The ambiguousness in Japanese language

As many of you should have heard, one of the most difficult points in Japanese language is the fact that it is sometimes really ambiguous!

The following video is in Japanese without subtitles, so for those who have interest please have a look!
I make a brief explanation below for those who don’t understand!

This comes from my Japanese class, where we read a text about the word 頑張る (がんばる, ganbaru -> to give one’s best). It may sound like a really good word (and it originally is), but depending on the context, it may sound rude, or like the person who is talking doesn’t want to bear responsibility over anything.

Let me give you two examples:

頑張って勉強して、いい成績をとれ -> Do your best in studying, get a good score
耳の聞こえない生徒に対して、「頑張れ」 -> A student that can’t hear, show him the expression “do your best”

It may be kind of difficult to understand the difference, but it can be explained like this:

– In the first case, the parents, for example, tell the son to do his best in studying, they give him an objective to accomplish, and to do it, he needs to make an effort.
– In the second case, the teacher shows the deaf student the “do your best” expression, but the student doesn’t know what to do, because despite not being able to hear, he’s already doing his best.

See the nuance?

So, going for the above video’s examples we have words with two meanings! Have a look:

それはいい
1 – That’s OK
2 – I don’t need it

大丈夫です(だいじょうぶです)

1 – That’s OK
2 – I don’t need it

いい加減です(いいかげんです)
1 – It’s just good!
2 – It’s irresponsible / bad

適当(てきとう)
1 – Random
2 – Adequate

These are just some examples! There are a lot of expressions like these in Japanese. I think the trick is in getting the flow of the conversation, and understanding it!


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