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Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Careful With the “R”! Japanese Language Mistakes


A Japanese friend wanted to learn English so she started watching CNN while on the treadmill at the gym to train her ears. It was during Obama’s presidential campaign so words like “voters” and “election,” were jumping back and forth among the announcers and repeated all the time, so she was able to catch them.


One day she asked me, “I understand the meaning of “vote” but I don’t quite understand the meaning of “election,” with heavily-accented Japanese. I knew the context so I knew what she meant but I could not stop laughing. I told her the meaning of “election” in Japanese but told her not to try to speak it again. The reason is that Japanese people have a hard time pronouncing the “L” in election, so it becomes “R.” Got it ?


Submitted by Simone, Bangkok


© 2011 – 2013, Stephanie Meade. All rights reserved.

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Stephanie is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of InCultureParent. She has two Moroccan-American daughters (ages 5 and 6), whom she is raising, together with her husband, bilingual in Arabic and English at home, while also introducing Spanish. After many moves worldwide, she currently lives in Berkeley, California.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsSanda   |  Friday, 28 January 2011 at 5:05 am

    Lovely story! I’ve had a similar experience, many years ago when I was acting as an interpreter for Japanese TV journalists in Romania just after the Revolution in 1989. They told me very earnestly how excited they were to be in Romania for the first ‘flea erections’! The truth is, it’s very difficult to distinguish between ‘l’ and ‘r’ in both Japanese and Chinese and it’s a typical example of where your ears lose the ability to distinguish between two similar sounds from a very early age.

  2. CommentsKyoko(EmiShimosato)   |  Thursday, 03 March 2011 at 7:12 am

    I did have the same experience as your friend! I was glad that I was talking with my boyfriend that time when I made the mistake. So I didn’t have to embarrass myself in public. Phew…

  3. CommentsBrian   |  Thursday, 21 April 2011 at 8:16 pm

    Haha! I hear this one a lot actually. My Japanese friend told me about a time when she tried to say “City Election.” Japanese have a hard time saying “Si” and it comes out as “Shi” instead….so you can see what happened there!

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