My acquisition of Japanese over the past year and a half that we’ve lived in Osaka has been painfully slow, which is rather embarrassing given that I am a university professor whose expertise lies in first and second language acquisition. I keep on telling my Japanese students of English the old phrase that is used predominantly by inactive, overweight, chain-smoking, recreational drug using, alcoholic doctors (and in this case also struggling psycholinguists):
‘Do as I say, not as I do.’
My poor attainment of Japanese is a result of
- me having been extremely busy with work, being a single parent 6 months of the year, and spending my free time trying to hunt for fabric toothbrush bags for the kids’ post school lunch oral hygiene sessions or trying to establish in the local supermarket where the hell they keep their hummus, halloumi and quark (I’ve finally discovered that apparently nowhere)
- me finding many Japanese words quite difficult to remember, due to the fact that they resemble none of the languages that I know at least the rudiments of (Finnish, English, Swedish, German, Spanish, Russian).
You see, one thing that seems to help second language learners to learn new words is if they can associate the new word with a word that they already know, for instance, if the new word sounds like another word in their vocabulary.
The fact that some languages are historically related means that those languages share many same or similar words. For instance, the word for a very young child in English, German and Dutch is baby and thus, learning the English word baby is easy for a German/Dutch speaker. Finnish and Japanese are not amongst the languages that are historically related to English (although some English loan words do exist both in Finnish and Japanese).
Finnish and Japanese are not related to each other either and thus Finnish and Japanese do not share many (if any) words that have the same/similar pronunciation and meaning, like baby does in English, German and Dutch.
However, in terms of the syllable structure, i.e. how the language breaks words into smaller units (syl-la-ble), Japanese and Finnish happen to be similar. A typical syllable in Japanese and Finnish consists of one consonant (e.g. k, p, s, t) followed by one vowel (a, e, i, o, u). This means that there are quite a few words in Finnish and Japanese that are pronounced (if not completely identically due to different word stress patters or slightly different articulation) in a very similar way. In the midst of my busy schedule, thanks to these cross-linguistic coincidences, I have managed to pick up quite a few words in Japanese, namely the ones that are pronounced more or less identically to Finnish words, as I’ve only had to associate the Japanese meaning to, essentially, a Finnish word.
- you are a Finnish speaker and want to learn some Japanese with minimal effort or
- you are a Japanese speaker and want to learn some Finnish with minimal effort
it shouldn’t take you more than a minute to learn the list of words (and their meanings) in Finnish/Japanese below, given that you don’t have to learn the word itself, e.g. KITA, you just need to memorize the meaning of KITA that you didn’t already know (NORTH if you are a Finnish speaker, and JAWS if you are a Japanese speaker).
If you are an English speaker, unfortunately you’ll have to do the work of actually learning the words below and the two meanings associated with those words (one in Finnish, one in Japanese). Maybe this is only fair, given that you have the advantage of learning hundreds of words in a numerous language easily (because many languages have adopted words from English into their vocabulary, or English has adopted words from those languages). However, the list below will give you a great opportunity to do ‘multitasked’ language learning and learn two new words (one in Finnish and one in Japanese) by just memorizing one lexical item. Since it is not obvious to a non-Japanese or non-Finnish speaker how to pronounce the words below, English spelling (hopefully resulting in near enough correct pronunciation) is given in brackets next to the target word where needed.
I know there might not be any English speakers out there who would be tempted to learn Finnish and/or Japanese (as these aren’t exactly the most useful languages on the planet). But if you are a fan of order, raw seafood, long awkward silences, relatively introverted people (at least in comparison to your typical American) and/or drinking sessions that end up in pretty much everyone in the group comatose, you would probably love it in Finland and Japan and should you choose to relocate to these lovely places, the words below might come of use.
Schuh.co.uk – Shoes
Debenhams.co.uk – umbrella, invitation
Wickes.co.uk – tap
thetelegraph.co.uk – market place
theguardian.com – pile, sweeties
free-photos.gatag.net – barrel, bird, squirrel, twig, sky, jaws
Wikipedia.org – Myth