As Japanese culture, food, and people continue to influence the world at a rapid pace, a strange issue for people who learn Japanese arises. When you have a conversation in English, with another English native speaker who has no knowledge about the Japanese language, what do you do when a Japanese word comes in?
Many Japanese words make their way into the typical native English speaker’s vocabulary.
But they come in sounding quite different from the original.
To an American visiting Japan, they want to drink Sah-kee (really Sah-keh), sing keh-ree-oh-key (really kah-rah-oh-keh), view a live keh-rah-tee (really kah-rah-teh) demonstration, and take a trip to Toe-key-oh (really Toe-kyo).
So what do you do?
Pronounce the words the way they are supposed to? Or pronounce the word the way it is mistaken?
Situation 1 – Common mispronounced words
For common words that have found their place as a permanent resident of English, I think most people tend to stick with the standard mistaken pronunciation version. Otherwise it may come off as pretentious.
Situation 2 – Uncommon Mispronounced Words
The next group of words relate to the foreigners that like Japanese food and culture but don’t know the language. These are the words people start to pick up at Japanese restaurants, TV, and movies.
Since many English native speakers may not know the word, it starts to become questionable whether there really is a need to use improper pronunciation.
Situation 3 – Words which are new to almost any foreigner hearing them
This is when you introduce a Japanese expression or concept that doesn’t have a Western translation, and almost only those who know the language have heard of it.
Here it seems most accepted to use the real pronunciation.
Situation 4 – Names of Japanese people
This is a tricky one. Besides a few obvious major ones, it is hard to know what names are commonly mispronounced and what aren’t.
Also a name doesn’t really feel like a foreign word to most native English speakers despite the language it originates from.
And then what happens when you directly talk to a foreign born Japanese person or someone just fluent in English and the conversation is in English?
How big an issue is this really?
Bigger than you think, especially as your Japanese ability grows.
It’s an interesting struggle, because even if you don’t intend to pronounce the word correctly, when you hear the word 1000 times correctly, and only 50 times incorrectly, you naturally associate the correct way, and you have to willfully remember to say it wrong.
How do you approach the above four situations?