, いえいえ (no-no), etc.

(5)   Status expression: えっ, へえ (ồ), あっ (Ah), ほんとう (It’s true?”, いいなあ (Ok!), マジで (Really?”), etc.

 

2. Rely on the Levels:

There are 3 types: beginner (1), intermediate (2), and advanced (3):

  •         Type 1: Beginner is simple structures or short Aizuchi words.

For example はい (Yes), うん (Uh), うわー (Wow), ああ (Ah), なるほど (So, that’s it), etc.

  •         Type 2:  Intermediate is some phrases like paraphrasing, or rephrasing a part or the entire content in another way.

For example:

A:  先月日本に行ってきたんだ! (I recently returned from Japan last month)

B:  へえ? 日本に? (Oh, going to Japan?) – the sentence’s point of view repeats the opponent’s words.  

A:  ええ、お花見に行ったよ!すごく綺麗だった。(Uh, I went to view the cherry blossoms. It’s nice!)

A:  へー、花見に行ったんだー。私も日本にいきたいなあー。 (Oh, have you gone to view the cherry blossoms, right? I either want to visit Japan) – the sentence’s point of view repeats the opponent’s words. 

·         Type 3: Some Aizuchi phrases that reiterate the opponent’s emotion are a sign of advanced language.

3. Examples Of Aizuchi

The examples below will instruct you on how to acknowledge and use Aizuchi (back-channel) in any circumstances. In particular, when you utilize it to interact and transact business with partners in meetings, conferences, or social gatherings with the intention of demonstrating your courtesy and sincerity to avoid disagreement.  

  • Example 1: Agreement

The people often use back-channel, nodding, or injections as other people said. In a circumstance when there is an agreement, it typically manifests as both a brief response like Aizuchi and a protracted response like a conversational injection. 

B: Yesterday I stepped on a piece of broken glass in the street.

A: Seriously? Are you okay? Did you get hurt?

B: I tried to pick it up, and I cut my finger.

A: Oh…

B: I couldn’t leave the broken glass on the street, someone else could get hurt, you know?

A: Yes, I would do the same if I were you. Please take care of your finger.


  • Example 2: Sympathy

Interjecting can also be used to demonstrate understanding and support for the other person.

           A: What’s wrong? You don’t look so good.

 B: (Sigh) This is outrageous. Yesterday my boss yelled at me for something that wasn’t my fault, but I couldn’t argue with him.

           A: I’m sure you just need to explain yourself more.

           B: I don’t know how to get rid of this frustration.

A: It’s natural to get frustrated, don’t worry. This kind of thing happens to everyone! 

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  • Example 3: Speak further

           A: Hey, you look happy today. Any good news?

           B: Guess what? I’m seeing someone!

           A: Oh, Really?

 B: Well, I met her at a hanami party last spring, and we’re going out for dinner tomorrow.

A: That’s wonderful! That is such good news, you look so happy, and I’m happy for you!

4. The Meaning Of Aizuchi In Communication

 Using Aizuchi in conversation is not a strange tip in East Asian countries communicating culture. Aizuchi is rated as one of the most effective and popular ways to show the concentration and care of the listeners to the conversations that they are having. It makes the conversations better and creates more spaces and also consolation for everyone joining discussions.Furthermore, Aizuchi is regarded as one of the polite factors in East Asian countries’ communicating culture. 

Without Aizuchi, the speakers might think you are uninterested in what they say or you are distracted. For example, according to a group of authors Yukiko Abe Hasata, Kazumi Hatasa, Seiichi Makino in the book “Japanese communication, culture, context”, instead of using eye contact, the Japanese use many ways to show that they are listening to each other, one of the typical ways is using Aizuchi. This is also applied to other East Asian countries.

A particular way of using Aizuchi in the conversations is when people have a call on the phone, without Aizuchi, they do not know if the others are still listening or not. 

Aizuchi has become an indispensable part of communicating in East Asian cultures. By studying about Aizuchi’s meaning, people also have a better understanding about East Asian cultures. East Asian people respect and appreciate other people’s emotion; they tend to agree more than disagree (evidence is that there are more Aizuchi with agreement tones than Aizuchi with disagreement tones).

An interesting fact is that using Aizuchi is not only applied in East Asian countries according to geography, some countries which are nearby East Asia also use Aizuchi in their conversations, such as Vietnam.

8. How To Use Aizuchi Effectively When Communicating?

Although spotting Aizuchi in the conversations is not difficult, using Aizuchi effectively as a native speaker is quite hard and requires a lot of communicating experience. However, there are some key points that you need to know if you want to understand and use Aizuchi effectively: 

  • Based on the uses of Aizuchi (showing care and concentration to the conversations), first of all, you have to genuinely care and listen to things that the speakers say. Only when you sincerely care, you can use the right Aizuchi. This is the most important key that leads to using Aizuchi skillfully. 
  • Do not use the same Aizuchi during the whole conversation because the other people might think you do not really care about what they said and you only reply politely. This might make the conversation come to an awkward end. 
  • Adjust your voice and tone to be suitable with the speaker’s voice and tone. It shows the connection between the listener and the speaker. 
  • Have a suitable outer emotion because in any conversation, body language and outer emotion are also very important parts to make the conversation go well. 

Conclusion

Aizuchi is one of the most paramount parts of East Asian communicating culture so understanding Aizuchi well is also a way to study more about East Asian culture. Good luck to you! 

Feel free to leave a comment in the comment section under this blog to share your opinions and experience about Aizuchi. All opinions and recommendations are welcomed! 

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