Published 12th October 2019

Common Mistakes for Japanese Learners of English

One of the most important skills of a TEFL teacher is to identify the errors that your students make and help them deal with them. Mistakes are an integral part of learning and our students are bound to make them. As a teacher, it is up to you to identify the errors your students are making, help them understand the effect of those errors and try to eliminate them from their productions. What is even more helpful is if you can predict the mistakes your students are going to make so you can plan for them. If you think this sounds like an impossible task, don’t worry – we’re here to help. We know generalisations are usually frowned upon, but it IS possible to predict the mistakes your learners are going to make based on their first language. Here we look at some common mistakes for Japanese learners of English.


Japanese speakers are likely to get the /r/ and /l/ sounds mixed up. In other words, they will pronounce rice as lice and will have huge problems saying really. This is because Japanese speakers can’t tell the difference between the two sounds. Japanese doesn’t have a /l/ sound and the /r/ sound is different to that we have in English. To help them out, give them practise with minimal pairs to help them with this error. 


Japanese has a tradition of borrowing words from other languages, especially when it comes to food. This is why you might see a hamba-ga and aisu kurimu on a restaurant menu! These words are not only borrowed from English but from other languages as well. The problem comes in when Japanese speakers assume the borrowed words are English and so use them as English words, such as arubaito – the Japanese word for a part-time job, from the German word for work, arbeit.

Your Japanese students will probably also mistake countable and uncountable nouns. Japanese uses one word for both much and many, so you can understand why they might produce There was much books or I have many water.

Japanese may have its fair share of idioms, but the sheer number of idioms in English means that they can be confusing for English language learners. What’s more, Japanese learners place a lot of emphasis on sounding natural, but that can be difficult if you confuse your idioms.

Common Mistakes for Japanese Learners of English
Common Mistakes for Japanese Learners of English


Articles cause problems for many learners of English. It’s even trickier for Japanese learners because Japanese doesn’t have articles. As a result, Japanese speakers struggle with using definite and indefinite articles and will usually leave them out completely. 

Japanese also doesn’t use pronouns very often. This means that Japanese speakers will produce sentences like read book instead of I read a book. You will need to remind your students that in English we need a subject with every sentence and that is often a pronoun.

Japanese also doesn’t have prepositions. While prepositions can be tricky for any learner to get straight (why do we say on the bus but in a car?), if a learner has no experience with them in their language it becomes even more problematic.

Japanese learners will probably confuse adjectives which end in –ed and –ing. As a result they may say I am very exciting! Or That movie was bored. To help your learners, remind them that the –ed ending is used for adjectives which describe people who feel the adjectives, while the –ing ending is used to describe the thing that is causing the feeling.

Of course these are not the only mistakes that your Japanese learners will make, but these are by far the most common. Luckily, now that you know what these mistakes are and you understand why they are mistakes in the first place, you can make sure you plan the appropriate activities to help your Japanese learners speak the best English they can.

One Reply to “Common Mistakes for Japanese Learners of English”

  1. Very useful overview before I meet my group of Japanese speakers! I feel I’m ready for my first session, knowing what to expect.

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