Paul's Blog

Native Language Guide: Japanese

If you are a native Japanese speaker, you know the term, "wasei ego" and what it means. For those readers who are not native Japanese speakers, let me take a moment to explain.

The phrase, "wasei ego" means, "Japanese-made English" and refers to Japanese language expressions which superficially appear to come from English, but in fact do not. These words were originally borrowed loanwords deriving from English but have become so embedded into the Japanese lexicon that they are re-fashioned to create a novel meaning – diverging from its original intended meaning.

So let's take a look at some words and sounds that trip up Japanese speakers most when speaking English and some "wasei" English words.

Some popular "wasei" terms are:

Baby car - instead of saying stroller, pram or baby carriage

gasoline stand - instead of saying gas station

free size - instead of one size fits all

potato fry - instead of french fries

guard man - when they mean security guard

So, you can see, while these terms are close, they might cause a native English speaker to do a quick double take before realizing what a Japanese visitor might be referring to, but by no means are they impossible to grasp.

Some physical sounds that are difficult for native Japanese speakers to pronounce in English:

The /r/ sound is particularly tricky for the Japanese. When it is at the end of the word, for example as if far, Japanese speakers tend to not pronounce it at all.

It is important for non-native English speakers to remember the /r/ sounds is never silent in Standard American English as it some times is in British English.

Commonly Mispronounced:

'mo' instead of saying 'more'

'motha' instead of saying 'mother'

'computa' instead of 'computer'

While these words, even if pronounced with out the /r/ at the end they would be generally understood, if still pronounced incorrectly. But another problem plaguing Japanese speakers which actually causes them to pronounce incorrect words is the confusion between the /r/ and the /l/ sounds.It is important that you learn the proper way to pronounce the /r/ sound. It is even more difficult for Japanese speakers when those sounds are close to each other, as in the words: entirely, barely, and rarely.

For some quick reference help, check out our free sample videos going over a little bit of how to properly do it.

To test if you have this problem, pronounce the word 'fry' and the word 'fly'.

Mispronouncing the /th/ sound. A common mistake for Japanese speakers is saying /t/ or /d/ when you actually mean /th/

For example:

"tank" instead of "thank"

"dose" instead of "those"

Native Japanese speakers have several other sounds that are complicated for them to pronounce correctly in North American English. We will explore those further in a future post.

Are you a Native Japanese speaker and found other sound you stumble over? What are they?

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