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日本語VS英語 Words You Do Not Find In Other Languages - Japan/English Edition

Weekly Topic: Words and phrases that you do not find in other languages

Sep 13, 2019

There are many words or phrases that you can't easily translate into other languages. I'll be looking at some Japanese phrases that I've always struggled with translating into English. Let's start!

日本語VS英語:(3 examples)

1. 仕方がありません。(しょうがない〜)

This is a great phrase that is SUPER useful in Japan. (in my experience) It's often translated as "It cannot be helped" which is just something that Americans typically do not say or use.

In my opinion, English speakers are more likely to say, "What are you going to do about it?" (a rhetorical question) or "There's nothing you can do (about that)."  More casually, I'll say, "what're ya gonna do?"

2. よろしくお願いたします。

Often used in a formal or business setting in Japan, this phrase loosely translates to "please be nice to me," but we'd never say this in English. Being nice to someone is implied. Going out of your way to say this would make you appear naive or foolish. Google seems to think the most accurate translation is "Thank you" or "Nice to meet you" but these aren't accurate. In an English conversation, when this phrase is said, the closest translation would be, "I look forward to doing business with you" if said at the appropriate time. This, of course, would not be repeated after the first use.


3. 頂きます!

Textbooks teaching English speakers Japanese phrases love to say this means, "I will humbly receive (this food)!" "Let's eat!" or "Bon appetite!"  

None of these are really said before eating a meal in English. Japanese who have visited America will quickly learn that if a prayer or "grace" isn't said before a meal, rarely anything is said at all. You simply begin eating. It's strange, I know - but it's how we do things!


英語VS日本語:(2 examples)

1.  the, a

Any Japanese learning English can understand why these are challenging. Articles do not have a place in the Japanese language. One of the biggest roadblocks even for Japanese who speak English extremely well is getting articles correct. 

Teaching articles is frustrating for me, too. It can be done! As an example:

This is an apple.
This is the apple.

This is an apple - "an apple" means the apple is special and was not mentioned earlier. It's just an apple. You cannot say, "This is apple." I would you understand you, but the English teacher is me would be crying on the inside.

This is the apple - "the apple" means the apple is something that I (perhaps) talked about earlier, or there was something special about it. Maybe I was telling you about a weird apple I found in my fruit basket and later when I showed it to you, I would say, "This is the apple." (the weird one)

Articles are tricky to learn. I apologize! We are stuck with them now, so let's learn them.


2. Cheesy

When something is cheesy, it's not just covered in cheese or tastes like cheese. It can also mean that something is strange, or inauthentic. Honestly, it's slang. For example, everyone knows Spiderman, right? He's great! Cool movies, too.

Well, Italian Spiderman is cheesy. The movie looks cheap. It appears fake. It's laughable. 

That is cheesy.

Just because something is cheesy, doesn't mean its bad. Some people enjoy cheesy things. Cheesy movies can be funny or endearing. Cheesy is often described for things or places, but people could be cheesy too.

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