6 Bad Habits That Make Your Japanese Sound Unnatural — 21 Comments

  1. I agree with all the above.

    The first video for me is actually an example of someone sounding unnatural. When a foreigner, no matter how good he is, is overly-enthusiastic, and overly-mimetic of Jpn characteristics, it feels like they’ve cover up their real personality and thus they sound unnatural. All I see when I talk to them is the exaggeration and I can’t even hear the person. It’s like when I interviewed this one lady who had gum in her mouth the entire interview. On her resume, she was what we needed, but I didn’t hear a single word come out of her mouth because she was a) chewing gum which I hate to begin with and b) chewing gum DURING an interview.

    So, people who lose their personality trying too hard to imitate “Japanese people” is a sign of unnatural Japanese, no matter how fluent they are.

    • I feel like this is true, to an extent. There are definitely those out there that force exaggeration when speaking in Japanese as a foreign language. Probably because their fascination with the language and desire to mimic what they feel they’ve heard and sounds cool or cute. However, there are case studies that say that for bilingual speakers (since you are one yourself, maybe you have some input) their personality changes when they switch languages. For instance, being more blunt in one language verses the other. I don’t think it’s an actual personality change, as the person is the same person, but just the way the language or culture of that language works.

      You kind of know when an English speaker has really become accustomed to the language by the way their personality is represented. There’s a bit more honesty and directness in their speech. Even if they still make grammatical errors or struggle with expression, something seems more fluent about this kind of language than people who have mastered grammar but struggle with the norms of the culture that would affect the way they use the language.

      There’s going to be someone in the Japanese society that has a similar personality to you, so a good idea would be to observe how they use the language and mimic. There are a variety of personalities in every culture. “The Japanese personality” doesn’t exist. There are norms, but even those differ between regions.

      I really think someone has to let go of their culture to an extent as well when dealing with another culture. I don’t think you should just change yourself because you want to be Japanese (though, change may happen as you learn about new and different perspectives), but at the same time I’ve seen people so stubborn and who have complained about so many different facets of Japanese culture, it makes me wonder, why are they even learning Japanese? When you enter into a new culture, your language and personality are going to change because it’s a new influence. Maybe this applies more when you’re younger and less ingrained. But I think it’s natural. I don’t think it’s a sign of unnatural Japanese, but rather a sign that you’ve been influenced by Japan.

      • I think because I am a native speaker of two other cultures (three even), I’m less susceptible to trying to imitate an exaggerated form of the culture because I’ve already learned how to maintain my personality amongst my several languages. Now, my styling will change in terms of being more humble in Japanese, more vocal in French, more direct in English, and more “friendly” in Spanish but my personality does not change within the four. And maybe that’s the real factor: styling vs personality. And this takes into consideration that enthusiasm does not equal personality.

        So, very interesting to think about.

      • The videos made by ken tanaka are meant to be comedy, so I don’t think that’s how he really acts when he is speaking Japanese (though I could be wrong!)

        The lines between between personality, character, and style kind of blur a bit when you speak another language due to outside factors like ways to express yourself in the language and cultural norms. It is definitely a bit of a deep topic and I think it effects people in different ways.

  2. I think that the way you made point 1 has horribly, horribly structured. First I read that I’m probably making bad habits. Then I see the subjects of the っ, and then I read about its insignificance and about how it is the “Japanese grammar joke”.

    Guess what impression this leaves? My forward-thinking brain came to about the following conclusion: “Wait? The っ is a joke? It’s not actually pronounced?! This changes everything!”

    Then I tried to process the shock of the っ not being pronounced. (It was quite shocking!)

    And then I read on and saw that the point you were making was that the っ actually WAS pronounced. My reaction was like “Are you kidding me? >_>”

    The way you structured this made it come over the same way as if you were to write an article on something, and then at the end wrote “Just kidding! Forget anything I said!”

    This article actually made me try to remember that the っ was not pronounced in practice, rather than reinforce that I have to pronounce it. I had always the っ as being equally significant as any other Kana character. After having processed the shock of that not being the case, it’s quite difficult to go back to blindly believing that.

    I’m quite annoyed by this; I’m currently immersing myself in Japanese trying to forget that this ever happened. Please restructure that point so others don’t walk into the same trap.

    • He wasn’t saying anything about the grammar point itself being a joke, the wording he used to present the idea contained jokes.
      one little character (small tsu)
      something so small (small tsu)

    • Yes, 2 bad puns on the slight “pause” it creates in a word and the fact that it’s a “small” っ. There is no insult towards the grammar itself as this whole post is showing how important it is.

    • Idk, when I read it and it said stuff like “it FEELS insignificant, FEELS like it’S fine to drop it” etc, I thought it was pretty obviously heading towards saying that it actually IS significant. You should finish reading a point before assuming stuff in the future, it would save you some trouble and annoyance :P

  3. He wasn’t say “っ” is a joke, he was just specifying that he was making a joke about Japanese grammar. 落ち着いてくださいよ、もう。

  4. I haven’t actually spoken any Japanese yet (except to myself, which is somewhat creepy now that I think about it haha), but trying to sound natural is something that I think quite a bit about. In my personal experience with learning English as a non-native speaker the biggest obstacle to sounding natural has been the accent. I think a big part of this problem is that when I started learning English in middle school the teacher we had was not a native speaker, so when I started speaking I picked up the teacher’s non-native accent. In some ways it doesn’t matter if you have a bit of an accent, as long as you are clearly understood, but if you’re aiming for a true native level in a language you need to have a native accent. I was working as a counselor at a summer camp in California a couple of years ago, and one of the first things people always asked me was “so what country are you from?”, which didn’t feel that great after a while because I suppose at some level everyone wants to fit in and not be seen as “different”.

    So I’m curious about the accent issue with some of you who have reached a high level in Japanese. For instance, if you speak with a stranger on the phone can they tell that you are not a native speaker based on your accent alone?

    • Interesting article but they are ranking it based on information density, how many syllables it takes to say something. They ranked Japanese low, meaning it takes a lot more to say the same thing, thus requires faster speed.

      I’m guessing the text translated in all languages was a more formal text. Because in spoken conversational japanese, often times 20-30% unnecessary speech is dropped out. I’m assuming this wasn’t factored in. In reality this would mean incredibly high density for less syllables due to the lack of necessity to use a lot of grammar.

      I think this skews the results.

      In addition, I’m also highly skeptical at the accuracy of taking a sample of only 59 speakers for 7 different languages. It doesn’t say how many Japanese were involved, but let’s assume it was divide almost evenly and there were 8. Were they male or female? Old or young? Highly educated or not? From Tokyo or Osaka or the countryside? Lived abroad for many years or only lived in Japan?

      There are way too many variables that effect speaking speed to consider 8 people representative of the Japanese language.

      • But in addition to ranking for information density (which is actually a separate issue from the point I wanted to raise), they also calculated the number of syllables spoken per second, and Japanese had the most syllables spoken per second.

        I agree that the small sample size is less than desirable, but I think the other factors you mentioned help support the legitimacy of the study. I think that precisely *because* there are so many variables that affect speaking speed, not controlling for them would give a better representation of the variety that exists within the Japanese language – and thus the Japanese language as a whole. In reality there is no such thing as 標準語.

        • The point still remains though that they were reading from a text. And spoken Japanese, with all it’s omissions is significantly different than written Japanese. There will be a lot more syllables when they are reading a text out loud then if it was normal speaking.

          And I can’t agree that taking a random tiny sample is accurate, regardless of variables. Studies like this are accurate because they use large samples (larger samples account for variables).

          But anyway, the speed is just my observation based on a lot of interactions with Japanese, and the way foreigners speak Japanese too fast (causing Japanese people to complain they need to slow down.)

            • I read both this site’s article on speaking too fast and the study mentioned here, and obviously started to wonder – is Japanese actually slower or faster than, say, English?

              One of the questions I would like to ask about the study, though, is what exactly do they mean by the word “syllable”.

              European languages are syllable-based, but Japanese is mora-based. The timing of the Japanese and Western European languages is entirely different.

              If every mora is counted as a syllable, then I think there would certainly be more of them per second than English syllables, but that would not necessarily make the language “faster”. In fact I think speed between differently-timed languages cannot really be measured by any mechanical standard.

              To give an example, こうなったら could be called four syllables, but it is six morae. Kou is certainly a longer-timed sound than the English one-syllabel word “if” but no longer, perhaps shorter, depending on the speaker, than the one-syllable word “horse”

              However if you start to count syllables in Japanese as if it were a West European language you would have to make a lot of arbitrary decisions, so I suspect morae were counted as syllables for the purpose of this study.

              But morae are not actually syllables in the West European sense and there are certainly going to be more of them per minute than there are syllables. This really says nothing about the “speed” of the language.

  5. And then comes Kansai-ben to throw everyone off with irregular long vowels…

    I also notice almost all of these errors with foreigners speaking Japanese. I’m constantly confused by the destruction of rhythm caused by failure to use っ or the incorrect elongation/contraction of sounds in veteran students of the language.

    I think the problem with foreigners speaking Japanese quickly comes in this rhythm as well. Speaking quickly is possible but it’s too easy for many foreigners to break the rhythm of the language and sound awkward while doing so. I would certainly agree that Japanese would have a hard time matching up to the speed of American English, though.

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