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  • Christina Theodorakis

The Difference Between English and Japanese, Part 2

English and Japanese could not be more different as languages. The writing system, the syntax, and the grammar in English and Japanese are so different that you can't switch between English and Japanese mid-sentence like you could, say, English and Greek (from my personal experience).

One of the biggest problems I had for years as a Japanese learner was understanding when a noun was plural in Japanese. This is because Japanese (as well as Chinese and other languages) don't distinguish between singular and plural nouns by adding something to the end of the root word like we do in most (all?) European languages. English is the easiest because we can just add "-s" or "-es" at the end of most nouns, but, in Japanese, that distinction has to be made by the listener or reader based off of the context of what's been said.

In some cases -- for certain words -- there's a special kanji* character "々" (called a kurikaeshi) that's exclusively used to make some words plurals as more of an emphasis that you're talking about more than one of that object than anything else.

This is fine if you're a native speaker, but it was the bane of my existence as a beginner and intermediate learner. Because most Japanese words can't be pluralized using "々," there are instances where it's simply impossible to guess with the given context, which is necessary in English to make the information clear and unambiguous. In Japanese, the writing doesn't have to be as clear as in English, which is why information like "how many?" is lacking unless a clear quantifiable distinction is used with a counter (e.g., "We have over 50 years of experience in..."). An English translator writing a localization would need to ask the Japanese company specific questions in order to find out more about the gaps in information that would be helpful/necessary for a non-Japanese speaker to understand the information.

There are more situations where English and Japanese don't quite match up, leading to miscommunication or unclear information. If you need help communicating with Japanese companies or employees, send us an e-mail at!

*Kanji characters are characters of Chinese origin adopted into the Japanese language.


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