Although I am probably under qualified to answer this question adequately, I’m going to give it a try. For many years, before I did very much travel, I was under the impression that English was quite widely spoken. Gee, I was very wrong… only between 8% and 9% of the population of the world speaks English. By 2050, this could be below 5%. This may surprise many English speakers, as it has been my experience that many Australians, Americans and English expect a certain level of understanding, no matter where they are???
I’m not sure why this is? Cultural arrogance, maybe? Anyways, I hear many English speakers asking questions in other countries, and when their question is met with a blank stare, they ask it again, only slower and louder?
It is true that many Japanese learn English at school. Just as many Australians learned French and German. I know my French is incredibly limited. A few sentences at best. I also know that many Japanese learn written English, but tend not to speak it, and have little conversation practice. That being said, even if the guy behind the counter at the kombini understands what you are asking, there is a very big chance that he will not answer you, for fear of saying something incorrectly. The concern of mispronouncing something, or saying something offensive, really does stop people from trying out their skills. Etiquette and manners are paramount, so if in doubt, don’t say anything!! Of course, this is a grandly gross generalization.Some people will want to chat, as much as they can.
We found that many people spoke no English and it was not really an issue. If you can say good morning and thank you, everyone will be happy…