For example, in English, cat, hat.
In French, chat, chapeau. (Dr. Seuss fans, anyone?)
In Spanish, el gato in a sombrero.
In Japanese, neko, and kubo.
So many words in the European languages are familiar to English speakers, that much of the basic vocabulary is not completely new. Not so with the Japanese!
My tutor is a very sweet young woman who is studying for her PhD at a university in London, and she received her undergraduate degree from Carthage University in Minnesota. Saito-sensei has started me with the basics I need to find my way around and do my basic shopping. I am learning how to ask for directions, ask WHAT things are (very important), WHERE things are, how to tell the time, etc.
One of the sentences she taught me to use is: Kore wa nihongo/eego de nan desu ka? - What do you call that in Japanese/English? Frankly, I wasn't sure how useful this would be, but I have dutifully learned it.
A couple of weeks ago I went to Tokyu Hands, an amazing shop that carries just about anything. Think of it as Target meets Home Depot with a healthy dose of Michael's - with a Tokyo price tag, of course. My goal was to hang some of the pictures we brought with us from the states. Our apartment has a very modern wall gallery set-up with a picture rail and hooks set into the ceiling. The only thing missing is the wires and special hooks to use on the picture rail. I was told they were at Tokyu Hands, so off I went after dropping Sam off at school.
Well, I found them, and selected what I wanted - only one wire plus hooks, just to make sure I had the right thing. I knew I would be coming back to purchase more if everything worked out, so I carefully asked the sales clerk, "Kore wa nihongo de nan desu ka," wanting to know what to ask for the second time around.
Well, she looked at me like I had just stepped off Mars, and then said to me very carefully, as you would to the village idiot, "Kore wa hooku desu." This is a hook. And so it was.