Un! Uun! Un? Three words that sound awfully similar but have totally different meanings.

It takes a whole lot of commitment and dedication to reach conversational levels of Japanese, but luckily the Internet is full of useful language learning tools that’ll guide you over the pitfalls many face.

Nevertheless, it’s considered to be one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn for English native speakers, and even Japanese people tend to agree.

For example, when an American friend of Japanese Twitter user @chomado came to visit Japan, he complained that it was difficult to distinguish between the Japanese “yes” and “no.”

▼ Which makes it a pain playing video games that let you choose between
accepting and declining. Can you tell the difference between the two options?

The shorter “un” (うん, pronounced as “oon”) means “yes”, while the longer “uun” (ううん, a slightly longer “ooon”) means “no.” And let’s not forget there’s “un?” the English equivalent of an inquiring “yes?” Fortunately the intonation associated with these three words are different, but that doesn’t make it any less of a nightmare for learners.

Aside from these, there’s also deceivingly simple words with opposite meanings. One example would be “ii yo” (いいよ) which is the same as the English confirmation “sure!” What makes it baffling is that it’s also used to imply that you don’t need something, and the only way to figure it out is by context.

Hence when a cashier at a Japanese supermarket asks if you need a plastic bag for your food item, an “ii yo” reply would send them into a world of confusion.

▼ “So do you need this or not? Make up your mind!”

Netizens were quick to chip in their thoughts on language ambiguity:

“Why can’t we just make it simpler to comprehend?”
“It’s okay, I don’t understand it either.”
“Japanese people can’t really hear the difference between the English ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ too.”
“I’m sure you can tell the meaning from the speaker’s expression.”
“I’ve had it enough with English myself! What’s the difference between ‘Sure!’, ‘Yeah!’, ‘Yes!’, ‘Right!’ and ‘K!’?”

English and Japanese are already polar opposites in terms of sentence structure and grammar, and such ambiguity in simple yes or no questions doesn’t make it any easier to learn. Plus, let’s also not forget that some Japanese words can be incredibly difficult to pronounce.

Man, Japanese is hard. Wouldn’t you agree?


Source: Twitter/@chomado via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso