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Japanese-English Words That Would Confuse Native English Speakers

Japanese-English Words That Would Confuse Native English Speakers

The Japanese language has borrowed words from a variety of languages, including many from English. In some ways, this gives Japanese students an advantage when studying English since many words will be familiar to them. However, these borrowed words don't always mean exactly the same thing when moving between the two languages.

This article will highlight a few examples that native Japanese speakers should be careful of. In some cases, native English speakers will be able to understand, but in other situations, they may be completely confused! Prepare yourself so you can avoid these kinds of misunderstandings!


In Japan, it's common for the term "SNS" to come up when talking about services and apps like Instagram and TikTok. This is a short version of "social networking service." However, while people may understand the long version in English-speaking countries, the short form would probably confuse them. This is because the common English name for these apps is actually "social media." 

My company needs to hire a new social media manager before the end of the year.
What was life like before social media?

Sometimes it's shortened to just "socials" when talking about more than one app. 

Let's stay in touch. What are your socials?


A television with a blurry image on the screen

"Image" is another word that is quite common in Japanese, but it doesn't have quite the same meaning in English. That's because in English, it refers to a picture that you can actually see. The Japanese "image" is more like a picture in your mind rather than one you can physically look at. This more figurative meaning is closer to the English word "impression."

The image on the screen is really blurry. What's wrong?
Most people have a good impression of that company.
What's your impression of Japan?

When used as a verb, as in "creating a picture in your mind," you should use "imagine."

I can't imagine how beautiful this park must be in the spring.
It's hard for me to imagine what you're talking about.


In Japan, it's common for people to say they will go to see "a live." That's because it's a noun meaning "performance" or "show."

But in English, "live" is an adjective or adverb describing something happening at that moment instead of something recorded earlier. It can be used to describe things like concerts, but it is not a noun for the concert itself.

x I'm going to a live tomorrow.
o I'm going to a concert tomorrow.
This isn't a recording — everything is happening live.

You can also say a "live show" or "performance."

I'm going to a live show tomorrow.


The Japanese usage of "gorgeous" is close to the English meaning, but it's not an exact match. In English, it's used as a much stronger version of "beautiful," especially when talking about people and the weather, although it can be used for other things as well.

You look gorgeous tonight.
The weather was gorgeous yesterday. We had a great time at the picnic.

The Japanese usage of "gorgeous" is actually closer to "fancy" or "luxurious" in English. 

x They serve really gorgeous meals at that restaurant.
o They serve really luxurious meals at that restaurant.
x Wow, this hotel is really gorgeous.
o Wow, this hotel is really fancy.

Actually, it's OK to say a hotel is "gorgeous." However, if you did, native speakers will guess that you mean "beautiful." A hotel that is not fancy can still be beautiful. Also, just because it is luxurious doesn't mean that it actually looks nice; sometimes things that are too fancy can be ugly to some people. That's why it's useful to have these words express different ideas.


A man looking smart in a suit with glasses and a hat

If someone tells you that you are "smart" in Japanese, it probably has nothing to do with your education or academic skill. That's because, depending on the situation, it means either "thin" or "stylish"! You can even find this usage at clothing stores referring to sizes for thinner body types.

In English, however, "smart" is usually not about bodies at all;  its basic meaning is "intelligent."

She graduated at the top of her class. She's always been very smart.
Jake's a really smart guy, but he has an unhealthy diet, so he's pretty overweight.
That suit makes you look really thin.

"Smart" can actually be used to mean "stylish" in English as well, but it only refers to clothes and not a person's body size.

You're looking smart today. Is that a new suit?
Tonight's party will be a bit formal, so please dress smartly.  


Someone in Japan may use the word "heartful" to describe a close friend or their cozy hometown. This wouldn't be too difficult for a native English speaker to understand, but it definitely isn't an English word. Instead, try using the words "kind," "warm-hearted" or simply "friendly."

x The people in my hometown are really heartful.
o The people in my hometown are really kind and warm-hearted.

Another reason to be careful of this word is because the pronunciation is similar to the word "hurtful," which is used when something causes you emotional pain!


In Japanese, one restaurant can have many "menus," which may confuse native English speakers. This is because in English, a menu is the complete list of all of the dishes a restaurant can prepare. Usually there is only one, but there may also be a separate menu for drinks or desserts. Don't confuse "menu" with "dish"!

x I love the pasta here, but I'm going to try a different menu this time.
o I love the pasta here, but I'm going to try a different dish this time.
x They can prepare a lot of different menus here.
o They can prepare a lot of different dishes here.
Excuse me, can we get a menu, please?


In both Japanese and English, "talent" is a noun. However, the Japanese version refers to a person, while in English, it's a special trait that someone has, like intelligence or a sense of humor. A more direct translation of the Japanese version would be "entertainer" or "celebrity," but it is more common to be specific about the person's job (for example, actor, dancer, comedian, etc.)

x She is a very famous talent.
o She is a very famous singer.
Ayumi has a lot of talent. I think she'll be very successful.

"Talent" can refer to people in English, but it is used to talk about groups, not individuals. It's a common term in the entertainment industry.

Samantha is a talent manager at a big production company.
Everyone thinks I know famous people, but my job is in the office — I don't work with the talent.


A bodyguard protecting a celebrity from photographers

Let's continue talking about fame. In Japanese, "celeb" is used as a noun to refer to a rich person, or even as an adjective meaning "wealthy" or "fancy." But in English, it's only used as a short form of "celebrity," or a famous person. Close but not the same!

Lots of celebs hang out at that fancy restaurant.
Max is really rich, but he's not a celebrity.


If something becomes very popular in Japan, it is common for people to use the word "boom" when talking about it, as in a "K-pop boom" or the "solo-camping boom" when social distancing was a big topic.

While it's sometimes used this way in English, it's more common for native speakers to use the nouns "trend" or "fad." However, trend is often used in its adjective form "trendy."

That bar has been really trendy lately.
Torn jeans have become a trend again.

"Fad" has a more negative connotation; the nuance is that the popularity is only temporary and will disappear quickly.

I can't wait for this TikTok dance fad to end.

A more natural way to use "boom" in English is as a verb to describe being successful in business.

Our business has been booming ever since we introduced our new ad campaign.

You can also use "boom" as a dramatic way to emphasize something positive that you have just done. This usage imitates the sound of an explosion and should only be used in very casual situations.

What grade did you get on the test?
Boom! 100%!


As you can see, just because a word has been borrowed from another language doesn't mean it's used in the same way, and even small differences can lead to confusion. Of course, there are many more of these "loan words," but we hope you're now able to use the ones we've explained in this article with more confidence in your next English conversation!