The natural barriers to communication and making friends caused by language.
Tolerance to Non-native Speakers
People in multicultural areas such as the West coast, New York, or Toronto have tolerance in speaking English to non-native speakers. Local people are also used to listening to and understanding non-native English.
However, Japanese people don't have the tolerance to speak with non-fluent Japanese speakers, and this creates a barrier at ICU between non-native speakers of Japanese and other students. Because Japan is a relatively homogenous society, most Japanese people have little or no experience talking with people who don't speak fluent Japanese, and therefore don't really know how to communicate with someone who is not fluent.
Even in California and other highly multicultural areas, there are two kinds of people; those who have the abitlity to speak to foeigners and those who do not. Some people have never learned another language and have never been in a situation where they are unable to understand, and therefore lack the paitience and diligence required to communicate with non-fluent speakers.
There are some people who have tolerance in speaking with non native Japanese speakers in Japan and
of course, there are some people who do not like communicating with non-native English speakers in the U.S. Young people, especially teens tend not to have the tolerance or desire to speak with non-native speakers.
"Keigo" or formal language can be a communication barrier. In Japanese, there is a custom to use keigo for elder people or people in positions above you, otherwise it is considered rude. Especially the first time you meet someone, keigo should be used in order to not sound rude. While keigo is useful to show respect or politeness, it keeps a certain distance between people in the relationship. When a relationship begins using keigo, it is hard to switch to "tame-guchi." Tameguchi is plain or casual speech, which is used for younger or lower postion people, but somtimes it can also be used when looking down on someone. Therefore, which level of speech you use upon meeting someone for the first time is a very important consideration.
ICU is a particularly stressful environment when it comes to communicating. There are so many people that are fluent in English and Japanese that those of us that aren't have anxiety about trying to speak a language that we are not fluent in. Also, the environment of ICU allows for NOT speaking Japanese/English...there is always a way to get something done in either language. This makes practicing a foreign language even more difficult because people can automatically talk to you in the language you understand, making it simply inconvenient to practice the foreign language.
Examples / Actual Cases
From my experience, OYR students don't seem to want to use Japanese when they are hanging out with friends, and some students said they don't want to be bothered with Japanese outside of class because class and tutoring is enough practice. OYRs cannot relax when they are using Japanese, or cannot really enjoy themaelves when they have to use Japanese all the time. OYRs want to use Japanese and sometimes try, but it is still different from conversational Japanese. To really relax and enjoy a conversation, a high level of language skill is needed.
OYRs want to use Japanese outside of class, but the problem (specially for native speakers of English) is that most ICU students tend to speak to them in English. So rather than complicate things and make the conversation longer, the task just is just carried out in English.
From the Japanese side and the problem of low tolerance to non-native speakers, the solution is easy. It is important to realize that because OYR's Japanese is not fluent, Japanese speakers must speak slowly, pronounce clearly, and when they dont understand, repeat and paraphrase until they understand.
It is also important to realize that the language you speak upon initially meeting someone often determines the kind of language that relationship will take on, weather that be English, Japanese, or a combination of both.
Listen when your Japanese friends are talking amongst themselves. Try picking up important words or commonly-used expressions, know the context or situation in which they are spoken, and try to use them as much and as casually as you can in conversations. It's a good way to loosen up a conversation and let your Japanese friends know you're actually interested in speaking the language with them.
As for OYRs, if you show that you really want to speak Japanese! If you refuse to resort to English, then your Japanese freinds will eventually learn how to communicate with you.