Chances are, as an anime-viewer, you fancy yourself at least a little familiar with the Japanese language. Maybe you've even named yourself something in nonsensical Japanese online or have gotten a kanji tattoo that you think says "eternal power" but really says "chicken leg"? Maybe you've peppered your Harry Potter fanfics with totally culturally inappropriate "-chan" "-san"s and "aishiteru"s? Maybe you bounce around anime conventions shouting "ka-weh-ee!"?
Don't be ashamed... we've ALL been beginners at one point. And like it or not, we've all looked REALLY silly somewhere in the game. I've committed a few of these linguistic sins myself back in the day (3, 5, 6, and 7 for the record).
Here are the 10 most common mistakes I hear from anime fans... both online and walking around on the street IN Japan. The up-side, they're all incredibly simple to correct and doing so will make you sound infinitely less silly to anyone who actually speaks the language:
1) The Self-Honorific.
ex. "Hi, I'm Piko-chan."
"from, Piko-chan." (signing a letter)
"My name is Piko-chan."
Honorifics "san", "chan", "sama" etc are meant to be used when referring to others: not oneself. There are occasions when an honorific can be used with your own name (when talking about what others call you, when speaking in the third person, when being incredibly arrogant or pretending to be, etc). But for the most part, using "san", "chan", "sama" etc with your own name is a no-no...
2) The S-plural
Japanese has no s-plural... nor do a majority of Japanese loan-words that have been adopted to the English language. One piece of sushi is "sushi"... two pieces of sushi are still "sushi". 1 "anime", 2 "anime"... 1 "manga", 2 "manga"... Just like it grates the ears of an educated English speaker to hear "reindeers", "gooses" and "spagettis", this faux pas is potentially maddening to those who speak Japanese.
3) language mixing
ex. "My okasan went to the mise and she bought me a cool akai shatsu. It's way kawaii."
Language substitution is cool... if there's a REASON for it. For example, if you're speaking in Japanese and don't know the word for something, you might say it in English in hopes that someone listening will understand. That's not silly, it's communication. Inserting random words in other languages into English for no reason (especially when speaking to people who don't speak that language either) makes you sound a wee bit spastic. Most of the most hardcore language mixers have no idea how to actually pronounce or properly use the words they've chosen to subsititute... so even on the off-chance someone speaks both English and Japanese fluently: they're amazing difficult to understand.
ex. "'Harry-chan, aishiteru,' Hermione whispered to her koibito."
Alright, hang on just a minute!!! Harry Potter is a book written IN ENGLISH with a cast of characters living in England with no knowledge or interest in Japan. Assuming you're not a Japanese author and this fic isn't written in Japanese: why on EARTH would these characters start speaking it?!
On a similar note: some people seem to think that beginning to speak random Japanese to people in your neighborhood or family who don't speak Japanese will impress them. It doesn't. They just think you're crazy.
Language is meant to enable communication, not inhibit it.
ex. "aishiteru, Bob-san"
"aishiteru" is a word that you can live in Japan for a hundred years and never once hear anyone utter. Still, thanks to the wide availability of Japanese dictionaries without any sort of word usage or explanation included: it's become a favorite of Western anime fans.
The word is antiquated, disused and too strong for the liking of most Japanese. It also has a slightly carnal tint to it. The also frequently misused "aijin", isn't just "lover"... it is the word for a woman who is sleeping with another woman's man. There are half a dozen other ways to refer to love, or loving someone else that are a far better choice than "aishiteru". So if you NEED to say it in Japanese: use "koishiteru" or the far more common "suki".
ex. "watashi wa hentai ga daisuki" (I love hentai)
Hentai is a bit tricky in that it's a legitimate loanword born from a language mistake... In the US, it means "anime porn". But in Japan, it means "perversion". In Japan, people don't use the word "hentai" to describe pornography... they use it to describe ACTUAL perversion. So if you say "I love hentai" to a Japanese person, you're actually coming off as saying "I love perversion"... which is both confusing and potentially the source of a rather dangerous misunderstanding.
For the record, if you'd like to buy or talk about porn in Japan: use the words "erohon" (erotic books) "eromanga" (erotic comics) "eroge" (erotic games) and "AV" (adult videos).
7) "yaoi", "shounen ai"
ex. "I love yaoi guys" (terms as a syn for gay)
"Loveless is great yaoi"
"I love shounen ai"
More loanwords that have caused quite a bit of trouble in their time... Right off the batt: homosexuality is NOT widely accepted in Japan. Openly gay people are few and far between and while you might think it's kosher to talk about same-sex relationships over a polite sushi dinner with a friend from work: it's probably not the best idea in the universe.
"yaoi", "shounen ai" and "yuri" are not interchangeable with the terms "gay", "lesbian", "homosexuality", or "homosexual". They're terms for genres of fantasy fiction written primarily by heterosexual women for other heterosexual women.
The word "yaoi" is used specifically for pornographic works, usually doujinshi. The term is more or less obselete and has very limited usage in Japan. "Shounen ai" -USED- to be a catch all term for male-male romances, but has recently become a word for "boylove" (ie. the pedophilic attraction of an older man to an underage boy). As a result, "I love shounen ai" could easily be mistaken for "I love pedophilia".
The term used in Japan for all male-male romances, both pornographic and non-pornographic is BL or "Boys Love", in English. Isn't that so much easier?
8) stringing together dictionary forms to create "names" or sentences
ex. username: ureshii saku (meant to mean "joyful blossom")
watashi suki nihongo manga (meant to mean "I like Japanese manga")
I'm afraid that a dictionary isn't enough to speak a language. English - Japanese isn't just substitution code. You may look up the words "I" "love" "japanese" and "comics" and end up with the sentence: "watashi suki nihongo manga", which besides being in totally the wrong order for a meaningful Japanese and missing particles all over the place, actually means "Me. Affection. Japanese language. Comic books."
If you want a username in Japanese, do yourself a favor and either stick to a single word or character name that you know for certain the meaning of, or ask someone who actually speaks Japanese to check it and make sure you aren't actually naming yourself "Happy. To blossom." or worse get a tattoo that says "Chicken Wing."
9) being persnickity about the words "anime", "manga", and "Jpop"/"J-rock"
ex. "That's not anime! It's Korean!"
"American comics don't deserve the "manga" title!"
"Myavi isn't J-pop, he's J-rock! J-pop sucks!"
You're creating controversy for yourselves. While certain implications about "Japaneseness" have come with these words emigrating to the English language to describe media from Japan: the word "anime" in Japanese still means ONLY "animation". The word "manga" means ONLY "comics". Walking into any store in Japan you will find the "cartoons" and "anime" are in the same section, with the label "anime" sitting on the shelf above them. Korean comics share the shelves with Japanese ones without anything to indicate that they aren't Japanese at all (aside from the name of the author). The entire floor for radio-play Japanese artists of all genres, ages and looks is just labelled: "J-pop".
ex. "I'm otaku and proud of it!"
I think it's wonderful that in the US, this term has such a pleasant and inclusive meaning... but I think everyone needs to be aware that it was originally coined as a pejorative term and that it's not used so positively by everyone. Feel free to celebrate your otaku-ness in the West, but you many want to try and tone it down a bit if you ever visit Japan. Though the Moe-boom and densha otoko have made it suddenly popular for hardcore geeks to "come out of the closet" as anime otaku: being "otaku" isn't something that most "normal people" understand. There is a rather big stigma attatched to the word and the "movement". While your Japanese aquaintances may humor you with nervous smiles when you introduce yourself as "otaku": chances are, your open profession of love of children's shows or porno games will actually make them a bit uncomfortable.
"otaku" doesn't mean "fan", it means "obsessive fan". "otaku" are people who pursue their hobbies to the EXCLUSION of other activities. The term itself implies having no life beyond your obsession. Chances are, most of you aren't REALLY "otaku"... you're anime fans. If you spend over $500 a month on figures of anime girls, say you don't have time for a boy or girlfriend, and preorder every disc of "Koiuta" a month in advance: that's more along the line of "otaku".
The word otaku is a bit like the word "gay". If you ARE and are in like company... it is possible to use it in a positive sense. If others outside of your in-group use it: it's generally in a hurtful or demeaning sense. Probably because most people in Japan hear it most from people who are bullying, beating or badmouthing them. Most people who admit to being "otaku" are being self-depreciating in the presence of someone they trust and will try to downplay or conceal their level of involvement in their particular hobby when dealing with co-workers or friends outside of the fandom. Even adults who have only moderate interest in anime will probably be teased (though not necesarily cruelly) about being "otaku" by friends and loved-ones.
"otaku" also isn't an exclusive term for anime. You can be otaku for anything. There are car-otaku, music-otaku, cat-otaku... if you are maniacal for any hobby: you can be "otaku". Though the term "mania" is a bit nicer and far more widely used outside the context of insults and stereotypical stand-up routines directed at akiba-kei-otaku.
By all means, keep using "otaku" positively. Just be aware of the other meaning it carries.
Now you know
And knowing is half the battle
(this was originally an article for a fan journal... that's why it's so insufferably long >_< forgive the double-post powers that be!)