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Views from Tokyo and Chiba: Have you made any memorable gaffes while learning another language?

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Zoe Henderson Smith
English teacher, 29 (New Zealander)
The most recent gaffe I had with Japanese was in a bar where I was trying to use beer mats to explain why the U.K. has so much rainfall. And whilst talking, I continually referred to clouds (kumo in Japanese) as kuma (bears), much to the bemusement of those listening.

Oliver Trenchard
Freelance editor, 22 (English)
I was once offered a free sample of pistachio cake outside a cafe, but had to turn it down due to having a nut allergy. I explained it in Japanese as “Natsu no arerugi desu,” meaning I am allergic to summer, instead of “Nattsu no arerugi desu,” and received an odd look from the cafe worker.

Daniel Gill
Teacher, 52 (American)
My mistakes are extremely rare, not because my Japanese is very good, but because my response is always just “Hai hai hai” — usually the correct response. But after watching breakfast TV, I told my students I’d seen “Mizumushi TV” (“Athlete’s Foot TV,”), as opposed to “Mezamashi TV” (“Wake-up TV”)!

Tolga Ermis
Intern, 26 (German)
My Japanese is not so good yet, so I’m always mixing up the Japanese for left and right, which causes confusion. Apparently, I’m also not good at pronouncing itadakimasu (said before eating) and gochisō-sama deshita (said after eating), but I am not sure if that is a linguistic gaffe. Hopefully it will come with time.

Tomoyo Toyomura
HR co-ordinator, 28 (Japanese)
I have made a lot of mistakes in English, but the funniest, I think, was a few years ago when I didn’t understand how to use “How do you do?” properly. Every time I met my friends I would ask them, “How do you do?” to some amusement, but now know I should only use it the first time I meet someone.

Yusuke Matoba
Researcher, 38 (Japanese)
When I tweeted in Portuguese, a language I studied at university, to online fans of my favorite J.League club, Kashiwa Reysol, I made the mistake of writing what I thought was “Kashiwa has (just) missed a goal chance,” but had actually written “Kashiwa has scored a goal.” Somebody corrected me and now it is OK.

  • KenjiAd

    “Today is the Erection Day” “Let’s go to Led Robster (sic)” come to my mind.

    Oh I also remember a nice Japanese girl saying to a British guy in a bar, “Drinking too much beer makes you fart” when she actually meant to say “fat.” In this particular case though, either statement happens to be a medically sound suggestion.

  • Jonathan Fields

    When I was in Japanese 1B class, I went through a Katakana English phase. A lot of stuff gets through, but some words have different meanings even if they appear to be the same. I told a girl wearing flower print jeans that I liked her pants and that she had good style. But ‘pants’ in Japanese means underpants, and style means ‘figure.’ Everyone had a nice laugh at my expense.

  • Jonathan Fields

    When I was in Japanese 1B class, I went through a Katakana English phase. A lot of stuff gets through, but some words have different meanings even if they appear to be the same. I told a girl wearing flower print jeans that I liked her pants and that she had good style. But ‘pants’ in Japanese means underpants, and style means ‘figure.’ Everyone had a nice laugh at my expense.