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!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

atsui or atatakai ? samui or tsumetai ? confusion around warm and cold...

In Japanese, there are several words for "warm" and several words for "cold" and things can get confusing.

Here are some explanations:

1. Translations of "cold"

When speaking about the weather, about how you feel, you have to use the following word:

For example:
- It is cold today. 今日は寒いです。(kyou ha samui desu)
- Are you cold (do you feel cold) ? 寒いですか。(samui desu ka)

When speaking about objects, especially food and drinks, the correct word is:

For example:
- 冷たいサラダ (tsumetai salada): a cold salad (ie served cold)
If you were to use 寒いサラダ(samui salada), you would basically mean a salad which feels cold (needs a jacket ?).

2. Translations of "warm"

Things get even more confusing for "warm".

When speaking about the weather or about how you feel, you have to use the words:
暖かい/あたたかい/atatakai for warm (Japanese people often refer to it as "nice warm") and 暑い/あつい/atsui  for hot (think about it as "too warm", "not-pleasant warm").

I noticed that in practice, when speaking about the weather, a foreigner will only use the term warm as the equivalent of "atsui". "atatakai" will simply be seen by foreigners as being a good weather "ii tenki ".

Also, please note that orally, "あたたかい/atatakai" is often reduced to "あったかい/attakai", especially in casual contexts.

When speaking about objects, again especially about food and drinks, the correct words are:
温かい/あたたかい/atatakai for warm and 熱い/あつい/atsui for hot.
You can notice that the pronunciation is the same as earlier, but the kanjis are different.

This time, it is generally easier to make the difference between "atatakai" and "atsui". "atatakai" simply means the dish/drink is supposed to be served warm, while "atsui" will imply it is really hot.

For example:
- 温かいサラダ (atatakai salada): a salad served warm (warm pieces of chicken ? melted cheese ?)
- スープが熱くて飲めなかった (su-pu ga atsukute nomenakatta):  I can't drink this soup, it is too hot (notice: this is written in a familiar register, don't use it in polite situations).
- both 温かいお茶 (atatakai o cha) and 熱いお茶 (atsui o cha) are correct. I would personally rather use the first one.

3. When English is interfering

Recently, English has been interfering and you will hear more and more "hot" and "ice" instead of "atatakai" or "tsumetai" for drinks, in coffee shops for example. If you are not expecting it or are not used to Japanese pronunciation of English words, this may also confuse you ("hot" is pronounced "hotto", "ice" is generally pronounced correctly).

4. Conclusion
I hope this make things clearer to you, here are some final examples:
- 暑い時に、冷たいドリンクがいいね。 (atsui toki ni, tsumetai dorinku ga ii ne): when it is warm outside, it is good to get something cold to drink.

(notice again: this is casual Japanese)
- 温かい内に (atatakai uchi ni): "while it's hot", often used when telling other people to start eating and not wait for you / your meal, ... (in this context we would add the word どうぞ(douzo) at the end).

Also, Japanese people are too polite to correct you if you make a mistake, so you will have to be careful on your own. Don't stress too much about it though, it will come with time (you can come back here, if you forget which is which or which are the correct kanjis...).

Again, please feel free to ask questions, post a comment, share this post, facebook-like it, google +1 it...

PS: I just noticed another article about this topic:熱い-vs-暑い-暖かいvs-温かい-request-lesson/
(it is focusing on warm/hot but is more complete than this post)

PS2: You probably already have an electronic dictionary but if not, I recommend the Ex-word. I have one myself and got my brother one for his birthday and we are satisfied with them. Click on the picture to get it on Amazon: