During your self-study, you learn new Japanese vocabulary words that sound like English. You assume that these words have the same meaning and you use these words in the same way that you would in English, resulting in strange looks from your Japanese friends.


So, I am here to help you. Below are nine words that typically trip up foreign students. Let’s get started.


アンニュイ (annyui)


If you are an English speaker, you may just assume that this word means “annoyed.” The word sounds like “annoyed” when read out loud, right? Wrong!


This word is derived from the French word ennui, which means boredom. So if you are in a listless mood, you can say you are feeling アンニュイ (annyui).


ビル (biru)


Pop quiz: what is the difference between ビル (biru) and ビール (bīru)? One of them refers to a building, and the other refers to beer.


It is easy to mix these two words up, as they look and sound similar.


ビル (biru) is derived from the English word “build” and refers to a multi-floor structure. Specifically, it is used to talk about to a high-rise office building.


ビール (bīru) is derived from the Dutch or Flemish word bier. As you can guess, this word means “beer.”


電子レンジ (denshi renji)


This word is a great example of a pseudo loan word. The Japanese borrowed the word “range” from English and paired it up with 電子 (denshi) to create a new word.


電子 (denshi) means electronic and レンジ (renji) means range. Can you guess what 電子レンジ (denshi renji) means? If you guessed a microwave oven, you are right!


The Japanese sometimes also use the contracted form レンジ (renji) to refer to a microwave oven.    


デッサン (dessan)


Read this word out loud. What does デッサン sound like to you? Design? Nope. This is yet another example of a “false friend,” so it is not in fact katakana for design, nor does it have the same meaning.


デッサン (dessan) is derived from the French word dessin. It refers to a preliminary drawing. This preparatory sketch is often made using charcoal.


The correct katakana for “design” is デザイン (dezain) in Japanese.    


ドクター ストップ (dokutāsutoppu)  


ドクター ストップ (dokutāsutoppu) is derived from the English words “doctor” and “stop.” However, these words mean something different when put together in Japanese.


In fact, this expression is so misleading that the first time I saw it, I thought it referred to a doctor making a stop at someone’s house, otherwise known as a house call.


But nope, this word refers to a doctor telling a patient to stop doing something. For example, when a doctor tells a patient to quit smoking or drinking alcohol.


The equivalent in English is “doctor’s orders.”


エール (ēru)


This word is derived from the English word “yell,” however it does not mean yell. Yup, this word is a tad confusing.


エール (ēru) refers to a cheer performed by cheerleaders, and is meant to encourage a player in a sports competition. Alternatively, it refers to a cheer of support for a candidate during an election.   


ファイト (faito)


ファイト (faito) is derived from the English word “fight.” However, the Japanese use it in a different way. ファイト refers to a person’s fighting spirit.


If someone says ファイト to you, he or she means “do your best,” “go for it,” “keep at it,” or “don’t give up!” If you say this to yourself, you are telling yourself “I’ll do my best.”


フライドポテト (furaidopoteto)


Next, let’s explore the world of food. When your friends say they are ordering フライドポテト (furaidopoteto), do you think of this? 



ライドポテト is derived from the English words “fried” and “potato.” However, people use this word in Japan to refer to French fries.


So do not be shocked if you hear your friends ordering this dish at fast food restaurants. They are just asking for plain old French fries.


フライング (furaingu)


This word is derived from the word “flying” in English. Can you guess its meaning? Well, kudos to you if you can guess the correct answer, because the word has nothing to do with aviation.


フライング (furaingu) is a word that the Japanese made up and means a *false or premature start. It is often used in the world of sports and has a negative connotation.


For example, the contestant made two フライング and was disqualified.


*In sports, a false start is a movement made by a participant before he or she is signaled or permitted to start.




We have looked at nine common mistakes that English speakers make in Japanese. Be careful with how you use these words, because the way you read and write them can elicit very different reactions.


So, don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions if you see a Japanese word that looks like an English one. It might just be a trap.


You may have noticed that the nine words we looked at today are in katakana. If you want to brush up on your katakana, try playing a katakana writing game. Good luck!


Author Bio


Karen’s love affair with the Japanese language started with the song “Say Yes” by Chage and Aska. She currently runs a Japanese learning website, which marries her love of Japanese and flash games. You can learn and listen to other useful Japanese phrases at her website, JapaneseUp.


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