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Japanese-English, Katakana English and English as spoken by the Japanese
Written by Maciamo in March 2005

Japanese-English may refer to different things. It can either be the English spoken by Japanese-speakers, or "Katakana English", i.e. English words used in Japanese language.


Let's first have a look at what characterises the English spoken by Japanese-speakers. This English is sometimes call Jenglish or Engrish, so we will call it "Jengrish" here.

Speakers of every language tend to make mistakes based on literal translations from their mother tongue. Jengrish is defined by a set of common mistakes, or uncommon use of English, frequently found among native Japanese-speakers. These include :

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  • absence or mistaken use of articles ("a" and "the")

  • use of "later" instead of "in" to indicate a future time (eg. "10 years later" instead of "in 10 years").

  • use of nouns instead of adjectives (eg. "minus image" instead of "negative image").

  • mistaken use of "almost" + noun (eg. "almost Japanese" instead of "almost all Japanese")

  • excessive use of passive (e.g. "my haircut was changed" instead of "I changed my haircut")

  • addition of "to" before a gerund or words that do not require it like "there" or "here" (eg. "Let's go to shopping", "I came to here").

  • the excessive use of "hope" instead of expect, wish, would like, or want. (e.g. "I hope to meet you tomorrow at 6pm if it is convenient for you").

  • excessive use of "play" and "enjoy" instead of "go out", "have fun", "do", etc. (eg."last weekend I played skiing" or "last night I played with my coworkers" or "In Hawaii you can enjoy shopping").

  • excessive use of "popular" instead of "common" or "usual" (eg. "Is snowing popular in your country" ?)

  • confusion of words like 'country' and 'company'.

  • use of Katakana English (see below)

  • agglutination of several nouns (direct translation from long kanji compounds) instead of separating them by "of (the)" (eg. "company meeting attendance rate analysis", instead of "analysis of the attendance rate of company meetings").

There are many more, which I can't remember right now. Please help me define Japanese-English.

Katakana English

The characteristics of Katakana English, i.e. words imported from English and modified to suit Japanese speakers, include:

  • creation of words by combining existing English words (eg. "salaryman").

  • shortening of words (eg. "remokon" for "remote control", "pasokon" for "personal computer")

  • Change of pronuciation to fit Japanese phonetics.

Japanese pronuciation of English

Japanese language has much fewer sounds than English, both for vowels and consonnants.

Regarding consonant, the Japanese have difficulty distinguising between "b" and "v", "r" and "l", "f" and "h" (especially followed by a "u" sound, like food/hood), and pronouncing "th", "s" (follwed by a "i" sound, which they pronounce "shi" instead of "si", eg. in "series"), "w" (followed by a "u" sound like in "wood", "wool" or "woman") and "y" (especially followed by a "i" or "e", like in "yield" or in "yen").

Combinations of consonnants are also a major problem for Japanese speakers, who almost inevitably add a "u", "i" or "o" sound in between consonnants (eg. "free" becomes "furii", "truck" becomes "torakku", etc.). There are even combinations in which the consonnants are completely changed, as the "tw" that usually become "ts" as there is no "w" sound in Japanese (eg. "twin" becomes "tsuin").

For the vowels, there is a difficulty with most of the 12 English vowels except the three that exist in Japanese, that is "i" (like in "happy"), "e" (like in "bet") and "a" (like in "heart"). They have especially difficult to pronounce or recognise the vowels like the the "i" in "bird", the "a" in "arrive", the "u" in "sun" and the "a" in "cat", which they all pronounce like a Japanese "a" (long like in "heart" or short). They also can't pronounce the sound between the Japanese "o" and "a" like in "got" or "sock".

If we want to be strict, we could also say that the Japanese "u" is not the same as the English "u" (like in "foot"), which should be pronouced with slightly rounded lips, and most "i" in English are halfway between a Japanese "i" and "e" (in words like "dinner" or "pin").

Another difficulty is to end a word with a sharp consonnant, and not a "o" (no, it is not "testo" but "test" !)

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