How to Sound Japanese

After living in Japan as an English conversation instructor for a little over a year, I've finally gotten around to compiling some of the most notable characteristics of English as it is spoken here. So if you're an Asian-American actor who's just landed a role as somebody from Japan, you might want to take some notes. Or maybe you just want to sound like you've been living in Japan so long that it's affected your English because you're a big fan of anime or J-pop or manga or sushi or whatever. Actually, this might be a useful guide if you're planning on moving to Japan and you just want to understand people.

  1. Always use the word "sea" instead of "ocean" or "beach".
    This weekend, I go to sea.
  2. Use the word "soft" to mean "software", even when referring to a video game.
    I want new DS soft.
  3. If there's a verb like "have", "need", or "want" that always needs something to follow it (i.e. a transitive verb), don't worry about including that little thing if it's implied or not important.
    I don't need. I already have.
  4. Avoid using a lot of contractions. (This probably goes for any non-native speaker who learned in a classroom without an emphasis on conversation.)
    My hobby is fishing.
  5. As in the above example, use the word "hobby" whenever you get a chance.
  6. Don't worry too much about little things like articles and plurals.
  7. Use the word "taste" to mean "flavor" (or "flavored") and "type" to mean "style".
    lemon-taste cola, local-type noodles
  8. Use the word "almost" to mean "almost all" or maybe even "most".
    Almost Japanese people like mayonnaise.
  9. Call skinny people "smart" and smart people "clever".
  10. Always refer to recyclable plastic bottles as "PET" bottles.
  11. "Cider" is a really simple kind of soda, and "juice" can refer to any sort of soft drink.
  12. A "souvenir" is almost always some kind of snack treat bought as a present for someone else.
  13. Instead of "bathroom" or "restroom", just say "toilet".
  14. "Fresh" usually means "raw".
    Can you eat fresh fish?
  15. As in the above example, "can" is often overused to mean something more like "do".
  16. The word "cute" means pretty much the same thing, but it's used way more often than it is in America. You might consider saying "cute" instead of "pretty" or "hot" or "sweet" or "funny" or "nice".
  17. Use the word "chance" frequently to talk about opportunities. You can even use the word all by itself to mean something like "Here's your chance!"
    We have good chance for lunch today.
  18. Use the word "lucky" pretty often. It can have kind of mischievous connotations, especially when said by itself with the second syllable drawn out.
  19. "Safe!" can be exclaimed whenever something has turned out all right, much as it is in baseball.
  20. A "drama" is something like a soap opera. They're usually around twenty-something episodes and can actually be comedic. Korean "dramas" are the cheesiest kind.
  21. "Oba-chan" is an actual Japanese word, but it's really common and lacks a good translation, so it often gets slipped into English speech. "Oba-chan" literally means something like "auntie", but it's generally used to refer to a silly, chatty lady somewhere around her late thirties.
    Almost oba-chans love Korean dramas.
  22. "Oji-san" is a sort of male counterpart to "oba-chan" and has kind of dirty connotations.
    This city has only oji-san bars.
  23. Never use the word "lately". Say "recently" instead.
    Recently, I'm working late every night.
  24. Don't hold back on words that sound kind of technical or archaic. For example, you might want to say "seldom" instead of "hardly ever" and "very" instead of really".
    My hometown is very boring, so I seldom visit.
  25. Feel free to shorten long words down. "Television" can be "televi", "apartment" can be "apart", and "Brad Pitt" can be "BraPi".

Of course, if you really want to sound Japanese, you'll have to adjust your accent! This is because Japanese uses different sounds than English and puts them together in different ways. The examples above would actually be spelled something like "terebi", "apaato", and "BuraPi".

If you have anything to add, leave a comment, and maybe I'll update my guide. After all, I've only been living in a fairly small city on the island of Shikoku. English here is bound to be different from Tokyo or Hokkaido.

Labels: , , , ,


At February 19, 2010 12:10 AM , Anonymous Sensei's mom said...
I think this is a great article!! Very easy for all people to understand. You should get this published in a magazine and collect a nice sum. But I'm sure you will eventually published many such teachings. You are a fabulous teacher and son.

Post a Comment