Learning a new language can be tough, and Japanese is said to be one of the most difficult. What with new sounds, grammar that’s entirely different from English, and three writing alphabets that take years to master, Japanese is considered a very hard language to learn. However, it can also be easy in places, and for people interested in visiting or living in the country, speaking it is a valuable skill.
Vocabulary is, of course, one of the most important things with learning any new language. Hopefully you’ll be picking up new words every day and practicing until you have them learned. Here are seven pairs of words in Japanese that are useful to learn, but shouldn’t be mixed up as it can make your sentences suddenly make no sense and might inspire some giggling from native speakers!
“Ushi” is the Japanese word for “cow”, and “oishii” is a common word meaning “tasty” or “delicious.” The last thing you want to be saying to a waitress is “ushi desu! Ushi desu!” (“It’s a COW!”) so be sure to distinguish their pronunciation as soon as you can.
“Okashi” means “sweets” or “confectionary” and you might see or hear the word in souvenir shops, especially stores that sell local “wagashi” or traditional sweets. “Okashii” means “weird” or “strange.” The only difference in pronunciation is the “ii” sound at the end – for “weird”, the sound is elongated whereas “confectionary” is short.
“Biru” is a katakana word taken from English meaning “building” and “bi-ru”, with a longer “i” sound, means “beer.” Context will make it pretty clear – the bartender probably won’t mistake your drink order for a request to buy the building – but be sure to master the pronunciation as “bi-ru” may be something you wish to use a lot!
“Shujin” means “husband” and you usually use it to refer to your own husband or the alternative polite form “goshujin” when referring to someone else’s husband. “Shuujin”, with a much longer “u” sound, means “prisoner”, so definitely avoid using it! Of course, as a non-native speaker, you’ll be forgiven for small mistakes, but it’s still a good idea to avoid saying “oh, will your prisoner be joining us today?”
“Douzo” is a common word meaning “go ahead” which the Japanese often use if they’re letting someone go in front of them or allowing them to speak first. “Douzou” means “statue”. Fortunately, context will make it perfectly clear which you’re referring to (accidentally saying “statue” isn’t going to confuse the old lady you just held the door open for) but it’s handy to master the pronunciation difference.
You may already know that “sake” is a popular Japanese rice wine that comes in many brands and varieties. “Shake” means salmon, so be sure not to mix these up when you’re ordering at an izakaya pub. You don’t want to be eagerly awaiting to chow down on some salmon only have them bring an expensive bottle of sake to your table!
“Konnyaku” comes from the English word “konjac” and refers to a somewhat flavourless , rubbery food also sometimes called devil’s tongue in English. “Konyaku” means to “be engaged.” Again, context is everything here, but be sure to master the pronunciation so that if you’re talking about people due to be married, you don’t accidentally refer to the Japanese version of aspic.
Learning Japanese can be a lot of fun, even if there are a few speedbumps along the way. Japanese people are generally delighted when someone attempts to learn the language, and you’re guaranteed to make new friends and please a lot of people on your linguistic journey. Just be sure to distinguish between similar-sounding words, and you’ll do great.