I’ve got an article in the Japan Times today titled “Keep calm before carrying on when speaking Japanese.”
The idea for the article was prompted by a recent experience at work. One of my Japanese coworkers asked me to proofread an email—a request to meet with someone—and it was immediately apparent that the guy needed slow way down: He had jumped into the core of the request before doing the basics (e.g. introducing himself, saying where he works and what his role is).
When using a second language, it’s easy to fall into this trap. We get so focused on figuring out the linguistic gymnastics for whatever the main point is—which is important, because it is main, ya know—that we forget all the bells and whistles of language that help us sound ordinary. And sounding ordinary is what will give the listener the opportunity to understand what it is we want/what it is we want to say before we even ask/say it. It’s powerful.
確認(かくにん) is one of these words, and using it to presage a question gives your listener the ability to shift into a question-answering, information-providing mindset. Thinking back, I think I may have said ちょっと確認したいんですが more than any other phrase in Japanese. Highly recommended phrase.
The key is to stay mindful of your situation. Conversation is a give and take. What have you done today (in Japanese or in English) to help your listener understand what you are trying to communicate?