Benefits of Direct Translation Between Japanese and English

Posted on September 23, 2006 | Posted by evankirby

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It’s very hard to understand Japanese in the beginning because the structure of sentences is so completely different from English. So, unlike learning French, Spanish, or other languages with quite similar grammar to English, you can’t just plug foreign words into a sentence pattern you’re already accustomed to. Instead, you have to remember both new words AND new word order at the same time, which can be too much for some people.

That’s why we think there is some benefit to beginners of direct word-for-word translation of Japanese sentences into English, that is, translating the words of a sentence into equivalent English, but leaving them in exactly the same place. A simple example, just to make it clear what we mean:
I’s mother’s name (topic) Patricia is.

Doing this frees your brain from having to think about all the new vocabulary, and lets you focus just on the sentence structure. Thus you can internalize the format of Japanese sentences, and get used to putting the verb at the end, for example, by getting used to thinking like that in English first.

And it can actually be kind of fun to try to translate Japanese sentences into Japanese-structured English sentences! Thinking in English but with a new grammatical paradigm is like a brain twister.
Of course, we don’t recommend doing it for ever, as at some point you’ll obviously want to start combining Japanese grammar and Japanese words to make real Japanese sentences. However, it’s a good technique in the beginning of your study, to smooth you into the process of thinking in a new layout.
Here are a few more examples, to help you along:

English sentences changed into Japanese layout (this is actually harder than translating a Japanese sentence directly into English.)
I have no idea why my dog bit your son. Maybe because he’s delicious.
Why I’s dog (subject) you’s son (object) bit (question) completely know not. Maybe delicious because.

Could you put the Ken figurine down? I don’t want you getting your dirty fingerprints all over it.
Ken figurine (object) put down give not? You’s dirty fingerprints (object) attach want not.

I can’t understand you sometimes. You’re like a little boy with these toys. You know it’s just a TV show, right?
Sometimes understand can’t. Toys (object) having child look like. Just’s TV show that understanding, right?

Japanese sentences translated directly to English words
Hokuto no ken (subject) exist don’t world in living can’t.

Pasta and soba, which (subject) like? I (topic) both hate (feminine).

You (derogatory), I’s talk properly listening (question)?

And so on and so on.
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