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Essay

The problem with trouble

By Samantha Loong

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My students work in the manufacturing industry, and at least twice a week, I'll hear someone say something like: "I had big trouble today." What they usually mean is "I had to deal with a serious problem today." They tend to use "trouble" instead of "problem."

But why "trouble"? This is because they think that using the loan word toraburu will work in all situations. A quick image search online for each word shows that there are a number of differences between "trouble" and "problem."

For starters, a problem tends to have a solution, and is more like a puzzle. Also, "problem" is countable. "Trouble" usually involves negative feelings, and the noun is uncountable. For example, I'm not very good at maths problems. I look at all the equations and start to feel confused. So, while I'm good with words, I have trouble with numbers.

Toraburu is just the tip of the iceberg. I have to remind my students to be careful of throwing loan words into English conversations. It can lead to a lot of confusion. Like the time a student asked for my consent.

"My consent? To do what?" I got a little nervous. Did he want to get intimate with me in the classroom? Did he mean to ask for my permission?

He repeated himself: "Consent? In class?" I asked him for an example, and he looked around in his bag. He brought out his phone and said: "Battery is low." He pointed to something in the corner of the classroom and excitedly said "Consent!"

I breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, do you want to charge your phone during class?" I asked him. "Yes! Charge my phone." he replied. I pointed out to him that the word he wanted was not "consent," but "power outlet." Then, we looked up where konsento came from. We found out that it was from either the Meiji Era or Taisho Era, when "concentric plugs" were used.

Loan words cause all sorts of problems when learning languages. Not only can they cause confusion — and a bit of stress in my case — they also interfere with pronunciation. In order to address these problems, I ask my students to pay attention to katakana words. I ask them to check the spelling, check what type of word it can be (an adjective, noun or verb), check whether it's English, check its pronunciation, and then make a sentence. I call this procedure STEPS (Spelling; Type; English; Pronunciation; Sentence).

So, while a katakana word almost got my student into some trouble, there is at least one solution you can try (not "challenge"). I hope it will help with any communication problems. Good luck! (Not "fight").

トラブルにまつわる問題

日本人はよく「トラブルがあった」と言うが、多くの場合、英語のtroubleよりもproblemに相当する意味で使われている。外来語を英語の会話で使うときは十分な注意が必要だ。

The Japan Times ST: May 11, 2018

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2018年6月1日号    試読・購読   デジタル版
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