Becoming the Japanglish Master

I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of just how many English loan words there are in Japanese. There are thousands upon thousands of them.

This is fantastic news, because it means that you already have a boss-status vocabulary. The trick, however, is in figuring out how to guess and remember the correct Japanese pronunciation of English words.

Let’s start by looking at a list of English words that have katakana equivalents in Japanese. Then you can try to guess what the Japanese word is. And finally, I’ll try to point out some peculiarities in switching to katakana.

(Note: If you master the ability to accurately pronounce English words in Japanese, your vocabulary will skyrocket instantaneously. So, yeah, this might be worth your time. ^_^)

(Additional Note: A lot of the following words also have full-on Japanese equivalents using kanji, hiragana, etc., as is the case of many English loan words. Yes, the word for “boat” is 船 (fune), but all Japanese people also know the English loan word ボート (booto). Sometimes these words will be total equivalents, but oftentimes the nuance will differ significantly. For example, a 船 (fune) could be a large ship or a boat that your uncle goes fishing in. A ボート could refer to your uncle's boat, but it cannot refer to a large cruise ship. To give another example, a 面接 (mensetsu) is an "interview" you would have when applying for a job, but an インタビュー (intabyuu) is an "interview" you might see on TV of a famous author.)

Step #1: Try to guess the Katakana

English:

Katakana:   

hotel

taxi

club

crab

salmon

almond

steak

sandwich

game

glass (e.g. of water)

glass (e.g. “window”)

table

curtain

shock

box

lighter

stalker

hard

word

Did you try to guess the katakana for each of those?

Or did you just scroll down like a lazy daisy?

In either case, let’s look at the answers...

Step #2: Check the Actual Katakana

English:

Katakana:  

hotel

ホテル

taxi

タクシー

club

クラブ

crab

クラブ

salmon

サーモン

almond

アーモンド

steak

ステーキ

sandwich

サンドイッチ

game

ゲーム

glass (e.g. of water)

グラス

glass (e.g. “window”)

ガラス

table

テーブル

curtain

カーテン

shock

ショック

box

ボックス

lighter

ライター

stalker

ストーカー

hard

ハード

word

ワード

We only just introduced katakana a little while ago, so you may need the following chart (with romaji included) for checking your answers:

Step #3: Check English, Katakana, and Romaji Together

English:

Katakana:

Romaji:

hotel

ホテル

hoteru

taxi

タクシー

takushii

club

クラブ

kurabu

crab

クラブ

kurabu

salmon

サーモン

saamon

almond

アーモンド

aamondo

steak

ステーキ

suteeki

sandwich

サンドイッチ

sandoicchi

game

ゲーム

geemu

glass (e.g. of water)

グラス

gurasu

glass (e.g. “window”)

ガラス

garasu

table

テーブル

teeburu

curtain

カーテン

kaaten

shock

ショック

shokku

box

ボックス

bokkusu

lighter

ライター

raitaa

stalker

ストーカー

sutookaa

hard

ハード

haado

word

ワード

waado

For the most part, this is all stuff that you should pick up naturally, but I think it might help to point out just a few things that are happening in the switch from English to Japanese here.

(Note: This is by no means a comprehensive list of the weird stuff that happens when you try to pronounce English words with a Japanese accent. Rather, it’s meant as a crash course in recognizing these changes as you encounter them.)


Word-Ending "L" is becoming .

“Hotel” becomes ホテ, hoteru.

“Table” becomes テーブ, teeburu.

This is because you can never end a Japanese word with a consonant sound unless it’s ん, n. For some reason, the best alternative, then, is to say ル, ru? I don’t know, man. But we we can contrast this example with how…


Word-Ending “-er” is becoming アー.

“Lighter” becomes ライター, raitaa.

“Stalker” becomes ストーカー, sutookaa.

As we mentioned earlier, the Japanese “r” is not quite like the English “r.” They don’t put their tongues back as far in their mouths. Also, with this vowel-sound in “er,” we don’t open our mouths that much, but there is no good equivalent in Japanese, so when faced with an “er” sound, they will often open their mouths (too much), making an “ah” sound. Here in the word “stalker,” we also see an additional vowel problem:


The “o” sound in “box” often becomes the Japanese / o sound.

“Stalker” becomes ストーカー, sutookaa.

“Box” becomes ックス, bokkusu.

“Shock” becomes ショック, shokku.

I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of just how many English loan words there are in Japanese. There are thousands upon thousands of them.

Another popular example of this is the word “talk,” which, in katakana English is トーク, tooku. Depending on what dialect of English you speak, this one might not be such a big deal, but it can make for some very interesting-sounding words.


"L-consonant" and "R-consonant” combos disappear.

We just saw this, with the “L” sound disappearing from “lk” words “stalker” and “talk,” becoming ストーカー (sutooka) and トーク (tooku). We also see it with “rd” in these words:

“Hard” becomes ハード, haado.

“Word” becomes ワード, waado.

We also see it with the “L” sound disappearing from “lm” words like “almond” and “salmon,” which become アーモンド (aamondo) and サーモン (saamon). Once, back in the day, I accidentally forgot to do this, and I said アルメンド (arumendo [not a word]) instead of アーモンド (aamondo)… and Rei still makes fun of me for it years later!

“Ah,” “uh,” “er,” “ar,” and “or” are all becoming / a.

It’s really common to hear Japanese people complain about the English “R” sound. What many of them don’t realize, however, is that R-controlled vowels are a much bigger problem, because Japanese, in ignoring these, makes thousands of English words into homophones—like there is suddenly no difference between “word” and “ward,” between “bird” and “bard.” We saw these ones above:

“Stalker” becomes ストーカー, sutookaa.

“Hard” becomes ハード, haado.

“Word” becomes ワード, waado.

The same thing happens with the “a” sound in “crab” and the “u” sound in “club,” both are which are morphed into the Japanese あ sound:

“Crab” becomes クラブ, kurabu.

“Club” becomes クラブ, kurabu.

Distinguishing between these two vowel sounds can be extremely difficult for Japanese students of English. A very small percentage of the Japanese population can catch the difference, for example, in the (American) pronunciation of “long” and “lung.”

Anyways, no need to memorize all of this stuff. Personally, I learned all of this naturally over time, with exposure to the language. However, I kind of wish I had seen a breakdown like this, because it would have saved me a lot of embarrassing moments in Japan, moments when I tried to create “Japanese words” with my English vocabulary.




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