On Friday my roommate moved out and now I have a new roommate named Maiko. She got us all very confused in the beginnig, because she would just introduce herself as Mai or Mako. When asked why, she revealed that she was afraid that us non-japanese people would think her name was Michael.
I can imagine some confused faces here. Maiko and Michael don’t sound that much alike, right? Well, with a japanese accent they actually do, which caused my roommate to be so self-concious about her name and gave everybody else in the house a good laugh.
Japanese accents can be so funny though. In some cases it will definitely take you a while to realize someone is speaking English with you. I used to have a favourite vocabulary in my japanese textbook, esu efu, which is the pronounciation of SF, the genre science fiction. Other examples of words I had problems with would be sukejuuru for schedule or panfuretto for a pamphlet. Of course, it doesn’t make it any easier that English is not my native language…
When getting used to the accent it does get easier understanding though. You will be able to recognize whole phrases, like sankyuu meaning thank you or donmai meaning don’t mind. You are then ready for the next step: abbreviations. A PC is short for a personal computer in English, but in Japanese it’s pasocon. And the popular anime is just short for animation. But what are you doing when you change the programm of a terebi or an eakon with a rimokon? You should check that with an apuri on your sumaho…
You probably think by now, that we have reached the bottom of confusion here. But at least all those words where just abbreviations of already existing english words. Guess how little you will understand with “invented English”. The japanese term would be wasei-eigo, which translates to “English, made in Japan”.
Those invented expressions include the well-known “salaryman” – a white collar office worker, but also the “virgin road” – a church aisle, “fruit beer” – cider (while “cider” itself means a fizzy drink), or the “doctor stop” – which stands for a doctors advice to give up a bad habit, like drinking or smoking, because it is bad for your health.
Japanese and English languages are just so different in their expressions, grammar patterns and especially in composition, that misunderstandings and confusions like that happen on a regular basis. I think, when deciding to live in an international environment, like our share house, one should have the courage to misunderstandings.
Misunderstandings are not bad and they are absolutely nothing to feel ashamed of. They are in fact very funny and will help you learn so much about a culture and their language!