What can be the hardest part about learning a language is maintaining fluency. When you’re outside of the classroom or the country of your target language or don’t have native speakers with whom you can practice, you start getting rusty. However, a way to integrate bits of Japanese into your every day life is through what I like to call ‘Nihonglish’.
Please read further for more details!
It’s a portmanteau of Nihongo and English. Before attaining some fluency in Japanese, my friends and I started using Nihonglish in order to practice and remember what little vocab and grammar we knew without resorting to speaking in all Japanese. We even use it today, applying what we learn in class to our everyday lives, including our texts and emails to each other to practice kanji.
When I studied abroad in Japan, I used Nihonglish with my Japanese friends. Occasionally, when our respective native languages were too complicated for each other, Nihonglish became the common language. While you can use Nihonglish alone, I recommend using it with people who are also learning Japanese or with native Japanese speakers who may want to practice their English. Use it in informal social settings, like during an outing to a restaurant or in a study group!
Start with what you know! Replace common words with their Japanese equivalents, such as ‘お母さん’ for mother or ‘ごはん’ for meals, then use those words whenever possible in your conversations. Here are several example phrases:
This means ‘Yes, I understand’ in the shortened form of 分かりました. You can similarly use なるほど, which means ‘Indeed’ or ‘I see’.
Depending on the situation, this indicates that either the weather or some material thing, like coffee, is hot. To emphasize the hotness of something, drop the い: あつっ. This also applies to the adjective for cold weather: さむい, さむっ.
Use this phrase when someone or something, like a Totoro plush, is really cute. Other common adjectives that I use to apply to people (and animals) are かっこいい (cool, hip) and うるさい (annoying, loud. This term is kind of rude, so use it wisely).
This phrase means ‘I’m leaving soon’ or ‘I’m on my way out’, but you can use just the ソロソロ part without the verb. It’s the same with ギリギリ, which I often use when I just make a train. It roughly translates to the English idiom, ‘by the skin of [my] teeth’.
‘I’m hungry’. Use onomatopoeia to describe the state of your hunger, how someone laughs or smiles (‘わははと笑う’), or various sounds, from cats meowing (‘にゃんにゃん’) to sticks breaking (‘ポキポキ’, which is actually where the snack, Pocky, gets its name).
Now, instead of replacing whole words, try splicing Japanese words and adding on English endings. For example, in the case of verbs, you can use て-form and -ing to describe something that’s happening now. (This form is actually redundant because the て-form means -ing, but it’s great て-form practice anyway):
6. 「泣いてing inside.」
‘(I’m) crying inside’. In Japanese, you don’t have to put ‘私’ at the beginning of every sentence because it’s implied that you are doing the action (unless otherwise stated). Likewise, when a sentence is about you in Nihonglish, you don’t have to use ‘I’.
‘It’s okay’. This is probably the most used word in Nihonglish. It comes from the word 大丈夫. (I think it’s the only word written totally romaji because it’s awkward to write ‘だいじょうbes’).
And that’s it!
Thanks for reading! Feel free to make up your own Nihonglish rules and phrases or tweak the ones I’ve introduced!
This article was written by Dani Atchison, a current Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program (JET).