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3. American Pictures

  I . Communicating in English

3. Expressing Opinions, Agreeing, and Disagreeing: 

  English speakers like to express their opinions.Friends talking about how to spend an evening, businesspeople making decisions,co-workers talking about current events, students in a literature class discussing a book--in cases like these and many others, English speakers express their opinions, agree and disagree.In fact, they often find such discussions very enjoyable.

  In contrast to English speakers, Japanese do not really enjoy expressing their opinions, especially not openly and directly.When they do express opinions, they are often vague, or they say what is expected of them, based on their roles or positions, rather than their actual attitudes. However, it is important, when you communicate with English speakers, to express your own views clearly and to express agreement and disagreement appropriately and politely.Japanese people are often uncomfortable with this, but to communicate effectively with English speakers in English, they need to learn to do it.

  There are a number of expressions used to indicate that a statement is an opinion. These include expressions like "I think/thought...," "I believe...," "In my opinion...," and "If you ask me...." If the opinion will be negative (that is, if the speaker is disagreeing or stating an opinion that the hearer will not like), speakers sometimes use expressions like, "Frankly...," "To be honest...," and "To be quite frank...."

  In addition, opinions are sometimes expressed just by using words that indicate value judgments. For example, "That was a good book," "I love chocolate cake," and "The governor should consider a new program," are all expressions of opinion. It is also possible to express an opinion by asking a question, especially if the question is worded negatively. "Wasn't that a terrific idea?" "Don't you think thathairstyle is attractive?" "English is difficult, isn't it?" or "Wouldn't you agree that Japanese students study too hard?" are all expressions of opinion. Speakers usually use questions only if they expect the listener to agree.

  If someone expresses an idea that you want to agree with, you can use expressions such as, "I think so, too," "That's right," "That's true," "I see what you mean," "You're right," and "I agree."

  Sometimes Japanese people use expressions like, "I understand," or "I see what you mean," as they listen to a speaker of English. Similarly, Japanese speakers might indicate agreementnonverbally, for example, by nodding. The English speaker might get the impression that these expressions indicate agreement. However, the Japanese person may not have intended to communicate agreement.If you do not agree with what the speaker is saying, you should not use expressions like these orcontinually nod during the conversation.If you do, the English speaker you are talking to might be surprised to find later that you did not agree.

  Disagreeing is, of course, more difficult than agreeing. It is often necessary to use expressions to "soften" the disagreement.In some English classes, Japanese students are taught that English, unlike Japanese, has nolevels of politeness.This is not true.Especially if you are disagreeing, you often need to use higher levels of politeness. This is particularly true if you are speaking to a person of a higher status. For example, expressions like, "You're wrong," and "I disagree," are not polite. Such expressions as, "I don't think so," "You have a good point, but I think...," or "What you say is true, but in my opinion...," are more polite.(The last two expressions are used when the speaker can agree with part of the other person's opinion. It makes the expression softer if it includespartial agreement.) The British tend to be particularly careful in expressing disagreement. They commonly use expressions like "I wouldn't go so far as to say that, but...," or "One can't be too sure about this sort of thing, but..." Disagreement can also be expressedjust by expressing an opposing opinion.

  It is not easy to know when you can disagree in an English speaking culture. Generally, English speakers feel more free to do so than Japanese people do. However, this does not mean that you can disagree with anyone you are speaking to, anytime you feel like it. For example, it is not always a good idea to express disagreement with a person of higher status. However, there are certainly exceptions to this. For instance, if you are participating in a class discussion, it is usually acceptable to disagree with your teacher if you can support your opinion. If an issue is unimportant, it may be better not to disagree. There are exceptions to this rule, however, such as informal discussions in which people are expressing various opinions on political or social issues.

  Besides expressing your opinion and agreeing and disagreeing,you need to be able to give reasons for your opinion.This adds toyour contribution to the conversation and makes the conversation more interesting.

  Expressing your opinions, giving reasons for them, agreeing, and disagreeing are all important to good communication with English speakers. (830 words)

  Vocabulary :
  1. co-workers :
    people who work together
  2. hairstyle :
    way of fixing one's hair
  3. nonverbally :
    without words
  4. continually :
    frequently; repeatedly
  5. levels of politeness :
    states of being more or less polite;degrees of politeness
  6. partial agreement :
    agreeing with only part of what someone says

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  Skimming Exercise  :
  1. What do English speakers like to do?
  2. What expressions are used to indicate that a statement is an opinion?
  3. If an opinion is expressed as a question, how is it usually worded?

  True/False Questions : 
1. English speakers find discussing opinions enjoyable. T or F?
2. Japanese usually express their opinions directly. T or F?
3. Only statements that include expressions like "I think..." are opinions. T or F?
4. "To be honest," is used to express both positive and negative opinions. T or F?
5. "Isn't that a great song?" is one way of expressing an opinion. T or F?
6. "I think so, too," "That's right," and "That's true," are some ways of agreeing with someone else's opinion. T or F?
7. Japanese and English speakers may have misunderstanding when Japanese indicate that they understand even when they don't. T or F?
8. It is easier to disagree than to agree. T or F?
9. English does not have different levels of politeness. T or F?
10. One polite way of disagreeing is to express agreement with part of the opinion. T or F?
11. In English, you can disagree with anyone, anytime you want to. T or F?
12. There are exceptions to the general statement that it is better not to disagree with people of higher status. T or F?
13. You should just give your opinion without giving a reason for it. T or F?

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  Organization Exercise :
Put the following statements in the order that they appear in the reading.
  1. Opinions can also be expressed by making statements with value judgments.
  2. When disagreeing, you often need to use higher levels of politeness.
  3. You should not indicate agreement if you do not agree.
  4. English speakers like to express their opinions.
  5. Negative questions are sometimes used to express opinions.
  6. It is not easy to know when you can disagree.
  7. Expressions like "I believe..." are used to express opinions.
  8. Expressions like "You're right," are used to express agreement.
  9. Japanese are often vague in expressing their opinions.
  10. You should be able to give a reason for your opinion.

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  Discussion Exercise: 
  • Why do you think that Japanese people tend to express their opinions vaguely or try to avoid expressing their opinions?
  • How does this reflect Japanese culture?
  • In what circumstances do you feel comfortable expressing your opinion clearly?
  • When is it hard for you to do so?

  •   Note: This material is copyrighted and exclusively distributed by Asahi Press in Japan. It can be copied and used outside of Japan only.

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    Copyright (2004) by Kenji Kitao