Have you ever listened to a song in a foreign language and misheard the lyrics, giving them a completely different meaning? That phenomenon called mondegreen happens when you’re trying to make some kind of sense of a song you can’t understand clearly.
English pronunciation is quite hard for Japanese people. On top of having difficulties with pronunciation, they struggle with word and sentence stresses as well as distinguishing certain sounds (especially “r” and “l”).
While the linguistic differences between Japanese and English partly explain Japanese peoples’ difficulties with English, katakana is another major culprit. Japanese students who rely too much on katakana have a hard time pronouncing and hearing English correctly. So when they hear English songs, they tend to fill in the gap with phonetically close Japanese words.
Pop-rock bank Monkey Majik, lead by singer Taiiku Okazaki, poked fun at this phenomenon perfectly in their clip “留学生” (exchange student). Sung in English with some Japanese lyrics, the video displays Japanese subtitles phonetically close to the English lyrics. While English speakers hear a traditional love ballad, Japanese people hear a discouraged exchange student lamenting himself.
For example, the chorus:
“You gotta stay / Hey, I need you here babe / I messed up, should’ve known last time I met ya”
sounds like this in Japanese:
“Ryūgakusei (留学生) / Heya nijyū heibei (部屋 20平米) / Miso shiru nomitaiwa meccha (味噌汁飲みたいわめっちゃ)”
The translation would be something like, “Exchange student / My room is 20 square meters / I want to drink miso soup very much.”
Killing in the name of… nuggets?
Twitter blew up last week with this hilarious video of a Japanese family sharing nuggets to Rage Against The Machine’s song Killing In The Name.
This video was made by the TV show 空耳アワー (“Mishearing Hour”), broadcast by TV Asahi between 2004 and 2019. The show invites viewers to submit foreign songs’ lyrics whose pronunciation can somehow be misinterpreted by Japanese ears.
— ねろたろう＠三日目南キ21a (@nerotarou2) March 5, 2020
空耳アワーの「ナゲット割って父ちゃん」ほんと好き = I really like “share the nugget” from Mishearing Hour
The short clip focuses on the song chorus and the Japanese interpretation is quite… dramatic:
And now you do what they told ya = Nagetto watte touchan (ナゲット割って父ちゃん) which means “share the nuggets (with my) dad.”
Those who die = Dou sundai (どうすんだい) which means, “whatcha doing!?”
What do you like?
Talking about what you like & dislike in Japanese is relatively easy. You’ve got the classic duo of words 好き and 嫌い to help out.
アニメが好きです = I like anime
アニメが嫌いです = I don’t like anime
Easy peasy, right? However, 嫌い is quite strong for Japanese people, who tend to soften negativity by beating around the bush a lot. We recommend you use the following expression, which brings in a kinder nuance:
アニメがあまり好きではない = I don’t really like anime that much.
The same can actually be said for 好き. People shy about their 趣味 (hobbies) can play down how much they like something by saying they don’t *hate* it.
アニメが嫌いではない = I don’t dislike anime.
There you have it, a way around saying you like something that fits right in with the Japanese stereotype that they can’t frankly express their feelings.
|20平米||nijyuu heibei||20 square meters|
|飲みたい||nomitai||want to drink|
|空耳アワー||hatsumimi awaa||Mishearing Hour|
|父ちゃん||tou chan||dad, daddy|
|どうすんだい||dou sundai||Wacha doing!?|
|あまり||amari||too much or not very/quite depending on context|
For more on learning Japanese
- Learn Japanese with our original study materials on GaijinPot Study
- Questions about studying Japanese in Japan? Take a look at the Japan 101 section on Higher Education and Studying Japanese
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- Learn more about the GaijinPot Study Placement Program