Bilingual Problems – Friday Afternoons & Monday Mornings

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It’s Friday (yay!) and for me, that means the start to a weekend of speaking 99% Japanese. My first language is English, I was born in the US, and I live in the US, but I have studied Japanese since high school so I can have everyday conversations without too much trouble.

My husband is Japanese, and he can speak conversational English, but when we met he spoke literally zero English and so our conversations from day one were in Japanese. Since we spoke Japanese from the time we met, it’s difficult to change our habits at this point in time. (I’ve since noticed that whenever I meet someone, whichever language we start speaking first is the one we usually speak in at least 75% of the time from that point on).

English on the Weekdays, Japanese on the Weekend

So that means that I spend the week speaking English at my job and speaking Japanese at night, but when I come home on Friday I start a weekend of pretty much only speaking and listening to Japanese. We mostly only watch Japanese TV and movies (mostly because I like to watch Japanese news and TV shows). The friends I’ve made in my new city are also mostly Japanese speakers, so when I go out on the weekends I speak more Japanese. The only times I really speak English for any length of time on the weekends are when I talk to my parents on the phone or Skype.

Then Comes Monday Morning…

So what does that mean on Monday morning? You might have guessed that my English is pretty lousy by the time Monday morning comes around. I have an early morning meeting every Monday, and while my sleep-deprived brain is already fumbling to make coherent sentences, Japanese words come to my mind rather than English words. My English sounds like an English language learner, or my grammar switches order as I try to directly translate the Japanese that comes to mind. It can be frustrating, but also maybe more than a little entertaining to my co-workers.

Conversely, when I go on business trips and come back home (usually Fridays), my Japanese is lousy when I go back to talking to my husband. I’m tired from travelling on airplanes, getting up super early, time changes, and sleeping in hotels. I go from discussing technical data in English to blanking out on answering simple questions in Japanese. It usually takes me a while to get back to where I can have coherent conversations in Japanese again.

Does Every Bilingual Person Experience This?

I imagine this is something a lot of bilingual people experience. A few other American friends of mine who have studied Japanese and used it on a regular basis, then had to switch back to English after long periods of time, have told me that they also noticed that their English (native language!) got worse. Of course, either language improves with use, but that initial transition can be tricky.

When I had to interpret for my parents and my in-laws earlier this year when they finally met, I was mentally thoroughly drained thanks to having to constantly switch back and forth between the two. I really admire interpreters, as it takes a lot of mental fortitude to keep up that kind of transition!

Are you bilingual? Have you ever experienced this kind of thing? Have you ever tried interpreting between two languages? Any advice that could make this transition between languages easier? Let me know in the comments!

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Love in Japanese

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How do you say “I love you” in Japanese?

The Google result for that exact phrase is:

わたしは、あなたを愛しています

(In romaji, that’s: Watashi wa, anata wo ai shite imasu)

While this is grammatically correct, culturally it’s not the most common way to convey the all-important feelings to your Japanese significant other. So how can you say “I love you” in Japanese?

Say I Love You in Japanese

When I was first starting to learn Japanese, I learned that “I like you” is 好きです suki desu, “I like you a lot” is 大好きです dai suki desu, and “I love you” is 愛しています ai shite imasu.

However, my Japanese boyfriends (one of whom is now my husband) never said 愛しています (ai shite imasu) to me. Usually, they said 好きだよ (suki da yo), and sometimes even 大好きだよ (dai suki da yo)  (♥ω♥ ) ~♪

So does this mean that they never, you know, loved me? Σ(・Д・)!?

As an American, it’s common even when you are in high school to exchange I-love-you’s with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and seeing it in movies and other media makes you sort of expect to hear it from someone you are dating. So to a young me, it seemed strange that Japanese guys didn’t use what I had always heard was the translation for “I love you.”

It Means I Love You in Japanese

If you study Japanese, you know that the language is all about beating around the bush, or being vague (曖昧 aimai). This is also true with verbal expressions of affection. As my Japanese improved I realized that pretty much no one says 愛しています (ai shite imasu) to express affection, even when they truly love someone.

While 好き (suki) means “like,” it also means “love.” When someone confesses to another person in anime or dramas, they say 好きです (suki desu), which doesn’t mean “I love you” because that’s a little fast, but it means “I like you.” As the relationship grows, it can evolve into love, but that transition is never explicitly discussed. But when I ask Japanese guys, 好き still means love to them.

Culturally, direct expressions are not entirely common, so it can be uncomfortable for Japanese guys to express their emotions in such a direct manner. Even American guys have problems expressing emotion, so you can’t really blame Japanese guys.

How to Say I Love You in Japanese

It is said that in Japanese, “I like you” 好きです (suki desu) and “thank you” ありがとう (arigatou) mean “love” (愛 ai). In a language where you don’t often directly express such strong emotions, this means that it’s not the direct meaning of the words that is important, as much as the feelings behind the words.

In Japanese households, parents and children don’t often exchange sentiments such as love verbally or even with hugs or kisses. Rather, they express their feelings through what they do to care for and support each other. Thus, expressing thanks is a way of noticing how someone cares for you and expressing your appreciation. And doing similarly kind things for the other person is a good way to express your own feelings of love.

In romantic relationships, this same nonverbal communication can almost be more important than simply saying 好き (suki). So don’t get worried when your Japanese boyfriend doesn’t say 愛しています (ai shite imasu) – it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you! Look at his actions, and it should be obvious how he feels. If you still want to hear it? Ask! It might be awkward at first, but it provides a chance for multi-cultural learning for both of you. If you need verbal confirmation, like a lot of American women do, usually Japanese guys will make an effort once they know how important it is to you.

I love you - photo by kei

So go ahead, and say “I really like you” – 大好きだよ (dai suki da yo) – or even “thanks for everything you do” – いつもありがとう (itsumo arigatou) – and rest assured that your “I love you” will be conveyed.

How do you say “I love you” in your language? What has someone done for you that you realized they loved you? Let me know in the comments!

How I Learned Japanese

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People often ask me how I learned Japanese, so I thought I would make a post about it. I’ve been studying Japanese through a combination of self study and formal classes for about half my life – that’s a long time!

If you are interested in learning or improving your Japanese, you should be aware that there is no magic trick to learn Japanese quickly and easily. If you have studied Japanese (or any foreign language), you know this is true. If you’re new to Japanese, it’s going to take some effort and dedication on your part to get anywhere near fluent.

But that moment when you can finally have conversations in Japanese without having to use a dictionary or wave your arms emphatically, it’s a pretty cool feeling. So even if it seems daunting, trust me, it’s worth it! For a little inspiration, here is my story of lifelong Japanese learning

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Learning Japanese: Katakana

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When you begin learning Japanese, in a classroom or with self-study, usually the first writing systems you learn are hiragana and katakana, often simultaneously. During classroom study, you begin to use nothing but hiragana, often at the end of the first term. Thus you begin to quickly internalize the characters.

However, even when writing out homework in Japanese, katakana is used much less frequently, since it is the syllabary or alphabet for foreign loan words. So I notice that students have a more difficult time with learning and retaining katakana, and they often complain that katakana is harder than hiragana.

Despite the fact that the characters are different, both syllabaries have the exact same number of characters and the exact same pronunciation for each character. I don’t think that katakana is technically more difficult than hiragana, but that students often don’t get to use them as much and don’t internalize them as well.

I’ve come up with some other reasons why katakana is difficult for foreigners, from my experience studying and tutoring Japanese.

Katakana symbols can be very similar.

The characters for shi シ and tsu ツ are only subtly different. As are the characters for so ソ and n ン. Remembering the correct character can be difficult without a lot of practice, and can be frustrating in an exam. Reading is a little more forgiving, because you can usually tell by the other characters in the word or the other words in the sentence which one it is – although this is more difficult if it’s a word you don’t know or recognize.

For example, determining the difference between tool ツール and sticker (seal) シール in a sentence. Context really helps when you aren’t sure about the reading, but for writing you just have to memorize.

Loan words can be difficult to write in Japanese phonetics

The way that English, French, German, or other foreign words are pronounced in the native language, and the way that they are pronounced as Japanese loan words, can be very different. For example, in English we say virus, but in Japanese it’s uirusu ウイルス – which can be difficult to sound out for a native English speaker.

One in ten Japanese people will spell a loan word the exact same way in katakana, but for many foreigners without a native perception of how Japanese syllables connect together it can be difficult to correctly guess the correct spelling. When you write a loan word in Japanese, the spelling is not the important point, but rather the pronunciation of the word. So my name, Kay, would not be spelled kai カイ (based on the English spelling) but rather kei ケイ, because the sounds match.

Many words you can sound out relatively well with practice, and can get by in writing even if the spelling is not 100% accurate (unless it’s an exam, of course). If I run across a difficult word, I will usually look it up when I am writing an e-mail. When reading, slowly sounding out a new word you can usually discern the meaning.

Loan words may have different meanings from the original

Katakana words may mean something different than what you associate with the original word. For example, the word mansion マンション means an apartment building in Japanese, but in English it conjures up a large, rolling estate.

Words can also come from a variety of foreign languages, and if you don’t know the word in the original language, the meaning may be mysterious to you. The word for part-time job is arubaito アルバイト, which comes from the German Arbeit. I do not speak German, so when I learned this word I had no idea why it was in katakana. When I found out that it was German, I was quite surprised.

Japanese loan words are constantly evolving

I was reading a Japanese fashion magazine, and I found the word tronche coat トロンチコートー spelled in both English letters (romaji) and katakana. I had no idea what that was, and as I searched for it in both English and Japanese, I was quite confused. I could tell by the photo in the magazine that it was like a trench coat, but searching in English didn’t bring up any results that made sense. Searching in Japanese, however, I was able to find that it was a softer version of a trench coat. Essentially, it’s a trench coat made of soft fabric, specially for spring. This word was made up by the Japanese fashion writers, designers, etc. to describe something in particular, although foreigners in the fashion industry have not picked up the term.

Fashion magazines make up quite a few new words for fashion trends, as well as other media. Language is a constantly evolving entity, and different combinations of Japanese and foreign languages, combinations of katakana and hiragana, and even combinations of katakana and kanji lead to the creation of a lot of new words.

So, the challenge posed to foreigners is to learn how the Japanese people use and incorporate loan words to create a unique language. I think that this is one of the most interesting parts of learning Japanese, and why I enjoy learning this language.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in studying katakana? What about challenges in using katakana in your writing or reading it in books? Let me know in the comments!

5 Tips for Studying Japanese

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Now that I’m out of school and in the working world, I feel like I need to study again. Although that’s how I ended up back at grad school in the first place, no I’m not going back to school again. Instead, I’m going to brush up on my Japanese.

When you don’t have class to keep you in line, it can be difficult to keep up a good study schedule. So, how can you keep up with your study of Japanese? I’ve come up with 5 study tips to help you (and myself) get inspired.

1. Study every day!

Japanese classes are held every day, and there’s a reason for that. You learned your first language by using it every day, and that’s how you will master Japanese. Set aside time each day to practice speaking, listening, reading or writing. If you can only devote 20 minutes each day, that’s still 20 minutes you will immerse yourself in Japanese. Until there’s a chip that downloads information directly into your brain, there isn’t really a shortcut to learning Japanese other than time and effort!

2. Kanji is your friend

Learning to read and write kanji (or Chinese characters) is probably the most unattractive part of studying Japanese. When I was a TA for Japanese class, most complaints were about how hard it was to remember kanji. But learning kanji is essential for living in Japan or for reading anything in Japanese. I’ve been studying Japanese for half of my life, but I still haven’t mastered kanji. As daunting as that sounds, it’s important to remember that learning kanji will be tough but that it will improve your ability to communicate in Japanese.

3. Write in Japanese by hand

Technology has made international communication easier than ever, and that means communicating in Japanese is easier too. On your computer or on your phone, you can type in Japanese without having to remember kanji stroke order or whether that’s a こ ko or a こう kou in 最高 saikou. If you can recognize the kanji, you can select it from a list rather than remember how to write it. In short, you can get by without remembering how to write kanji perfectly, but you still have to have some knowledge in order to recognize the kanji you want to send.

If you want to become proficient in Japanese, you must learn to write kanji by hand. You need to learn how to write it so that you can read it. Recent studies suggest that technology doesn’t necessarily equal results in retention or academic performance (see Technology doesn’t make school pupils smarter: study), so that means that you won’t become proficient in Japanese without some analogue study (pen & paper!).

4. Practice Japanese with other people

I know, interacting with real people can be scary. Especially in a different language. But this is the best way to improve your listening and speaking skills. Finding someone to practice Japanese with is the first hurdle, but there are many ways to go about doing this (check out ideas for how to find language partners). Having a language partner can also keep you accountable for your daily Japanese practice – quiz each other on the latest kanji you’ve studied, or practice grammar patterns that give you trouble.

5. Try a different approach

Are you tired of staring at the same 10 kanji that you just can’t remember? Do vocabulary words leave your head every time you blink? Did your language partner abandon you for greener fields? If you feel like you are stuck in a Japanese rut, try something new to get out of it!

Find a website in Japanese about your favorite hobby and practice reading. Read the news in Japanese to get a new perspective. Even if you can’t read every character, try to see if you can get the general idea by reading headlines, or the first and last paragraphs for starters.

Watch Japanese movies, drama, or anime without the subtitles. Challenge yourself to see how much you can understand without the crutch of subtitles. Watch an episode twice: once in Japanese only, and add subtitles the second time through. How much did you understand? This will be more difficult if you are just starting out, but if you have a favorite show you could rewatch it without the subtitles and pay attention to the flow of the conversations and pick out any phrases you do know.

One more thing: make mistakes! You can’t improve unless you make mistakes. Most people will not think poorly of you if you use the wrong word or the wrong grammar construction – unless they are jerks. Even if you’re terrified of making mistakes (like I was when I first arrived in Japan to study abroad), put that fear aside and give it your best shot. You will realize that you know more than you think you do!

What study tips do you have for studying Japanese (or another foreign language)? How do you improve your language skills on a daily basis? Let me know in the comments!

“My” Phrases in Japanese English/「マイ」から始まる和製英語

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Japanese has something called wasei eigo (和製英語, literally “Japanese-made English”), which means words that seem to be English (eigo), but are not. These words came from English originally, but the meaning has been changed to a distinctly Japanese meaning.

Today’s wasei eigo theme is phrases that begin with “my”.

My Pace/mai peesu/マイペース

In English, hearing this expression would translate into something like “to do something at my own pace.” In Japanese, it means to do something one’s own way, without influence from other people. It can be used as an adverb or a verb, but it’s most commonly used to describe someone’s attitude.

「田中さんはマイペースだよ。」

“Tanaka is my pace.” or “Tanaka does it his own way.”

My Boom/mai buumu/マイブーム

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Food in Japanese-English/和製英語食べ物

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Japanese has something called wasei eigo (和製英語, literally “Japanese-made English”), which means words that seem to be English (eigo), but are not. These words came from English originally, but the meaning has been changed to a distinctly Japanese meaning.

What?

I know, it’s confusing. So, here is an example. Today I’m going to list some wasei eigo names for familiar foods.

American dog (amerikan doggu/アメリカンドッグ)

An amerikan doggu is a corn dog.

Ice (aisu/アイス)

Aisu is a short form of ice cream. You can also use the longer form aisu kuriimu (アイスクリーム), but I prefer asking if someone wants to eat ice!

Ice candy (aisu kyandii/アイスキャンディー)

The term aisu kyandii refers to popsicles AKA ice lollies.

Hotcake (hotto keeki/ホットケーキ)

A hotto keeki is a pancake.

Fried potato (furaido poteto/フライドポテト)

French fries AKA chips are known as furaido poteto.

Juice (juusu/ジュース)

When my friends asked me to buy juusu for a party, they didn’t mean fruit juice, but rather soda. It can also be used for energy drinks.

Sand (sando/サンド)

Rather than the full sandoicchi (サンドイッチ) you can just shorten sandwich to sando.

Soft cream (sofuto kuriimu/ソフトクリーム)

Sofuto kuriimu is soft serve ice cream.

Now I’m really hungry, so I’m going to go find something to eat!

英語が話せる人が和製英語を聞いたら、ちょっと分かりにくいところがありますね。英語の言葉だけど、和製英語の意味は普通の英語とちょっと違いますね。

例えば

私が最初に聞いた、この和製英語の意味ちょっと間違いましたね。今回、食べ物について書こうと思いましたよ。

アメリカンドッグ

アメリカンドッグじゃなくて、英語でcorn dogって言うね。

アイス

アイスとアイスクリームは英語でice creamでしょね。アイスが良いやすいから、仲良くアメリカ人の友達と一緒にiceをよく使うけどね(笑)

アイスキャンディー

アイスキャンディーはアメリカでpopsicle、イギリスでice lolliesと言うね。

ホットケーキ

ホットケーキは英語でpancakeと言うね。アメリカでパンケーキとメープルシロップは大体朝ご飯の食べ物でしょね。

フライドポテト

アメリカのフライドポテトはfrench friesって言っても、フランスから来てないって聞いたよ.

ジュース

日本語のジュースは英語のsodaけど、英語のjuiceはフルーツジュースと言う意味ですね。

サンド

サンドイッチとサンドは英語でsandwichと言うね.

Soft cream (sofuto kuriimu/ソフトクリーム)

ソフトクリームは英語でsoft serve ice creamって言うね。

ま、今はお腹減ったから食べに行きまーす!

 

 

Want more? Check out my other wasei eigo examples! 他の和製英語はここです! About/アバウト, Recycle/リサイクル, Cunning/カンニング

What other wasei eigo have you heard? Did you misunderstand it when you first heard it? Let me know in the comments!

他の面白い和製英語は何でしょうか?間違えた英語は聞いたことありますか?コメントで教えてください!