It’s said that English is grammatically similar to German, and that 75% of its vocabulary comes from French and Latin. If you already know English, then, you can probably learn German or French more quickly than other languages.

Have you ever complained that the Japanese language is too difficult and hard to memorize, or that everything is too different from other languages? Then I have good news! There are in fact some phrases that are very easy for people who already know English to remember. You’ll never forget them once you’ve read this article.

Here are the 8 phrases that I’ve found to be identical, word-for-word, in Japanese and English.


1. 携帯が死んだ / keitai ga shinda (My phone died)

This happens to everyone at times. Whether your phone really died or not, this may help you when you need an excuse for not answering a call; just blame your cellphone and change the subject.

When I first heard this phrase, I was really surprised because Japanese and English use the same word to make an excuse for ignoring a call - “die”. When someone told you that they called you several times, but you didn’t answer, you can just say 「ごめんね。携帯が死んでたんだ」/ gomen ne. keitai ga shindetanda (I’m sorry. My phone died). I personally think that there’s no better expression for this situation.


2. 馬車馬のように働く / bashauma no youni hataraku (Work like a horse)

Imagine that you’ve got enough money to go around buying nice things. People around you might wonder how you managed to earn that much money. If they ask, you can use this phrase:


「馬車馬のように働いたんだ」/ bashauma no youni hataraitanda (I worked like a horse).

If you worked like a horse and focused on your work, that’s no small achievement. Companies need more people like you!


3. 恋に落ちる / koi ni ochiru (Fall in love)

How romantic! When you fall in love, you can say 「僕は恋に落ちてしまった」/ boku wa koi ni ochite shimatta (I unintentionally fell in love). You can use this phrase to tell your friend about your feelings for someone, but don’t say this directly to someone you like as he or she might think it’s too cheesy. You probably wouldn’t be so direct in English either, would you?


4. 脱帽 / datsubou (Hats off to you)

I’m sure you’ve had the experience, at least once, of feeling like you just cannot beat someone in a match. When you see a person who is naturally talented at something or tries harder than other people, you can say 「きみには脱帽だよ」 / kimi niwa datsubou dayo (I take my hat off to you). The person will be happy, and it’s also a good way to express how he or she has inspired you to learn something new.

Next time maybe your friend will take their hat off to you!


5. 手がいっぱい / te ga ippai (I’ve got my hands full)

When I’m very busy with my work but my colleague is still asking me for help, I will say 「すみません、今手がいっぱいなんです」 / sumimasen, ima te ga ippai nandesu (I’m sorry but I’ve got my hands full right now). This is a phrase to use when refusing someone’s request, so be polite and tell them that though you’d like to help, it’s just impossible at this moment.


6. 彼は私の右腕だ / kare wa watashi no migiude da (He’s my right arm)

I’d never expected that the meaning of this phrase would be the same in Japanese and English! You probably have heard this saying in business situations sometimes. This one is interesting for me; I have no idea why we choose the right hand and not the left, but whatever the reason, I would feel good about my work if my boss said this to me.


7. 手を借りる / te wo kariru (Lend someone a hand)

This is my last example with an expression using the word for “hand”. It’s a very common and natural expression. I sometimes say can you give me a hand? in English myself, but not lend me a hand. I wish I’d known about this phrase earlier because it’s simple for Japanese people to understand what you are asking for. This phrase is also easy to remember for English speakers. You can say 「ちょっと手を貸してくれる?」 / chotto te wo kashite kureru? (can you lend me a hand?) when you need help.


8. どっちがどっち?/ docchi ga docchi? (Which is which?)

This is really easy. The phrase どっちがどっち / docchi ga docchi means which is which? in English. You don’t even have to try to memorize it. I think you will naturally think of this phrase when you would want to use it. I have used this saying without thinking in English and people understood.

How many of these phrases did you already know? I hope that learning these will show you the fun side of learning Japanese. Even though English and Japanese grammar are different, there are some phrases you can say in both which use the same exact words to convey a particular meaning. Plus, these are natural expressions, so your Japanese will sound even more native!


Hero image by Vincent_AF (CC BY-ND 2.0)