The Japanese people are known for taking the best aspects of other cultures and making them their own. Just take a look at kanji, right? Those came directly from China, but the Japanese use them in their own way.
That’s where this English Gairaigo List comes in. Gairaigo (外来語) means “loan/borrowed word” and it is used to identify any word that was originally from another language, but is a part of the Japanese language today. Some of them are from Portuguese, some are from French, and others are from even more languages.
But by far, the majority of Gairaigo are from the English language. Lucky you!
If you are interested, you can actually find a very large list of Gairaigo from all languages on Wikipedia by simply clicking on this link. But I’ve done a couple things for you so that you don’t have to.
First, I’ve created a list of just the English Gairaigo from the Wikipedia page, there’s 301 of them. Second, I’ve explained the different types of English Gairaigo and how to understand them. This is important because even though these loan words are based on their English counterparts, they aren’t all used exactly the same way.
Why do I say you can learn all 301 in just ten minutes? Because that’s all it will take you to go over the list and say “Ah yes, I know these words in English. Now I know them in Japanese too!”
Read about the different types of 外来語 below, and then download the list (FREE) for your personal studies.
Nouns – The Easiest to Identify
By far, the easiest ones to identify are the nouns. There are two things that will help you to know that it’s a borrowed word:
- It is written in Katakana カタカナ
- It sounds like the English word, but with a heavy Japanese accent
What happens is that the Japanese people take an English word and transcribe the way it sounds using the closest sounds that are native to the Japanese language. Let’s take a look with at a couple examples to really understand it.
The English word Ice Cream gets translated phonetically into アイスクリーム which is pronounced (aisu kurīmu).
The English word Computer gets translated phonetically into コンピューター which is pronounced (konpyūtā).
The English word Straw gets translated phonetically into ストロー which is pronounced (sutorō).
So everything is hunky dory, right? Well, not quite… You see, even though a lot of these words have a near identical sound in both languages, sometimes the Japanese decide that the English version is just too long!
So they shorten it. Makes sense, right? Actually it’s not really that big of a problem as long as you are aware of it. Let’s take a look at some of these shorted words.
The English word Apartment gets shortened to just “Apart” and turned into アパート which sounds like (apāto).
The English word Toilet gets shortened to just “Toile” and turned into トイレ which sounds like (toirē).
The English word Building gets shortened to just “Buil” and turned into ビル which sounds like (biru).
So if you come across a word that’s written in Katakana, go ahead and say it out loud so that you can hear it, and see if it sounds like an English word that you know, but with a heavy Japanese accent to it.
However, there are a few times where this technique doesn’t work. One of them is the word ホーム (hōmu). Let me ask you, what do you think that this Gairaigo means based on what it sounds like?
Do you think it sounds like the word “home”? Well so do I! But it’s actually shortened from the word “Platform” as in a railway platform. They just took the “form” from “Platform” to create it.
There aren’t really that many of them, so don’t worry about it too much.
Sometimes The Meaning Is Different
Unlike the words above that are shortened versions of their English counterparts, some words sound exactly like an English word you know, but have a different meaning.
For example the word マンション (manshon) is translated as “mansion” but it’s not a large, impressive house. It’s actually a modern concrete apartment. Again, there’s not a lot of words like this, so just be aware of it.
Verbs and Contracted Words – One Easy, One Not So Easy
When it comes to Gairaigo verbs, it’s actually super simple. You just add the auxiliary verb する (suru) which means “to do” to the borrowed word.
- サッカーをする (sakkā o suru) means “to play soccer”
- テニスをする (tenisu o suru) means “to play tennis”
- アドバイスする (adobaisu suru) means “to give advice”
It’s used like this a lot when you play a sport. But it can be applied to other things as well. Just remember that する means “to do” whatever thing the を particle is attached to.
Now we get to perhaps the most challenging part of English loan words. When the Japanese take two different, but related, words and combine them together into a new one.
We do this all the time in English with words like “can not –> can’t” but the Japanese version is a little more in depth. Here’s some of the words that I’m talking about.
Personal Computer gets turned into パソコン (pasokon). They take the “perso” from personal, and the “con” from computer to form the new word.
American Football gets turned into アメフト (amefuto). They take the “ame” from American, and the “foot” from football to form the new word.
Air Conditioner gets turned into エアコン (eakon). They take all of the word “air” and just the “con” from conditioner to form the new word.
So here’s the question, can you recognize one of these contracted Gairaigo when you come across them? And the most likely answer is no. It’s unfortunate, but the odds of recognizing one of these from just the sound is extremely hard to do since so much of it has been removed.
And here’s an interesting fact: some Japanese people don’t know that these words are contracted. They assume that these are legitimate English words! But if you asked your friend if they wanted to watch some amefuto on Monday night, they’d probably just give you a blank stare.
Get the List
Here is the list (Microsoft Excel) that I mentioned earlier. Click on the picture below to download it.
Of course you can look up the Gairaigo from languages other than English, but that would practically be the same thing as learning native Japanese words since you won’t naturally know the meaning of them.
By going over and sounding out these specific loan words, you can quickly train your brain to recognize the “Nipponized” nouns and verbs that you already know. Talk about a jump start to fluency!
I actually read a pretty interesting article the other day about the people who translate British literature into Japanese. They said, and I quote, “it’s easy because Japanese is about 15 per cent English.”
I don’t really know if that’s true or not, but it goes to show that if English is your native language, then you actually have quite an advantage when it comes to learning Japanese. And you might as well take advantage of it!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Gairaigo (外来語)! Which ones are your favorite? Do you know of any that aren’t on this list of 301? Let me know by leaving a comment below!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: