Common Mistakes Beginners Make When Speaking Japanese.
Here are 10 common mistakes often made when learning to speak Japanese. To avoid making these mistakes, please see the tips to speak better Japanese provided below from my Japanese mentors.
#1. BEING TOO “GREAT-FUL”
Sugoi (すごい) meaning (wow, cool, or great). Is only used to express when you are impressed. In English you can say “cool” or “great” when you are impressed or to confirm that something works for you. Such as to say, “yes, Friday sounds great!” In Japanese, to confirm you would say “yes, thank you” (hai, arigatou gozaimasu) instead.
#2. SAYING SORRY INCORRECTLY
There are many different words to say sorry in Japanese, as well as situations to use them. However, there is one particular situation you do not want to say sorry in Japanese that differs from English.
In Japanese, you do not say sorry to show sympathy. When listening to one sharing a sad event. Rather than saying sorry to hear as you would in English. In Japanese, there are many other ways to express your sympathy. Typically you would either use aizuchi or say nothing while showing a sympathetic face.
how to show sympathy in Japanese
- Nod along while using (aizuchi) to carry the conversation.
- If you wish to say something you can say,
- Sou desu ka? | “oh really?”, “hmm”, “is that so?”
- Sou desu ne? | “yeah”, “uh-huh”, (in a polite form).
- DO NOT say sorry! Japanese speakers would wonder why you’re apologizing…
how to say sorry in Japanese
- Gomenasai (ごめんなさい) | when making an apology.
- Sumimasen (すみません) | when making an apology, asking for attention, or when you bump into someone.
#3. CUTE OR SCARY?
In Japanese, the pronunciation of the words cute and scary are very similar. As a result, beginners often mix up the two. As you may imagine, this could deliver the wrong message!
|Ka – waii||Ko – wai|
#4. INCORRECTLY USING DAYO (だよ)
The sentence ender dayo (だよ) is a casual way to clarify your statement. Such as to say,
“I like Japan, don’t you know!“ | nihon ga suki dayo.
However, keep in mind that dayo is only to be used in a casual setting following a noun. The mistake many beginners make when using dayo (だよ) is placing it after common verbs such as (chigau, 違う) meaning to be different or wrong. Or common adjectives such as (oishii, 美味しい) meaning delicious.
As a general tip, rather than saying dayo, I would suggest using the formal sentence enders such as desu (です) after a noun, or masu (ます) after a verb. If you truly wish to be casual and use dayo, make sure it’s after a noun.
#5. POOR TIMING
Japanese adjectives and verbs have many variations based on past, present, or future, states. Make sure you learn the difference of when to use each version. To demonstrate this, I will use the very practical example of complementing food. Take a look at the following forms of the adjective oishii (美味しい) meaning delicious.
|Before Eating||While Eating||After Eating|
|Oishi Sou (おいしそう)||Oishii (おいしい)||Oishikatta (おいしかった)|
|it looks delicious||it is delicious||it was delicious|
#6. ENJOYING THE WRONG THINGS
In English, the word to enjoy can be used to express any fond experience such as eating, enjoying the sun, or even one’s company. In Japanese, this is not the case.
In Japanese, to enjoy (tanoshii, 楽しい) is only used to express that you enjoyed an activity. Such as playing tennis, watching a movie, or going for a run. It should not be used to state that you like something. For example, you cannot say I enjoyed the meal. Rather, you would say the meal was tasty to express that you enjoyed it.
|❌ – WRONG||✅ – CORRECT|
|gohan wo tanoshimi mashita||gohan (ga) or (wa) oishikatta desu|
|ご飯を楽しみました||ご飯 (が) or (は) 美味しかったです|
|I enjoyed the meal||the meal was tasty|
#7. SOUNDING BOSSY OR ARROGANT
In Japanese, there is a fine line between sounding bossy or simply agreeing with others. To help you avoid coming across as rude or bossy, here are a few general tips.
various tips on how to avoid sounding rude in Japanese
- Learn how to use aizuchi in conversation. You might have heard a lot of Japanese saying “ununuun” or “ahhhhh” throughout conversation, this is what I mean.
- sou dayo (そうだよ) is a casual way of saying, “yeah, It is right.” However, since this phrase should be used in a situation where the person talking to you does NOT know something you do. It may come across as arrogant, as if you are to imply they do not know what is being discussed. To agree more softly, you could say any of the following phrases using the sentence ender (ne, ね) instead of (yo, よ).
- sou da ne, そうだね (casual).
- sou desu ne, そうですね (formal).
- Always address one by last name followed with the name ender san (さん). Do not address one with anata (あなた) meaning you, if you already know their name.
- Make sure to end your statements with desu (です).
#8. HELLO OR GOODBYE?
Some of the most common Japanese greetings easily mixed up are the ones used between family members when leaving or returning from home. These phrases work on a call and response structure, so you will want to make sure you can tell the difference between the two!
|When Leaving The House||When Returning Home|
|Call – one who is leaving||Call – one returning home|
|Ittekimasu (行ってきます) | I am leaving||Tadaima (ただいま) | I am home, just now|
|Response – one who is staying home||Response – one who is already home|
|Itterasshai (行ってらっしゃい) | take care||Okaerinasai (お帰りなさい) | welcome home|
#9. FORGETTING YOUR MANNERS
The Japanese language is based on formality. As a result, you will often learn many variations of the same phrase based on its casual, semi-casual, or polite form. So which version should you memorize first?
I recommend always focusing on the formal versions before digging into any casual forms. As trying to memorize them all at once may lead you to either speak too casually by mistake, or even worse… Forget them all!
#10. CAN’T SAY NO
The way we use the word no in English is quite different than in Japanese. In fact, there are even multiple words used to say no in Japanese, depending on the situation. And yup, this is easy to mess up.
|No to deny a fact||No to say not to do something|
|iie, sushi dewa arimasen||dame desu!|
|no, it is not sushi.||stop doing that!|
* Tip when using nai (ない)
The negative sentence ender nai, cannot be used by itself to mean no. Not even with the sentence ender です following it, such as to say “nai desu.” Nai is only to be used when completing a negative sentence.
Keep in mind that although this list was based on how to avoid mistakes, you should never fear making them. However, it is important to recognize the mistakes you make so you can use those moments as a chance to learn and correct yourself.
I hope the tips throughout this article and video have helped you. I would love to hear of any mistakes you commonly make while learning Japanese that were either listed here or not! Please let me know by leaving a comment on the video linked within this article.
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