Below are 5 of the most frequent mistakes made by learners of Japanese. If you want to sound like a native, be sure to follow these tips to avoid them!
1. Don’t over-use と to, which means and
The English word and is very versatile; you can use it to connect various things:
(a) apples and oranges … connecting two nouns
(b) cute and fun … connecting two adjectives
(c) ate and slept … connecting two verbs
(d) I like pink and she likes red … connecting two clauses
In Japanese however, you can only do (a) with the word と to; it can only connect two nouns. If you want to say something like (b), (c), and (d), you’d have to conjugate the words to connect in a certain way (i.e. use the “te-form”) rather than using a word that means and.
2. Don’t use あなた anata, which means you
Some learners of Japanese seem to feel uncomfortable about the fact that we don’t use the pronoun you in Japanese, which is one of the most frequently used words in English. As a result, some people look up the word in the dictionary, find out that in fact there is a word that means you in Japanese (which is あなた anata), and start using it. Not a good move! Please, please don’t use it. When my students use this word to refer to me, I get very very insulted. It’s extremely rude!
3. Always use counters with numbers
In Japanese, you always have to use a counter when you count things. In English, we use counters (e.g. a glass of) when counting only certain things. For example, we say a glass of water, two bowls of rice, three loaves of bread. Just imagine that you have to say something like this for EVERYTHING in Japanese. If you want to learn how to count objects in Japanese, we have a good introduction in Essential Japanese Lesson 3 and 4. Try this game on the Language Lab if you haven’t subscribed yet to our online course.
4. Pronounce English words the Japanese way
There are many English loan words in Japanese. While that’s great news for English speakers, don’t get too comfortable using English words in Japanese! If you pronounce English words the way you always do, chances are Japanese monolingual speakers would not understand them. Instead, you need to apply the Japanese style of pronunciation!
5. Remember there are three different words corresponding to Japanese
One English word Japanese corresponds to three different words (to be precise, two words and one phrase) in Japanese:
(a) Japanese as in She is a Japanese (i.e. person)… 日本人 nihonjin
(b) Japanese as in I speak Japanese (i.e. language)… 日本語 nihongo
(c) Japanese as in I like Japanese movies (i.e. Japanese X in general)… 日本のＸ nihon no X (e.g. 日本の映画 nihon no eiga Japanese movies)
Follow these rules, and you’ll be on your way to sounding more natural in Japanese!