I’ve heard many foreigners complain about how Japanese people refuse to speak Japanese with them even though they could speak Japanese. Many of these complaints stem from their experience in approaching Japanese people in the Japanese language but have these Japanese people reply in English. Their argument is: “if I speak to you in Japanese, it means I can speak Japanese. It’s rude to reply in English.”
However, if that is considered rude, then I’ve also seen many of these foreigners behave impolitely. Many times I’ve seen a Japanese person approach English speakers in English, and the first thing the English-speaker says is, “日本語で大丈夫ですよ (It’s okay, you can use Japanese).” I’m not sure if that is to imply “your English sucks and my Japanese is better than your English” or if that is an expression of arrogance to convey the fact that they can speak Japanese.
If you believe that you speaking to them in Japanese means that they should respond to you in Japanese, then I think you should do the same if they start the conversation with you in English. If you insist on changing the language to Japanese because you think their English is bad, then perhaps you should think that of your own Japanese language skills when they decide to change it to English. But if you want to use Japanese because you want to practice, then I believe Japanese people have their right to want to practice using English too. So why should you be prioritized over them?
I’ve had my share of experience in getting English replies from Japanese people even though I started the conversation in Japanese. I usually think my accent must have made it difficult for them to understand me and that is something I should work on. If a Japanese person starts a conversation with me in English, I usually reply in English and do not see the need to make known my knowledge of the Japanese language unless it is proving to be a huge obstruction to our communication. It doesn’t matter to me if they think I don’t speak Japanese. After all, if the purpose of communicating is to convey ideas, it doesn’t matter what language is being used.
So, the next time you complain about Japanese people responding in English, think about what you do to Japanese people when they speak to you in English first.