日本人が使う英語/Japanese People’s English

I am currently taking a class that focuses on the common mistakes made by foreigners when they write in Japanese. When last semester I had to write several papers in Japanese for my Korean and proverbs classes, I was quite frustrated by how much harder it was than writing in English. I was also frustrated when one of the people who helped to make sure my paper was understandable told me I wrote like an elementary school student. Of course I wasn’t mad at him – I asked him to give me his honest opinion, after all. The reason I was frustrated was that writing is one of my few talents in English, so it’s strange to me that I’m not able to do it in Japanese. This should be logical, but in my mind I want nothing but to get better.

Thus I decided to take this class. While the class itself is quite boring, I rather like the assignments. Every week we have to write a short essay. The teacher then corrects it in the ways a Japanese person would word the same essay and returns it to us.

I had fun with this week’s prompt: 日本人が使う英語, or the English a Japanese person uses. My friends in the same class took this in several directions, one of the most obvious being the hundreds of loan words that have been adopted into the Japanese language. I, however, immediately thought of the poorly crafted English song lyrics that so often find their way onto my iPod. As I enjoyed writing it so much, I’ve decided to share, with an English translation below. Would you like to read?

日本語で:

私は日本のロックとポップの音楽に興味持っている。しかし、今のバンドの音楽などを聞いていると、時々すごく変な英語を聞く。そんな時、どうして作詞をした人が英語を使いたかったのだろうかと考える。前からある歌に、その英語の歌詞でリズムを会わせたのだろうか?その作詞者は英語が下手なのに、英語を使いたかったのだろうか?それとも、作詞者は、その英語で正しいと思ったのか?私にとって、これは本当に不思議だった。

英語をうまく使っているバンドもある。例えば,最近人気のある「ラッドウィンプス」というバンドは、英語の歌詞が英語が母語話の者にも簡単に理解できる。それで、アンダーグラウンドの「ガゼット」というバンドみたいに、英語の変な歌詞が出た時、日本語の内容がよく分かり、どうして作詞者がそんな英語に訳したか理解できる場合もある。

だが、全然理解できない場合もある。このいい例は、「SuG」というバンドの歌がそのいい例だ。「p!nk masquerade」という歌を初めて聞いた時、英語の発音が悪く、歌詞はすべて日本語で書いてあるのだろうと思ったが、カラオケに行った時、この歌を選ぶと、英語の歌詞が出てきたのでびっくりした。だから、歌いながら、歌詞が変なので、大笑いした。コーラスの英語は、「Gonna B Free/Anything goes/Glossily!/Can you do?/To nobility/like the cat」。日本語に訳したら、「自由になるよ/なんでもいい/つやつや!/できる?/貴族に/猫のように」になるが、ナンセンスなだけじゃなく、英語の文法もおかしい。例えば,「Gonna B Free」は正しくは、 「Gonna be free」だし、「Can you do?」は「Can you do it?」になる。どうしてこのバンドは英語を使ったのだろうか。そして、作詞者は何を考えていたのだろうか。本当に面白く思う。

In English:

I have an interest in Japanese rock and pop music. Sometimes while listening to today’s popular music, I hear strange English. At this time I wonder why the lyricist chose to use English. In these songs, do the English words fit the rhythm better? Even though the lyricist is bad at English, did they just want to use it? Or did the lyricist think their English was correct? To me this is very strange.

There are bands who are good at English. For example, a band called “Radwimps” that has been popular lately has English lyrics that even a native English speaker can easily decipher. Then there are bands like the underground Gazette who, while their English is strange, if you understand Japanese, you can understand how they translated those lyrics.

However, there are also bands whose English is impossible to decipher. A good example of this is a band called “SuG”. When first listening to their song “p!nk masquerade”, due to the vocalist’s poor English pronunciation, I thought all of the lyrics were written in Japanese.  When I went to karaoke and chose this song I was surprised when English words appeared.  Because of how strange the lyrics were I laughed hard. The English in the chorus goes, “Gonna B Free/Anything goes/Glossily!/Can you do?/To nobility/like the cat”. It’s not that it’s just nonsense, but also that the English grammar is a bit off. For example, “Gonna B Free” should be, “Gonna be free” and “Can you do?” should be, “Can you do it?” I wonder why this band chose to write their lyrics in English? I also wonder what the lyricist was thinking. I find it funny.

And that’s my essay.

Which reminds me of a funny English mistake story. Though not a Japanese person, my Korean friend (who I’ve mentioned several times before) tries very hard to practice English. Most of the time he does really well. I would say he’s at about the same level in English as I am in Japanese.

One day, around Christmas, he was talking about his eccentric hair dresser. Apparently the guy (yes, guy) was wearing reindeer antlers and a mini-skirt for who-knows what reason. We kept making jokes about how much our Korean friend must have enjoyed this kind of company. After enough of these jokes, flustered, the Korean took the time to form the sentence, “He makes me… hard.”

Though he didn’t understand our laughter, he knew he’d said something dumb. He said what he’d meant to say in Japanese: しんどい (shindoi), or tired/frazzled. After laughing for another minute we translated what he said into Japanese. In his typical style he sighed and proceeded to pretend we didn’t exist.

I’m sure if he knew I was posting this story online he’d kill me.

There’s also one of my Japanese friends who, while I’m told he can read English just fine, I recently found out responded in conversation to, “Hello,” with, “I’m fine, and you?”

Though it’s not like the rest of us don’t make similar mistakes in Japanese. There’s a story involving a police station and mixing up the words “looking for” and “found”. There was also the more embarrassing mix-up between セロテープ (seloteepu), as in cellophane tape and セフレ(sefure), as in sex friend.

At any rate, for those of you who have a thing for bad English, here’s the music video of the nonsensical song I mentioned above. It’s complete with subtitles, and believe me, the chorus isn’t even the most interesting part.

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~ by megumiwasframed on May 19, 2011.

3 Responses to “日本人が使う英語/Japanese People’s English”

  1. this blog is very interesting for japanese.

    i was very interested in how you feel
    about japanese people make english lyrics.

    most of japanese people don’t speak english very well.
    i think we must study english so hard.

  2. It’s normally reallyfunny with all mistakes that can occur when learning a new language! But I always admire people who really tries!

    About the music I do agree that a lot/most japanese songs involves really basic english pronunced weird with a weird grammar. But I don’t hav any idea about why neither.

    One more thing about that music video, the name of the group… I’m Swedish and in swedish “sug” means suck. And one can say that something sucks, as in if something is bad, in swedish with that word… So in swedish, they have a really bad group name. Different languages and translation is fun :)

    .Leyenda

    • Haha! That’s pretty funny about their name. It’s supposed to be the Japanese pronunciation of the English word “thug”, but I suppose that’s just more broken English.

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