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There are plenty of stereotypical qualities of a Japanese speaking person trying to speak English, so, would I be correct in assuming the reverse is also the case, and if so, what would the most notable features be?

I ask this both out of curiosity and on the off chance I ever need to actually try communicating with people in a way that doesn't result in my casual humiliation.

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I'm not sure if this is within the scope of your question, but the following is about highly stereotyped traits of "gaijin-speech" found in manga and net forums. They are explained in pages like this, this and this. Please note that they do not reflect how foreigners speak Japanese in reality. Unsurprisingly, some of them are rude or displeasing especially to the users of each language.

Western speakers trying to speak Japanese:

  • Wrong intonation, accent, vowel length, double consonant: ニホーンゴワーカリマセーン, オモシローイデース, ビクーリデス
  • Trilled/rolled ラリルレロ sounds
  • Overuse of personal pronouns: ワターシ, アナータハー
  • Unconditional sentence-end です: 見るデス, 行けデス
  • Overuse/misuse of sentence-end ナ, ヨ, etc: 本当ヨ!
  • Use of katakanized English when excited: オーノー! ワーオ! ホワット!?
  • Use of ミー and ユー as person pronouns: ユーは何しに日本へ?

Chinese speakers trying to speak Japanese:

  • アル, ネー or ヨー at the end of every sentence: 私は中国人アル
    (This is based on a pidgin Japanese language but later established as role language. アル was rather common 30 years ago or so, but today it's usually a rude way to simulate Chinese accent.)

  • Insertion of の between a verb and こと, とき, etc: 食べるのこと, 見るのとき

Korean speaker trying to speak Japanese:

  • ニダ (Korean copula similar to Japanese です) at the end of every sentence: 私は韓国人ニダ
    (This is almost always rude.)
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one stereotype I see on Japanese TV, and from my students' jokes, is that Japanese people believe that foreigners will inevitably put the stresses on the wrong syllables while speaking Japanese. The exaggerated stereotype is usually a comical element of the stereotyped foreigner, and the syllables they stress are, as a result, usually very comically over-stressed:

konnichi wa!

unfortunately for beginner learners of Japanese, there is a lot of truth to this... English words of varying syllable lengths have some predictable stressed syllables.. for example, 2-syllable nouns, adjectives, and adverbs are usually stressed on the first syllable while 2-syllable verbs are usually stressed on the second syllable, etc... The fact that English has these patterns means that English speakers may unconsciously adopt these patterns even when speaking foreign languages.

Add to that the fact that Japanese has a lot of words which are syllabically identical (kumo for cloud and for spider, hana for flower and nose, being two common examples) where stressing one syllable (or none) helps determine which word is being said, and the "wrongly stressed syllable" stereotype is actually pretty valid...

Other stereotypes I have seen involve excessive loudness, and either intentional or unintentional rudeness based on speech form (a stereotype I am guilty of fulfilling, still).

  • Fascinating. Could you give me more examples of this miss-placing of stresses in practice? What stress patterns do Japanese people expect? – Tirous Jan 22 at 10:35
  • watch any anime with foreign characters interacting with Japanese characters, and you are likely to see this phenomenon... Youtube probably has several clips... and again, stress patterns in Japanese are not as predictable... in fact, calling them "stress patterns" isn't really accurate, since in Japanese, it's not the "strength" of the syllable that's changed, but the pitch. Doing a search for "syllable stress patterns in Japanese" leads to some websites that try to describe this. – ericfromabeno Jan 22 at 10:44
  • dangit... i can find clips of "bad english" in anime, but finding clips of "bad japanese" is hard for some reason... maybe if I searched using the Japanese youtube, with a japanese search string... -_- – ericfromabeno Jan 22 at 11:02
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    youtu.be/fbP1n5k9Sq4 This actually triggered me when I was watching the anime cuz it was a bit too over the top, and because at times the professor did the right pronunciation, and then at random went back to the stereotypical one. But I guess it could be a good example – Felipe Oliveira Jan 22 at 19:39
  • Although the specific stresses can vary slightly by dialect. It's been a while so I can't remember exactly, but I think in Kyoto dialect nose and flower actually have the same stress in hana. – ConMan Jan 23 at 1:13
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Two things that I notice, at least in caricatures of non-Japanese speakers speaking Japanese, are mistakes in the vowel sounds and in the cadence of words.

Vowel sounds

The Japanese vowel sounds do roughly correspond to some of the sounds in English, but they take a while to get right. As an extreme example, consider the pronunciation of the American English word "karaoke". The first part sounds like "carry" and the second like the first half of "okie dokie". In comparison, the pronunciation of the Japanese word "karaoke" is closer to someone saying the words "car are OK" (although that's still not perfect, and it may depend a lot on your accent).

For an example of a (Japanese person voice acting as a) Canadian character speaking heavily accented Japanese, this anime clip shows a lot of what I'm talking about, especially in her "Sew narn dez kar?" lines (for those following along at home, that's meant to be "Sou nan desu ka?")

Cadence

This is a little harder to explain, especially if you haven't learned much Japanese yet, but it relates to the discussion about stressing the right parts. Japanese is a language where words are made up of very specific syllables, which means that words have a particular rhythm to them based on those syllables, and it's very easy to pronounce words with a more English rhythm until you get used to it.

This is not unusual - there are words in English where their more common modern pronunciation is different to what would have traditionally been considered "correct". A great example of this is "Wednesday", which most people would say as "wenns dei" (two syllables). However, if you look for some old BBC announcers saying it (since they used to have very strict rules about pronouncing words like this, so they're a good example for these things), you'll find that there are three distinct syllables - "wed nns dei".

In Japanese, each hiragana character you use to write a word is effectively one "beat" of the word when you say it, and although the specific timing can vary a bit (especially in casual speech), there are some very distinctive non-native things that crop up.

For example, Kyoto, or to romanise it more accurately, kyouto, which consists of 3 "beats" - kyo-u-to (although the -u- actually has the effect of lengthening the o sound before it, so you wouldn't emphasise an "oo" sound when pronouncing it). A common, but bad, pronunciation, separates the first sound into two and makes it more like "kai-yo-to", almost like the start of "coyote"; slightly better but still wrong is "kee-yo-to". The "k" and "y" sound are part of the same beat, and should not be separated.

One set of words I have trouble distinguishing, part of which comes down to not being able to hear the distinct timing of, are the words "kon'yaku" (engagement, as in engagement ring), "ko'nyakku" (cognac) and "kon'nyaku" (konjac jelly). In "kon'yaku", the sounds are "ko-n-ya-ku", noting in particular that "n" gets a beat to itself. In "ko'nyakku", the sounds are "ko-nya-k-ku" - the double consonant is a glottal stop, which gets a beat to itself, while the "nya" sound is a single beat. And in "kon'nyaku", the sounds are "ko-n-nya-ku", so there's a beat for "n" and a beat for "nya". However, if you read those words without the deliberate punctuation to help you see where to break, then a naive reading of "konyaku" versus "konyakku" may end up with you splitting them along the same lines and getting at least one of them wrong (either "ko nyaku" or "kon yakku").

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