When learning a foreign language, sometimes there are words that are similar (or even the same) in different languages. Similar words can be a big relief for learners because their meaning is often the same, which makes memorization easier.

Japanese language learners often find the frequent use of English loaner words (words that sound similar in both Japanese and English, such as the English word hamburger and the Japanese take on that word, hambaaga), particularly easy. However, the opposite is also true. There are also words that sound like an English word but mean something totally different in Japanese.

Here is a a list of words that can trip up new learners:


Pronounced like the English word “psycho”, if someone says saiko in Japanese, they’re not insulting you and saying you’re crazy. The word saiko actually means “the best”. So, it’s actually a positive word.


When you hear tako, you may be thinking you’ve stumbled onto a Mexican restaurant in Japan. While pronounced the same as the delicious Mexican food (taco), tako in Japanese actually means octopus, and you will see this word on menus pretty frequently.  So, if you order tako expecting a taco, you will definitely be in for a surprise!



This one is rather amusing (unless your name is Gary I guess). Geri, which sounds similar to the English first name Gary (especially to the beginner-level Japanese speaker’s ear) actually means diarrhea. So if your name is Gary and someone looks at you funny or snickers when you mention your name, it’s probably because they think you’re talking about your bodily functions and not your name. (Sorry to all the Gary’s out there!)


If you have ever eaten waffles for breakfast or have seen the popular commercials urging you to “Leggo my Eggo”, you know what the word Japanese word eigo sounds like. Unfortunately, eigo means English (as in the language), not delicious waffles.


Naka Naka

This is one of my favorites. While the phrase sounds like “knock knock” in English, when you hear naka naka, the speaker is not actually asking to come in or telling a silly joke (so don’t respond with, “Who’s there?”). Naka naka actually means “quite”, so it’s a descriptive word (and it’s used pretty frequently).


This word is one you’re not likely to hear unless you’re in a business setting, but it’s still good to know, just in case. Noruma, which sounds like the English name Norma, actually means “quota”. So if you have been wondering why your Japanese counterparts keep talking about some lady named “Norma” (or so you thought), now you know.



While the Japanese word manshon sounds very similar to the English word for mansion, the Japanese version is very different. While they both refer to living arrangements, one is much more exclusive (and expensive!) than the other. A Japanese manshon actually refers to an apartment. While these do tend to be nicer, larger apartments, they’re still no mansions!


Don’t be confused if the employee at the information desk offers you chizu, they’re not actually offering you cheese, despite how it sounds. Chizu means “map” in Japanese, so go ahead and accept the offer of assistance (although if you were hungry, you might be a bit disappointed).


Remember: Not All Words Mean What They Sound Like

The Japanese language has many loaner words that mean and sound the same as the English words from which they are taken. However, this is not always true. So knowing the meaning of tricky words like tako and chizu can help you avoid things like getting octopus instead of a taco and  being hungry for cheese but getting a map. (So be sure to have a dictionary or pocket translator handy just in case!)

For more information on helpful language apps, check out The Best Apps for Travel in Japan

HELLO in eight different languages


Source:  Kellogg’s Eggo

Images: Top , 1 , 4 , 5


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