Pronouncing Japanese When You Talk In English — 17 Comments

  1. Related to (4), I’ve occasionally found myself having to think which order to use with Japanese names. For names that are widely known in the US I put the family name last (Akira Kurosawa, for example), and fortunately Miyazaki is just “Miyazaki” to pretty much everyone. Increasingly though for all other cases that just feels wrong, though it also feels wrong to risk confusing the person I’m talking with or writing to. How do you handle this?

    • I usually put the family name last. It does feel really weird though.

      But many people really can’t even tell the difference between a Japanese first and last name.

  2. It is a dilemma. I hear people pronounce Sakura (there are a lot of Sushi places with this name) with the emphasis on the second syllable, but I’ve gotten used to saying it properly. When I do, however, I’m afraid I sound pretentious trying to pronounce it the Japanese way. You bring up a good point.

    • I think a lot of it depends on who you are talking to on what you decide to do with the pronunciation.

  3. For number 4, I have a lot of experience with being in a Japanese-American church. I babysat for three girls, two of which are named Karin and Sara (by accident). The names are pronounced differently slightly in Japanese and English, and we just switch pronunciation depending on what language is being spoken.

    This reminds me of the show Helix. It took me a while to find out the Japanese guy’s name is Hatake, because they pronounced it Hataki. Occasionally, a character would actually pronounce it Hatake. I think it’s pretty realistic to real life though, to have the foreigners pronounce it incorrectly.

    • I loved that show! I had the same trouble as you though when watching Helix. At first I found it annoying that people kept saying Hataki, and thought surely he would correct the actors of how to say it. But I suppose it’s just natural that people unfamiliar with the language will pronounce it wrong, so there’s no point.

    • Yeah, that sounds like that would work well. I suppose it’s like having two different names (especially when the pronunciation really is different).

  4. Pronunciation is an endless problem for me because I have a lot of friends who are interested in Japan, but who don’t want to learn the language. This is what I have settled on: For situation (1), I consider those to be English words that just happen to be borrowed from Japanese, so I use the English pronunciation. In all other cases I use the Japanese pronunciation. There are exceptions of course.

    In conversation I make no attempt to justify or explain using Japanese pronunciation. I just say the words how it feels right for me, and if that confuses my friends (invariably it does), then too bad. They have come to accept that I am a difficult and confusing person to talk to. My personal philosophy is to never “dumb it down” for other people. For me it stems from a sense of academic integrity. People who know me understand this; if others see it as pretentiousness, then too bad for them.

    • Maybe your friends interested in Japan will start to mimic your correct pronunciation.

      But I agree, this is a personal choice, and different people will approach the above problems in the way that suits them best.

  5. Living in Kansas (4) never really comes up. I always use the correct pronunciation, even for (1). If anyone ever questions it, I just tell them how it is. I like to think of it as an opportunity to spread knowledge.. or something like that.

    • That’s definitely a positive outlook. It’s always nice to spread Japanese knowledge to the rest of the world.

  6. Many japanese words have found their way into other languages`dictionaries as loan words. Sometimes with slightly alternated pronounciation and/or meaning.

    Take for example “Sake”. This word has been a part of the english language for over 300 years. Its proper english pronounciation is “sah-kee”, and its meaning is “a Japanese fermented, mildly alcoholic beverage made from rice.” As we can see, this word has both a different pronounciation AND meaning from it japanese counterpart.

    To pronounce sake as “Sah-keh” in an English conversation, would be the same as insisting on using the English version of words like “Hamburger”, “elevator” or any other loan word, in a Japanese conversation.

    So: If the word exists in the language of conversation, i would always use that. To insist on being gramatically incorrect (by using 2 languages in one sentence), would ,to me, either seem pretentious, or uneducated.


    • Good point about the common words actually being found in the dictionary as part of the English language.

  7. あの専門学校の時の教師の名前はヒライだった。同級生いつも「イライ」って言った、「依頼」みたいだから脳内で笑った

  8. I’ve gone back and forth on this issue since coming to Japan when I speak to my parents. My dad makes an honest effort to pronounce things as close to the Japanese would ever since he came to visit me while my mom tends to stick with the Americanized versions. Both tend to stick out in conversation to me, so I don’t spend as much time worrying about it as I used to.
    The one thing I’m still picky about, though, are names. I think taking the time to try and pronounce someone’s name correctly (or as best as possible given the language limitations) shows a lot of respect for the other person. Even when I speak to my Japanese friends who speak English, I try to pronounce their names the way their parents would say it (example, pronouncing Yuuri with a japanese り rather than an English ‘ri’).
    When I introduce myself in Japanese, I usually say my name in the English pronunciation (Zach) and then follow up with the Japanese pronunciation (ザック). Given the phonetic differences in the two languages, I wouldn’t expect a Japanese person to be able to perfectly pronounce a difficult English name (like Lily vs りり), but for a language like English which contains most of the Japanese phonemes already I feel like it’s better to make the effort.
    My two cents.

    • Thanks for adding your viewpoint.

      I also prefer to use the correct pronunciation for a person’s name, but sometimes it can get tricky. Like when they introduce their name with the English pronunciation, and then you decide to just change it to the pronunciation you know is correct.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags allowed in your comment: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>