Friday, January 9, 2015

Things You "Take" in English and Not in Japanese

Every language has its subtleties. In Japanese, the standard equivalent to the verb "to take" is 取る (toru). It is used when you pick something, get a hold on something, and so on. However, there are many cases where the verb "to take" should not be translated this way. Here are some of them.

1. Take the Bus, Train, Plane...

This is a very common mistake to make because it is a very tempting one. In English, you "take" the bus, the train, the plane ... In Japanese, however, you do NOT say 電車を取る (densha wo toru). Unless, of course, you are Godzilla and you are grabbing one of the trains in your big hand or you are a kid holding a train toy.


In Japanese, you have to use the verb 乗る (noru) and be careful that we use the preposition に (ni) before this verb: 電車に乗る (densha ni noru).

Same for the bus, plane, etc...

2. Take a Shower, Take a Bath

Again, unless you are Godzilla... the verb "toru" won't work here. Use シャワーを浴びる (shawa wo abiru) or お風呂に入る (o furo ni hairu // can be understood as "going in the bath").

While, we are in the bath vocabulary, another common issue is to refer to the water of the bath as 水 (mizu). For example, when you say that there is not enough "water" in this bath, or that the "water" is too warm or too cold. In Japanese, you have to use the word お湯 (o yu // hot water). It won't really make sense to Japanese people otherwise.

3. Take a Medicine

This one is kind of hard. Even today, it doesn't feel very natural for me to say it. In Japanese, we don't "take" a medicine, we "drink" it, even if it isn't a liquid: 薬を飲む (kusuri wo nomu).

So, here is a dangerous confusion. If a Japanese friend tells you この薬取って (kono kusuri totte), it means "bring me this medicine", NOT "take it" (basically, "take it to me").

4. Take an Exam

Another quite common use of the verb "to take" in English is when referring to tests, exams, etc... In Japanese, again , it wouldn't make any sense to use the verb "toru" in this case, and they have the specific verb 受ける (ukeru).

That's it for today! There are other cases where "take" is not translated into "toru" but they are less common (take a nap, take bets, take the bull by the horns...). Remember the four mentioned and you should be fine most of the time :)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Expressing the Desire/Wish to Do Something in Japanese

When I went to Japan for the first time years ago, this is something I simply couldn't express: the wish/desire to do something. "I want to go there, I would like to taste this food, I wish I could try that one day, ...".

In this case, the dictionary doesn't help much because there isn't really a way to translate the word "want" or "would like". What you need to do, though, isn't too difficult: simply use the -tai form of a verb.

For example, "I want to eat" would be 食べたい (tabetai). "I want to drink": 飲みたい (nomitai), "I want to go": 行きたい (ikitai).

This tai-form of a verb is very useful and not too hard to remember/use.

In the cases the person desiring an action is not the same as the person performing the action, you need to use something else. For example: "I want him to do this". You cannot use the V-tai form because it would mean "I want to do this (myself)". In that case, you need to use the "-te hoshii" form. In the previous example (a bit vague to have a proper translation), something like "彼がこれをしてほしい" would be used (sounds very textbook but please focus on the -te hoshii form).

I want him to come tonight: 今夜,彼が来てほしいです。(konya karega kite hoshii desu)

I would like it to snow: 雪が降ってほしい。(yuki ga futte hoshii)

After hoshii, you should use です (desu) in formal occasion or nothing for familiar/informal language.

Hope this helps you expressing your desire to do something or desire that something is done by someone.

Happy New Year 2014!

Happy New Year to all the readers of this blog!

You are more and more people visiting these few pages and I want to thank you for that. When I started this blog I didn't know so many people would be interested in it. Don't hesitate by the way to leave some comments (is something still not clear, do you want to know more about that, etc...).

What will you do in 2014? Learn some more Japanese? Go to Japan? Take some Japanese tests?

Good luck in any case and have a wonderful year.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Tip for Those Who Learn Kanji (kanji app for the kanken test)

Ok, let's be honest here, learning kanji is not easy. When I started learning them, I decided that I should try to learn as many as I can and that it was not a big deal if they were approximate or if the stroke order was not correct.

Unfortunetaly, I later discovered how naive this reasoning was and how bad I needed to start again from the start and learn kanji properly. I also noticed something when I spoke with Japanese people. They seemed surprised that I could write some difficult kanji but that I had problems with some basic ones.

I had learned kanji in the order they came to me, never questioning if it was a kanji I should learn or not.

I also changed that and I have now decided to learn kanji in the same order as Japanese people themselves. It is actually easy as it is documented. You will find both the system: 1st year of elementary school, 2nd year, ... 6th year, 1st year of junior high school, etc... and the kyuu system: 10kyuu 9kyuu, etc...

The two systems are consistent (10kyuu is for kanji learned in the 1st year of elementary school, etc..).

This kyuu system is from the Japanese Kanji Aptitude test (or 漢字能力検定試験 kanji nouryoku kentei shiken), sometimes reduced to kanken. This test is aimed for Japanese people and therefore not commonly available outside Japan (unfortunately) but I do like it a bit better than the Japanese Language Proficiency Test for this particular topic (as we are following the same path as Japanese people themselves).

I was surprised to find an iPad app to train for this kanken test. The only thing you need to do is to look for it in Japanese (you won't find anything in English or in roma-ji). The app is also available on the Google play store:

PS: I looked for the app again for you to see if I could help you find this app (it drove me crazy again because this app does not appear in search results). The easiest to find it is to look for the app developer: imagineer. Just look for it and you should find it.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Some basic words in Japanese: "no"

A common idea is that Japanese people (and Asian people in general) cannot say "no". This is a misconception even though it is true that they tend to use it less often and in another way compared to "western" people.

If your boss asks you: "could you do this for me?" then, effectively, "no" is not an option. I actually think there is not so many countries/companies where "no" is an option.

If your boss asks you: "was it Spain you went to last year?" and you went to Italy, then you should say "no". It would be stupid to say "yes", just because you think "no" does not exist in Japanese.

1) The theoritical "no"
Let's begin with the dictionary. Most will give you the translation いいえ iie (long i and ends with  e like the first e of Emily) for "no". However, this is not commonly used in situations where you would use "no" in English.

spain ni itta koto ga arimasuka
Have you ever been to Spain?

Iie, mada itta koto ha arimasen
No, not yet.

This is polite and theoretically correct. However this is not commonly used by Japanese people. We will see what would be more natural in the next section.

So when do Japanese people use いいえ? I wanted to say never, but I thought about it and there is a situation where Japanese people frequently use it. It is to reply to a "thank you", or a "sorry".

kore, arigatou
Thank you for this (for example for a gift).

いいえ、いいえ、別に。。。 (often shortened to いえ、いえ)
iie, iie, betsu ni ...
Don't worry, that was nothing.

shinpai sasete, gomenne
I am sorry I made you worry ("about me", for example).

いいえ、いいえ、大丈夫です。 (often shortened to いえ、いえ)
iie, iie, daijoubu desu
No problem.

2) In practice
  • 違う、違います chigau, chigaimasu (to make a mistake, be mistaken) is used instead of "no"

For example:
kyonen, spain ni ikimashita ne
Last year, you went to Spain, didn't you?

chigaimasu, Italia deshita
No, we went to Italy.

anata ga taberenai no ha, cabagge datta kke?
What was it again you did not like (to eat), cabbage?

Chigau, chigau, celery
No, no, celery.

  • まだ(です) is often used on its own, without いいえ
To use back the first example:
spain ni itta koto ga arimasuka
Have you ever been to Spain?

mada desu
Not yet.

3) Informal situation
In informal situation, a double tone mumbling will be used instead of いいえ. It is difficult to write it down as it is simply mumbling. People may write it うんう (hmm hm) but that does not give you a good idea of how to say it. Let's just say if the mumble is mono tonal, short and going down, it is the informal "yes", if it includes two sounds, then it is "no".

4) Nuances and degrees of no
Generally, Japanese people manage to guess the "no" without it being said simply by the way the other person reacts. A person who would act a bit passive, for example, could be showing his/her disappointment. Imagine that you are going with your Japanese girlfriend to Europe and plane tickets to Paris are too expensive. If you ask her "is it fine not to go to Paris?" or "can't we go to Paris another time" and she does not answer with a clear "yes", then this means "no". Only western guys would need a clear "no" in this situation to understand it is "no" (this may be more a guy/girl thing than a Japanese/western thing).

Otherwise, there are some degrees of yes and no.
I have listed some possible answers to "could you do this for me" kind of question, with the closest English meaning in practical:
- もちろん/mochiron/sure: this is a positive yes
- するよ/suru yo/I will do it (or other verbs depending on what you are asking for) : again, a positive yes

- OK: yes, but depending of the intonation it can be "no problem" or "I'll do it but that's really because of you"
- 頑張ります/ganbarimasu/I will try: this is the kind of "no, but as 'no' is not an option, this is the closest-to-true option I have". You should probably explain more why you need it, or ask if there is any problems with what you are asking for (there is, but you should not ask what they are, simply ask if there are some).
- ちょっと難しいかな/chotto muzukashii kana/It may be difficult: this generally means no.

- 無理だよ/muri da yo/It is impossible: no
- だめ/dame/never: no way
- いやです/iya desu/no: not even in your dreams (what on earth were you asking for?)

That was it for 'no'. I hope you understand better how to say 'no' in Japanese, or more specifically how to identify them when Japanese people say it.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Some basic words in Japanese: "yes"

One of the problem with the Japanese language is that the difficulty is not always where you expect it. For example, there is 0 spelling problems in Japanese. There is only one way to write words and they will never wonder if you need 1 or 2 'm', 1 or 2 'p'. How many times have I seen people write "there" instead of "their" or "would of" instead of "would have". This would not happen in Japanese. On the other hand, some basic words may be problematic. Today, I would like to talk about "yes".

How to say "yes" in Japanese? If you look in a dictionary, you will find the "translation" はい (hai). This is a good translation but there are some small details I would like to discuss.

In the English "Yes, I do", we use "do" no matter the verb of the question (except for some verbs like can, shall, would, ...). In Japanese, they simply repeat the verb of the question.
For example:
Do you play tennis?                         Yes, I do
テニスをしますか。                             はい、します
tenis wo shimasu ka                         hai, shimasu

If the Japanese verb is です (desu), you need to add そう in the answer

For example:
Is this your cat?               Yes, it is.
あなたの猫ですか。                           はい、そうです
anata no neko desu ka                    hai, sou desu

In Japanese, people also use はい, more often than in English, to simply acknowledge what their interlocutor says, kind of showing their are listening and want their interlocutor to continue speaking. It is difficult to describe with words but if you listen to Japanese people, you will notice it.
For example:
If you try to say you have a problem with your internet and say this:
- インターネットのもんだいがあります。
inta-netto no mondai ga arimasu 
Your interlocutor may simply reply:
- はい
Basically, you are saying you have a problem with your internet and the other person is replying "yes". It does not mean "yes, you have a problem", but more inviting you to continue (describe more the problem, tell what you expect, ...). If you wanted your interlocutor to take action directly, you should actually have said:
- インターネットのもんだいがあります
inta-netto no mondai ga arimasu ga

More on this, here.

There is also うん (un), more familiar, which in practice is just a mumble. Again, it is possible to repeat the verb of the question.

Did you see this movie?                    Yes, I did
この映画を見た?               うん、見た。
kono eiga wo mita               un, mita    

It is possible, and quite common to omit うん. In the previous example, we could say 見たよ (mita yo) or 見た、見た (mita mita).

To conclude, let's just say that はい in formal situation is a good translation of yes. Simply, in Japanese, it is more common to follow it with the verb of the question. In informal situations, yes is translated into うん but may be eluded and the answer will only be the verb of the question in the affirmative form.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bilingual books Japanese/English

(Updated May 2013)

Are you learning Japanese? Are you fed up with grammar books and Kanji flashcards? Well, then, why not try to read real Japanese? Does this sound impossible to you? Actually it isn't, thanks to Bilingual books Japanese/English. Here are some of them:

My favorite book with texts in both Japanese and English is this one:

Why is that my favorite bilingual book?

  • it has stories originally written in Japanese, ie not just made up for foreigners. The real deal.
  • because I like the stories. They are fiction stories.
  • it has the original text and the English translation "face-to-face" so that you can read the original text and immediately see the translation (no need to turn pages or whatever)
  • it has a small introduction to every text in the preface so you can choose which one will be the most interesting for you
  • it has a great presentation of the authors (it is so nice to discover Japanese authors with a proper English text)
  • it has the Japanese format (reading from top to bottom, from right to left, and the starting page is on the opposite side of the book compared to "Western" books)
  • it has a small glossary with terms used in the book in case you want to look up for one term only (and try to figure out the translation by yourself)
And this is not even the best thing in this book. What I like even more than all this is the section between the texts and the glossary which is an explanation module of why this means that. What specific nuance has this word which disappears in the English translation, etc... This is a fantastic job and on a language point of view, this is what I like best. Here is a blurred image of it:

Copyrighted material used here as Fair Use: low quality (blurred) image used for review purpose

So what are the texts included in this book?
- Kamisama by Kawakami Hiromi: a nice short story that will tell you more about some Japanese traditions when someone moves (hikkoshi soba). Nothing religious here despite the title (which means "God").
- Mukashi yuuhi no kouen de by Otsuichi: I love this story but my wife (Japanese) finds it very scary. The end is just amazing.
- Nikuya Oumu by Ishii Shinji
- Miira by Yoshimoto Banana
- Hyakumonogatari by Kitamura Kaoru
- Kakeru by Tawada Youko

Other things:
  • Beware the paging: it goes from p1 to p143 on the "back" (back for Western people) and p1 to p112 on the "Western" front of the book. I say this because sometimes there are references to a page number but the book is divided in two. If the page reference does not make sense, look at the other half of the book.
  • There is also a CD where a professional narrator reads the text. I haven't used it myself so I cannot say how good it is but it is probably a good exercise for listening comprehension.

This is my second favorite book for bilingual texts Japanese-English:

8 authors instead of 6 but a bit slimmer. Those are novels and not fiction, so you may like this book better if you don't like fiction that much. I really enjoy the first one Nigashita Sakana ha Ookikatta by Mori Youko because:

  • it was the first text written for Japanese people that I understood (thanks to the translation etc... but still)
  • the Japanese expression used in the title is very cute and is well illustrated (don't want to give spoilers here, but I can say I use it a lot and Japanese people are impressed I know it
My wife was laughing a lot when reading the novel by Sakura Momoko but I personally did not see anything funny in it (either this is Japanese sense of humor or it was too difficult for me to focus on the humor part of it).

Otherwise, here are 2 books in the same series. I cannot comment on them as I haven't read them myself but feel free to try them:

Finally, there are more and more bilingual books but I am focusing already on the first two books (and I have this secret hope that one day, I may read a book without the English translation...).

About the author: 32 yo guy married to a Japanese woman and having a 3 yo boy. I have learned Japanese by living 1 year in Japan (Fukuoka) and I have kept some basic level by speaking it with my wife (I have a tendency to use a "feminine" Japanese, though). I don't have a huge vocabulary (using the same daily words again and again) and I forget kanji faster than I learn them. So my level is not so good and these books are still enjoyable by me, so give them a try!