Lesson Notes

Unlock In-Depth Explanations & Exclusive Takeaways with Printable Lesson Notes

Unlock Lesson Notes and Transcripts for every single lesson. Sign Up for a Free Lifetime Account and Get 7 Days of Premium Access.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Transcript

Peter: Top five mistakes you should never make when using Japanese. Hi everyone and welcome back to the All About Japanese series.
Naomi: Hello. Konnichiwa!
Peter: You’re in for a useful lesson because we’re here to give you some tips on how to avoid common mistakes by learners of Japanese. Now remember there’s nothing wrong with making mistakes.
Naomi: It’s how you learn.
Peter: In this lesson we’ll give you a heads up so that you can be aware and it’ll make your Japanese language learning experience a lot easier.
Naomi: Let’s get started.
Peter: Tip number one: Don’t attach “san,” the suffix “san,” to your own name.
Naomi: Remember that “san” is a polite suffix that you attach to people’s name to show respect.
Peter: But unlike the English Mr. or Mrs. you can attach “san” not only to the first name but also to the family name. For example, my name is Peter Galante. I can be called …
Naomi: Gyarante-san
Peter: Mr. Galante, my family name plus “san.” Or …
Naomi: Piitaa-san
Peter: My first name plus “san.” The problem though is that this is a title of respect. So you can’t refer to yourself. When teachers teach Japanese they refer to their students as so and so “san.” For example, John becomes …
Naomi: Jon-san
Peter: Sara becomes …
Naomi: Sara-san
Peter: And so on. And I think what happens is that the student gets used to hearing their names the way the teacher is saying it so they start referring to themselves that way
Naomi: So just remember to refer to yourself using only your name. For example, Watashi wa Jon desu.
Peter: I’m John.
Naomi: Watashi wa Piitaa desu.
Peter: I’m Peter.
Naomi: Watashi wa Naomi desu. I’m Naomi. Don’t put “san” to your own name.
Peter: Never put “san” on your own name. Tip number two: Watch your politeness level.
Naomi: So you’ve already learned that Japanese has different politeness levels.
Peter: Which one you use depends on the age and status of the speaker and listener and the relationship between them.
Naomi: One thing that is really important to remember is to speak politely to people who are older than you or have higher social status than you.
Peter: As well as people who you don’t know. An exception is if you’re talking to children.
Naomi: Oh right.
Peter: With everyone else you don’t know, you should speak formally.
Naomi: In general, people who study Japanese are taught formal language first but those who learn mostly from friends or peers might only pick up informal language.
Peter: Right. So you just have to be careful about making that switch between levels when it’s appropriate. I would say when it doubt, speak formally
Naomi: I agree.
Peter: Better to err on the side of caution. If other people don’t think it’s necessary they’ll probably let you know.
Naomi: Mmmm …
Peter: So it’s no problem
Naomi: That’s good advice.
Peter: Tip number three: Watch your gender.
Naomi: So in Japanese men and women use different language.
Peter: Yes this is a really interesting aspect of Japanese. Sentence endings, word choice and intonation all differ between men and women.
Naomi: So it’s important to be aware of and be able to recognize the difference.
Peter: Now I think this is something that male non-native speakers have to be especially careful of. A majority of Japanese teachers are female. And if a male student is learning from a Japanese female friend or partner, he runs the risk of sounding feminine if he starts to copy the speech patterns that he hears.
Naomi: Sometimes what helps is listening to a lot of different styles in Japanese.
Peter: That’s right. Listen to Japanese spoken by all kinds of speakers and eventually you’ll start to pick up on the differences between male and female speech.
Naomi: Right. How about you Peter?
Peter: I think this is one of the best tips we’ve covered so far. Like we discussed, my teacher was female. It was easier for me to catch what Japanese female speakers were saying. The guys sounded mumbled. They spoke lower. It was harder to catch what they were saying.
Naomi: Right. Women speak clearly.
Peter: And above all, it was kind of difficult to make guy friends …
Naomi: Mmmm …
Peter: … at first. I think that combination results in a lot of guys speaking feminine and the thing is, it’s not such an obvious thing. It’s very subtle. The speech difference, what Japanese women and men say, fundamentally it’s the same. But it’s the intonation.
Naomi: Right.
Peter: And the endings. And things like this … that gives it a feminine feel.
Naomi: OK. So what’s the next tip we have?
Peter: Tip number four: Learn your long vowels now. Japanese has both short and long vowels. For example, the “a” vowel can be either short, one syllable …
Naomi: “a”
Peter: Or it can be long, two syllables …
Naomi: “aa”
Peter: These are two distinctly different sounds. Whether a vowel is long or short can affect the meaning of the word. To use our “a” example …
Naomi: The word for corner is: kado.
Peter: That’s the short vowel.
Naomi: And the word for card is: kaado.
Peter: That’s the long vowel. So the vowel is exactly the same but the length of it changes the meaning of the word. How about another example?
Naomi: kite kudasai
Peter: Is a phrase that means “please come.” So …
Naomi: kite
Peter: … has a short “i” vowel.
Naomi: And kiite kudasai means “please listen.”
Peter: So the “i” vowel becomes a long vowel and it now becomes “please listen.” Can we hear just the first word of each?
Naomi: Sure. “Kite”…
Peter: Come.
Naomi: And “kiite”…
Peter: Listen. Can you hear the difference? It’s an important one. Japanese have tons of pairs like these.
Naomi: Right. When learning a new Japanese vocab, pay attention to the long vowels.
Peter: Sometimes in romaji or Romaji, they’ll be marked with a macron. And what a macron is … is a little line over the vowel. This tells you that the vowel is a long one. In other books, there are two vowels that will appear back to back and that’s how you can find the long vowel.
Naomi: OK Peter, what is the last tip we have for everyone?
Peter: Tip number five: Watch out for similar sounding words. Now this could happen in any language, but Japanese has a relatively small number of sounds meaning that there are tons of words that sound really similar. The difference being only one syllable or something like that. When you are starting out and you still have a small vocabulary, it becomes even easier to mix up words.
Naomi: Right.
Peter: What are some of the infamous examples?
Naomi: One example is …
Naomi: kirei versus kirai
Peter: They sound really similar but what do they mean?
Naomi: “Kirei” with an “eh” meaning pretty or beautiful whereas “kirai” with an “ah” sound means hated. It means you hate whatever you’re talking about.
Peter: Here you have to be careful about this one. You wouldn’t want to try and tell someone they're beautiful and end up saying you hate them. How about another example?
Naomi: “Kawaii” versus “kowai”
Peter: Meanings are?
Naomi: “Kawaii” means cute and “kowai” means scary.
Peter: So be careful when commenting on someone’s pet or kid. I’ve heard of this happening before and I’ve been misunderstood.
Naomi: Really?
Peter: Yeah. So someone tries to say that another person’s baby is “kawaii”… but it comes out … “kowai.”
Naomi: (Laughs.) No, no.
Peter: Alright, well there you have it. The top five tips for avoiding common mistakes in Japanese.
Naomi: Don’t attach “san” to your own name.
Peter: Watch your politeness level. When in doubt, speak formally.
Naomi: Watch your gender.
Peter: Learn long vowels and watch out for similar words. Please keep these in mind and your Japanese learning experience will be made a whole lot better.
Naomi: You’ll be on the right track.
Peter: See you next time.