I know the title is very confusing, but you’ll hear these “so-so (そうそう)” and “hi (はい)” a lot in Japan.
Let me explain first about “so-so” because I use this so often and want you to know how confusing but useful this little word can be!
This is completely different from English “so-so,” so it doesn’t mean “average in quality, rather than being very good or very bad.”
Instead, this is used when you 100% agree to a thing that the person whom you’re talking to said, and you want to say “Exactly!” or when you just simply want to say “Yes.” Don’t you say “Exactly!” a lot in your daily life? Well, I do!
This can be replaced with just one “so” as well, but “so-so” is more emphasized word than “so” and more frequently used to show that you completely agree with the person. I sometimes say more than 2 “so”s like “so-so-so-so” just to emphasize it.
When I started working at a coffee shop in Canada, I always said “yes yes yes yes” to agree to whatever my co-worker said. This is apparently because of “so-so-so-so.” Once I explained to her that we Japanese repeat the same word again and again to emphasize what you want to say, she started to use “yes yes yes yes” with me.
Second one that I want to introduce is “Hi.”
This is more confusing than “so-so,” especially for Japanese. I’ve met so many students and friends who said “Hi” instead of “Yes.”
I have a funny story to share with you. When I was in Canada, my baby sister came to Canada to study English as well. One day, my husband (boyfriend back then) visited us and we were on the bus, and he was trying to say some Japanese words, and my sister answered to his Japanese with “Hi” as in “Yes.” Then the guy sitting next to my baby sister showed her a big smile saying back “Hi” to her. He thought she was talking to him! LOL. That was hilarious! My husband still talks about that story.
Anyway, this “Hi” is used when you want to say “Yes.” When you’re called your name at a doctor’s office, in a class, or in the office.
There is another word meaning “Yes” in Japanese, which is “un (うん).” This is very informal but very common in daily conversation.
If you know how to use these words meaning “Yes” appropriately, you’re one step closer to be fluent in Japanese!