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The influence of English on Japanese

Every person who started learning Japanese and who knows English (or just had contact with it) certainly noticed that some Japanese words are similar, in order not to say ‘identical’, to those in English. 

Japanese accepted influence of many languages (mainly Chinese, but also some European languages). The group of words that are English and are present in Japanese is called  wasei-eigo (eigo – the English language). These words try to imitate original pronunciation and are written by using katakana (a Japanese syllabary used for writing foreign words). Sometimes it is difficult, however, because Japanese does not contain /l/ sound and it’s replaced by /r/ sound.

English words in Japanese may be convinient for the learners of Japanese. Writing is of course completely different but having known English, it will be much easier to study contemporary Japanese, which is full of foreign words.

Look at this list. Here you have Japanese words written by using roma-ji. It’s a kind of transcription that uses Latin alphabet to represent Japanese reading. Try to read them and guess what is the meaning of each word. Some of them are more difficult to decode than the others (a line above the letter means that it has to be pronounced longer):

  • Sūpu
  • Menyū
  • Sandoitchi
  • Chiizu
  • Tenisu
  • Resutoran
  • Kii
  • Sētā
  • Kisu
  • Tekisuto
  • Hamu
  • Shinamon
  • Risuto
  • Tisshu
  • Chokorēto

And the list of answers:

  • Soup
  • Menu
  • Sandwich
  • Cheese
  • Tennis
  • Restaurant
  • Car
  • Key
  • Sweater
  • Kiss
  • Text
  • Ham
  • Cinnamon
  • List
  • Tissue
  • Chocolate

Surprised? This is the evidence that English is a global language and the knowledge of it is necessary nowadays. It’s funny that some people claim that they don’t know English (but this phenomenon is becoming more and more rare). Weekend, notebook, ok, web… just a few examples that are present and commonly used in many languages. Do you use them? Consciously or not; the answer is yes. So don’t be scared of English and any language 🙂



A language enthusiast, a teacher, a learner and a student of English and French teaching at the University of Warsaw.

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