Learning to say things the Japanese way

Hey all, this is my first post!!

So as adult language learners, we are very susceptible to “first language interference”, where you think in your native language and try to translate that into your target language, which results in odd sounding sentences or word usage. This can be especially problematic with Japanese being so different from English. Things that are verbs in English are adjectives in Japanese, they “drink” medicine whereas we “take” it, etc.

Recently I had an interesting lesson with my Japanese tutor where I was talking about setting up my new apartment, and I was saying that I didn’t feel like installing my furniture. I wanted to say “I’m lazy” and asked him how to say that in Japanese.

He said “Well, there’s なまけもの, but try to think of a more Japanese way to say it”
I thought about it for second, and then it was obvious. "セットアップはめんどくさい”

So my question for everyone is, what are some Japanese phrases or sentence constructions that you’ve learned that make you sound more natural? Or funny mistakes you made when learning to speak Japanese? Common things we say in English (or other languages) that isn’t really said in Japanese?


One example I can think of from a thread recently, is when you invite someone to do something.
In English we say "Do you want to do x?

In Japanese, rather than saying "何かをしたいんですか” they say "何かをしませんか” or “何かをしようか?”

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Here are some that immediately came to my head.

  • To wrinkle (something) Xにしわせる
  • To iron (something) アイロンでXのしわばす
  • To get a good score on a test テストでいい点数てんすうを取る
  • To rate/score Xに点数てんすうをつける
  • To be thin せている

It’s kind of a ragtag list, but I found that part of the battle of saying things more naturally has to do with knowing common collocations in Japanese. One resource that was introduced to me a while back by someone on the forum was the Tsukuba Corpus. It’s really easy to use because you just type in the word you’d like to find pairings with and the results bar will populate common particles and parts of speech that go with that word.

Additionally, I have “Common Japanese collocations : a learner’s guide to frequent word pairings” by Kakuko Shoji. It’s a simple listing of collocations based on categories (i.e., home, work, drugstore, etc.) with the constructions presented by the main noun. It’s a nice book, but it doesn’t have an index to find the noun or verb you’d like to find collocations for. Also it’s not exhaustive for the entries in each category. In other words, it’s not good for quick reference but good for memorizing common collocations to build your Japanese knowledge.


Thank you. I was just thinking to myself the other day that I wished I knew of such a resource but didn’t even know where to start looking. Learning a language from the ground up is obviously important when fluency is your goal, but I think formulating your own sentences too early can often be disastrous and studying collocations as they already exist in the language is important too.

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I don’t think it’s disastrous, but learning such things certainly reduces miscommunications and such.

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I just took a look at this and oh my god this will change how I study Japanese I’m pretty sure.
I’ve needed something like this for so long!!

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Thank you for the interesting topic! For the laziness example - it’s interesting that you just knew how to say it in “normal” Japanese yourself, which meant (to me at least) you’d have heard it somewhere and just picked it up, as opposed to having learnt it formally or translating directly from English into Japanese. It’s interesting also how common and acceptable it is in Japanese to say「めんどくさい」when in English, “this is a hassle”/“I can’t be bothered” feels more embued with a bad attitude and we’d be more guarded expressing it (IMHO at least). It’s an irony that those hard working Japanese, so often willing to go the extra mile, may be more culturally comfortable to express the hassle. (By all means, correct me if I am wrong here).

The languages are directly translatable in some places, and in other places we have to find “their” way to say it. I always run into trouble overusing「覚える」simply because “remember” is more diverse in English. It has to be 「思い出す」when recalling, or more often not being able to recall in my case, but I am still not used to it.

I wish I could think of more examples, but thanks again for the topic.


This is amazing!! This will help my writing so much thanks!

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Glad you found it interesting! I think it’s a topic a lot of people don’t think about that much, but is so important for learning Japanese. I used to live in Japan teaching on the JET program, and I often heard Japanese people using the same weird English words over and over again, and as I learned more Japanese I realized that they we’re just translating Japanese words directly, so that kind of clued me in. Example, when I was to be transferred to a different school, I got a bunch of notes from my students (junior high) that said “Thank you for one year”, which is a direct translation of the phrase 「一年ありがとうございます」. Of course, I don’t blame middle school kids for not knowing that we don’t really say that in English, but still interesting.

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This is really offtopic but how did you make the furigana?


Any accompanying kana goes outside the tags





I suggest going on to Japanese google and just googling the word you want to see. You will see plenty of examples.

One thing that my learning journey has taught me is what am I actually saying and what am I expecting the listener to do in reaction. I’ve found that many of the things that I had no idea how say had to do with not really understanding the underlying meaning of what I was trying to say. For example, “lazy” has multiple meanings despite me conceptualizing it as a single concept in English. So not wanting to do something because I want to be lazy is saying something is 面倒くさい. But if I want to say my colleagues are lazy because they are slacking on the job, I’d probably say やる気がなさそう (seem unmotivated) or something specifically about the poor job they are doing because it’s easier for the listen to understand what I’m trying to say.

I’m not sure about willing, per se. I think it’s more of a social obligation to do certain things, which can be a hassle or more trouble than it’s worth at times. I remember one of my friends telling me how much of a hassle it was preparing her children for the new school year. She said not only did she have to buy all the required supplies requested by the school, but she also had to painstakingly label every item with her kids’ names. The school would then check to see if the children had brought everything to school as requested. Those who didn’t comply (or simply missed something) were notified after the child involved was made to feel bad for being the odd one out. She felt going to such lengths wasn’t worth the trouble and thus 面倒くさい. I think others would agree if they were in the same situation.

Now I’m wondering if there is a Japanese expression that uses “head”, because in English I’d probably say “came to mind”. I found 頭に浮かぶ, but I have no idea if that’s common or if you know/use that. I think the only similar phrase I know is 思いつく. Or maybe “came to head” is a common way to say it in different regions of the U.S. and I have just never heard it.

I’m only mentioning this because it would be ironically relevant to the thread if my observation is of something real.

I’m not sure… But since I have a bad habit of not proofreading my posts, especially when I enter them via my phone (which was the case this time).

I think I meant to say “came to mind” but at some point “popped into my head” was also going through my brain so “came to my head” was the result. :sweat_smile: “Come into (one’s) head” is a proper English expression, but I’m not sure if it’s a regional expression, though. Being away from native speakers and not consuming as much English media as I’ve done in the past has affected my English.

Funny enough, I don’t use 頭に浮かぶ in Japanese. I actually use 目に浮かぶ during such times.

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In beginner Japanese class, we were practicing how to reject an offer /invitation and as usual, we would just reply いいえ or いけません. But japanese rarely use those phrases and instead politely reply それはちょっと…

めんどくさいね~ :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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Yes, I’ve been there too, on one hand I loved those “new” phrases, sometimes it can even be poetic, on the other hand, one kid was glued to English language TV and film most nights and very clued up on not only the “right” phrases but exactly how we mouth them, it granted him a lot of trust and access to English speakers, and yet, I knew he was lost sometimes. Come to think of it, I was doing the exact same from the opposite way! And I still recommend TV as an important part of learning language.

Or maybe in other words the new language expands our understanding of what we say and what it is possible to say?

Yes, there is that coercive pressure when children are involved, I’ve heard similar, bento pressure would be another one. I was thinking more the service industry in retrospect, but that brings up the ほんねとたてまえ (hope I’ve spelt that correctly) cultural phenomena, for me at least. Are all of those service givers thinking 「めんどくさい」in their heart of hearts, I often wondered.

I wish I could think of more examples of when the Japanese way to say things really contrasts to English.

I think so. When I started studying Japanese, I often heard how difficult it was for some people to express certain things in Japanese because there were no equivalent words. I didn’t believe that at first. It wasn’t until I hit communicative walls trying to explain concepts I didn’t know how to express in Japanese before I realized learned how true these reported difficulties were. Learning other languages certainly helps one to be more accurate in describing what they really mean.

I had a feeling you were talking about things from service perspective. I used my friend as an example because even in personal interactions with people, it seems as though some individuals are more than willing to do a lot more to be helpful or go through the headache experienced in certain transactions because “it’s the rules”, but like everywhere else there’s a limit to what people put up with. I’ve heard people complain about customers being overly demanding after a seemingly pleasant conversation with them. I think with American customer service (for example) can get away with being significantly less accommodating because the guest is rude, demanding, or difficult to please. I’ve often taught students in Japan planning to travel to the US how important it is to be pleasant and respectful to service workers and many were surprised at how American consumers tolerated customer service that had room for retribution against bad customers.

What an idea! I’ve had and heard of experiences from public services in Japan that could possibly fit that description. (I feel we could talk endlessly about this.)

Back on subject, kicking myself that no other examples come to mind, I realised I have some great resources for this:
The first is Kodansha’s Communicative English-Japanese Dictionary by Peter Sharp.
This tries its best to transcend the normal dictionary by referencing how people normally communicate, so there is good coverage of phrasal verbs etc, and all those ways we use one word quite diversely without thinking about it.
e.g. a simple word like “pass” is - move past, go away, overtake, give, be successful, exceed, become official (as in law)… then pass away (無くなります), pass out (気を失う), pass up (逃す).
I get the feeling Peter had a group of English and Japanese speakers and spent a few years rewriting a standard dictionary until as much as possible was just as both sides would normally say it. Its pretty great.

The second is an ALC book with English subtitle “A Learners Dictionary of Multi-sense Japanese Words” I have one book for verbs and another for adjectives. This does the same as above in the opposite direction, with a nice chart per word to breakdown the various senses (entirely in Japanese…あー). e.g. 落ちる (& 墜ちる) has to fall (with gravity), collapse, when something unwanted (like a stain or body weight) is removed, failing a test, decreasing, when power is shut off, becoming someone’s possession (?!) and falling under someone’s control…
Sometimes its interesting how many senses both languages share for similar words and meanings as much as the differences.
Oh wow - its even got a related Onomatope section for some words - ぽたり・ぽたん:あまり重くないものが落ちる音や様子。
I need to use this more.


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