Have you ever fainted?
Let me rephrase that.
Have you ever fainted in a foreign country?
I was in Osaka for spring vacation with my parents and I’d come down with a cold the week before.
At the pharmacy, I grabbed the first package I could find that said 咳 (せき — cough) and didn’t bother reading anything else (hey, large blocks of text are overwhelming).
When I arrived at the hotel, I passed out in the bathroom and hit my head on the counter.
I’m totally fine. Maybe some short-term memory…what was I trying to say?
I don’t know if there was something in the medicine (antihistamines?) that made me faint, or if it was something else entirely.
But the point is, had I either been able to read the package or bothered to try, I may have avoided embarrassing myself in front of my parents yet again. (Well, within earshot of my parents.)
For all intents and purposes, I was actually fine, until the next day when I woke up with 中耳炎 (ちゅうじえん — an ear infection) and we had to spend the day looking for the closest 耳鼻咽喉科 (じびいんこうか — otolaryngologist, or ear, nose and throat doctor).
Because I’ve had a regular otolaryngologist since I was a wee baby, having chronic problems in the 頭 (あたま — head-area), I at least knew what complicated English word to search for in my Japanese dictionary smartphone app.
It’s due to these problems, and my myriad other regularly-occurring bodily breakdowns, that I’ve realized it’s really important to keep trying to learn Japanese medical terminology—and that I’ve learned as much as I have.
For me, getting sick and learning the hard way has been an effective method of self-study.
However, this method’s not for everyone (and it actually isn’t as fun as I like to say it is).
So consider taking the easy way out by studying the terminology now, even if you’re not someone who regularly suffers from health issues. If you’re still not convinced of the importance of learning Japanese medical vocab, read on.
Why You Should Start Learning Japanese Medical Terms Now
Imagine the following:
You go whitewater rafting in Oboke Gorge, Kochi Prefecture, and the next day you notice something’s off. Whenever you bend over, your lower back gets really sore. At first it’s only a little annoying, but after a few days you start to worry that you’ve permanently injured yourself. You go to the nearest sports clinic, but you realize you don’t know how to explain your condition to the doctor.
Even if he understands you, you have no way of understanding him when he tells you that you’ve either developed 側湾症 (そくわんしょう — scoliosis) or your 先天的な側湾症 (せんてんてきな そくわんしょう — congenital scoliosis) is finally affecting you 23 years later.
So what are you to do?
Learn Japanese medical vocabulary.
This’ll be good not just in case you actually have a problem, but to learn the language faster as well.
Whether you’ve already mastered the rules of grammar, or you’re still swimming in verbs and voices, the most concrete way to power through a language is to pick up the vocabulary in bulk. You may not be able to string words together like Socrates, but you can still get your point across.
Just knowing how to say “lactose intolerance” will make you understood, even if you’re not able to wade through a sentence like “I discovered a few years ago that I’m lactose intolerant and it comes and it goes and I guess right now it just decided to come crashing back into my life, rent-free, leaving me doubled over in agony at my own birthday party.”
That’s not to say that grammar is pointless. Grammar is very, very useful, but vocabulary is bite-sized, and while grammatical structures have specific functions and forms, most vocabulary words can be used in any situation. You can get your meaning across with a string of words, and the more vocabulary you know, the more effectively you can practice using your grammatical skills in different situations.
Basically, if you learn Japanese medical terms, you’ll be able to talk to doctors in Japan, and you’ll also impress people with your Renaissance-Person-ness.
How to Learn Japanese Medical Terms (and Other Specialized Vocabulary)
- Trick yourself into thinking you have to study for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and crack out a practice book! Whether you’re actually taking the test or not, the JLPT materials are among the most useful sources for studying vocabulary in bulk, and you can see words used in real-life situations.
- If you have a smartphone, get an app that lets you create vocabulary lists, and fill them up with words that you think will be useful. You can pull out your phone at the clinic and show the doctor if you can’t or don’t want to say the words yourself.
- As long as you’re using a smartphone, try an app for learning kanji that may include some medical terms, so you can learn to read medicine boxes and prescriptions.
- Poke around in Japanese medical dictionaries, take a look at online vocabulary sources and take practice quizzes.
- Start learning Japanese with FluentU, where you can use fun videos to learn vocabulary for going to the doctor and just about any other situation you can think of.
- Make yourself sick intentionally, then ask the doctor “How do I say this in Japanese?” If this doesn’t sound like very much fun, you can check out the list below instead.
To Your Health! 70+ Japanese Medical Terms to Keep You Safe and Sound
The Body — 体 (からだ)
こめかみ — temple
額 (ひたい), おでこ — forehead
歯茎 (はぐき), 歯肉 (しにく) — gums
腱 (けん) — tendon(s)
腰 (こし) — lower back, lumbar spine, waist (in some phrases), butt (e.g., 腰をかける — to sit down)
臓器 (ぞうき) — (internal) organ(s)
肝 (きも), 肝臓 (かんぞう) — liver
喉 (のど), 咽喉 (いんこう) — throat
肺 (はい) — lung(s)
頬 (ほお) — cheek(s)
心臓 (しんぞう) — heart
(りんごをかじったら、はぐきから ちが でた！)
“When I bit into an apple, my gums bled!”
Physical Ailments — 体の病気 (からだの びょうき)
痰 (たん) — phlegm, mucus, snot
咳 (せき) — coughing, a cough
熱 (ねつ) — fever, heat
中耳炎 (ちゅうじえん) — ear infection
脊椎側湾症 (せきつい そくわんしょう), 側湾症 (そくわんしょう) — scoliosis (abnormal twisting or bending of the spine)
炎症 (えんしょう) — inflammation
腱鞘炎 (けんしょうえん), 腱炎 (けんえん), 腱の炎症 (けんのえんしょう) — tendonitis (inflammation of the tendon)
肺炎 (はいえん) — pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs due to fluid)
癌 (がん) — cancer
捻挫 (ねんざ) — sprain, torn ligament (捻挫する — to twist/sprain/tear a ligament)
捻挫した足首 (あしくび) — a sprained ankle
(のどから でてくる たんで、ぷーるが いっぱいに なるかもしれないね。)
“All of the phlegm coming out of my throat could fill up a swimming pool.”
Mental Ailments — 精神病 (せいしんびょう)
依存症 (いぞんしょう) — dependency
中毒 (ちゅうどく) — addiction
アルコール依存症 (あるこーる いぞんしょう) — alcoholism
鬱病 (うつびょう) — depression
自閉症 (じへいしょう) — autism
障害 (しょうがい) — disorder
摂食障害 (せっしょく しょうがい) — eating disorder
精神障害 (せいしん しょうがい) — psychiatric disorder
やけ食い (やけぐい) — binge eating
ストレス(すとれす) — stress
(おとうとは しちめんちょう ちゅうどくなので、かんしゃさいのひには、にくを かくさねばいかん。)
“My brother is addicted to turkey, so we have to hide the bird during Thanksgiving.”
Treatment — 治療 (ちりょう)
向精神薬 (こうせいしんやく) — psychotropic drug (medicine for psychiatric disorders)
錠 (じょう) — pill, counter for number of pills
痛み止め (いたみどめ) — painkiller
耳鼻咽喉科 (じびいんこうか), 耳鼻科 (じびか) — otolaryngology (medicine of the ears, nose and throat)
婦人科 (ふじんか) — gynecology
腫瘍学 (しゅようがく) — oncology
外科 (げか) — surgery (department)
手術 (しゅじゅつ) — surgery (operation)
注射 (ちゅうしゃ) — injection
回復 (かいふく) — recovery (回復する — to recover)
麻酔 (ますい) — anesthesia
(けさ、このくすりを ごじょう のんだら、いま、たてなくなっちゃった。きょう、おふぃすまで つれてってくれない？)
“I took five pills of this medicine this morning and now I can’t stand up. Can you take me to work today?”
Medical Miscellaneous — その他の医学用語 (そのたの いがく ようご)
健康保険 (けんこう ほけん) — health insurance
診断 (しんだん) — diagnosis
再発 (さいはつ) — relapse (が再発する — to relapse, the disease returns)
レントゲン (れんとげん) — x-ray
症状 (しょうじょう) — symptom
慢性 (まんせい), 慢性的な (まんせいてきな) — chronic (everlasting, recurring)
急性 (きゅうせい), 急性的な (きゅうせいてきな) — acute (immediate, temporary)
先天性 (せんてんせい), 先天的な (せんてんてきな) — congenital (from birth)
副作用 (ふくさよう) — side effect
義～ (ぎ～), プロテーゼ (ぷろてーぜ), 人工的な (じんこうてきな) — prosthesis, prosthetic, artificial
“I have chronic ear infections. Whenever I get a cold, I also get an ear infection.”
Useful Phrases and Vocabulary — 役立つフレーズや単語 (やくだつ ふれーずや たんご)
腫れ (はれ) — swelling
腫れる (はれる) — to swell
麻痺 (まひ), しびれ — numbness
麻痺する (まひする), しびれる — to be paralyzed
痛い (いたい), 痛む (いたむ) — to hurt
薬を飲む (くすりをのむ) — to take medicine
一日何回 ～したらいいですか？(いちにち なんかい～したら いいですか？) — How many times a day should I…?
治る (なおる) — to recover
治す (なおす) — to fix, cure, heal someone
食前 (しょくぜん) — before a meal
食後 (しょくご) — after a meal
噛む (かむ) — to chew
噛まず飲む (かまず のむ), 噛まないで飲む (かまないで のむ) — to swallow whole
(やきゅうの ぼーるが あたったところが、 まだはれたままです。このはれのなおしかたは ありませんか？)
“The spot where I was hit by the baseball is still swollen. Is there a way to fix this swelling?”
Whether you’ve fallen down and can’t get up, or are just feeling a teeny bit sniffly, absorbing Japanese medical vocabulary into your noggin will help you feel at ease in most medical situations.
You’ll have that moment of joy when you correctly use a word, the doctor understands you and you can sift through his/her diagnosis for the terms you recognize in order to go home knowing you can take care of yourself.
You’ll experience a little rush when you find just the right medicine to turn your strangely-bronze-colored mucus (it should never be bronze) back to clear.
And finally, you’ll feel light as air when your head stops throbbing inexplicably and you can teach an English lesson without fainting right onto a seventh-grade child (another almost-true story).
And One More Thing...
If you love learning Japanese with authentic materials, then I should also tell you more about FluentU.
FluentU naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You'll learn real Japanese as it's spoken in real life.
FluentU has a broad range of contemporary videos as you'll see below:
FluentU makes these native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts. Tap on any word to look it up instantly.
All definitions have multiple examples, and they're written for Japanese learners like you. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.
And FluentU has a learn mode which turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples.
The best part? FluentU keeps track of your vocabulary, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You'll have a 100% personalized experience.
The FluentU app is now available for iOS and Android, and it's also available as a website that you can access on your computer or tablet.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.