How to Alphabet

Now here’s some madness to play with your brain: Japanese have difficulty learning the English alphabet for the same reason that Americans have difficulty using the metric system – they already have a perfectly good naming/measuring convention of their own, so psychologically it’s more comfortable to stick with what’s familiar. It’s the same reason that it’s really difficult to adjust to Celsius or Fahrenheit if you’ve grown up with the other. I’ve come to understand what 10C means, but 50F still means more to me.

Yes, the alphabet has so pervaded Japan that they’ve found a way to fit it into their own language. And here is how it works:

A    エー
B    ビー
C    シー
D    ディー
E    イー
F    エフー
G    ジー
H    エイチ
I    アイ
J    ジェー
K    ケー
L    エル
M    エム
N    エヌ
O    オー
P    ピー
Q    キュー
R    アル
S    エス
T    ティー
U    ユー
V    ブイ
W    ダブルユー
X    エックス
Y    ワイ
Z    ゼッド

Follow this rubric with the occasional hint (ラビットのアル) and you’ll have no problem relaying the alphabet in Japanese, even if it means dictating your romanized name over the phone. I think the hardest ones for me to get used to have been V, R, L, M and N, but it’s amazing how much fater アル can relay information than “ARRGH.” Also, it wasn’t until I wrote down this list that I realized why my former students refused to give up the British “zed” – pronouncing it “zee” creates an overlap with the pronunciation for G. I was tempted to write ズィー until I remembered zed.

0 thoughts on “How to Alphabet

  1. Wonder on and off as to why in general the educational system here tends to lean towards teaching American English, yet all of the kids say “zed” instead of “zee”.

    Guess it’s just easier to differentiate.

  2. Akaki: Hey, I think it’s great. Was just trying to be helpful, yo – there might be some folks out there who haven’t realized this yet. I used it the other day making a hotel reservation, and that reminded me of how useful it is. Thanks for the link – I thought I might be off with the H. Interesting to note the pronunciations for R and W.

    Adam: I definitely think it’s because it overlaps with G. Also because a horde of other letters (C, D, P, T, V) all end similarly, which I think makes ゼッド standout and therefore easier to remember.