Translations are Powerful

Translations of your favourite media could be one of the most powerful resources when it comes to language learning

I had a thought the other day about translations.

A vast majority of the books I have read in Japanese have actually been translations of books from other languages.

With this, and my girlfriend being a translator, it made me realise how thankful I am towards these “silent ninjas” of the writing world.

I mean think about it for a second. These people spend hours of hard work translating films, books and tonnes of other content, line by line, attempting to retain the original style and meaning of the source content into their target language. It’s pretty tough work if you ask me, and on top of all that, they get barely any recognition at all as they don’t own any of the content themselves.


The main reason I am writing this blog post today is because I started to write the 2nd edition of “Recommended Japanese Reading” the other day and realised that a large proportion of the books that I have read in Japanese have actually been translations from other languages.

Yes, Japanese has a large amount of literature, but when starting to learn a new language using material you already have knowledge of is an insanely powerful tool.

Thus, when it came to getting some reading material for Japanese, I originally went for books I already knew. I also got books recommended by Khatz, from AJATT, as well as books about programming and software engineering when I began looking for new material. These books, for the most part, were written in English originally and then translated to Japanese.


One of the first books I had a try at reading was the Sword Art Online Light Novels (Amazon).

The main reason for this is because I already knew the story off by heart.

I had watched the anime multiple times with and without English subtitles.

I had also read the light novels in English.

This made reading the light novels in Japanese a lot easier.

Don’t get me wrong. It was freakin’ hard. When I first gave these a read, I knew barely any Japanese. I skipped nearly all of a page before finding a sentence that I could read. Most of the sentences I could read where the parts of speech that I recognised from the show. Any information about the environment or the description of a new character was way beyond my level at this time.

But guess what?

That didn’t bother me that much, as I already knew the story.

The previous experience with the content helps provide better comprehension and makes it easier to learn.

I had just enough information to know where I was in the story. Any other useless information I could just skip.

Another reason why translations are powerful is that it makes the transition to a Japanese environment a lot easier. You can just find the translations of your favourite films, books or TV shows and BAM! Japanese is now coming into your eyes and ears but your daily life hasn’t changed a bit!

This will make you more likely to continue in the early stages, as it removes a large sense of difficulty that comes with the first steps of learning a language.

This is also why so many people say to learn the language via something you enjoy doing. It just makes it so much easier to keep going.

So my advice for you today is to take notes of your favourite media. Make a long list of everything (not all of it will be translated) that you can think of, even stuff from when you where a child (here’s a good bilingual book on Amazon to get you started). Then go on the internet and search for the Japanese version. This is going to be your “beginner” material and will serve you for a long time. 

Just a warning though. Don’t try to translate it or try to remember the original English.

Just get the gist of it all.

I would also suggest to chop and change your material up, at least once every 2 weeks.

Don’t read the same book for a year, you won’t make much progress!

If your favourite content hasn’t been translated then you can always get translators to translate it for you. If you wish to do that then fiverr is a good place to check. 

If you are really struggling to get into the first stages of learning Japanese then I recommend reading my post “Easing into a Language – A Simple Hack” which discusses slowly easing yourself into Japanese.


Thanks for reading.

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By Matthew Hawkins

北海道札幌市 – 2017/09/09


Here are some of my favorite tools and sites for learning Japanese

Thank you for reading this blog post, which I hope you found useful for learning Japanese. Here are some of the most useful websites that I’ve found for finding Japanese content to use for immersion as well as some really useful learning tools to help you through your Japanese studies. Some of these are affiliate links which just means that if you decide to use these sites by clicking the following links, then I will earn a commission. But honestly speaking, these are the sites that I use and recommend language learners, even my friends, to use anyway.

Anki Tools: To get started, I really like Migaku for Anki. By itself, Anki is already a super useful tool for language learners but Migaku allows for integration with websites like YouTube and Netflix, allowing it’s users to create flashcards from the shows and videos that they are watching, as they are watching them. If you use my link you can get an extra month for free.

Speaking Practice: For this I absolutely love iTalki. There are thousands of Japanese teachers on the platform that are available at all times of the day to have conversations with you, in Japanese. Some teachers take a more traditional approach while others are just there to chat, these are the ones I would recommend if you are looking to improve your conversational Japanese. Lessons start from just $5 and there’s no long term commitment, I highly recommend them.

Immersion: I’ve used a lot of different earphones / headphones over the years but by far the one that has come out on top is the NENRENT S570. This is a singular in-ear earphone that matches your skin tone to keep it discrete, meaning you can listen to the language you are learning while at work, or school. For a full list of tools and gadgets I recommend for maximizing your immersion time, check out this blog post.

4 Replies to “Translations are Powerful”

  1. Do you have any recommendations of good English short stories to get translated into your target language?

    1. Sorry for the late reply, I had an issue with the comment system but have fixed it now 🙂

      Any kids stuff really. The simplest language but that is still for natives is going to be for kids aged 10 and under so aim for that stuff if you are starting straight out.

      I also remember something about Steve Kaufmann creating some stories in English that attempt to contain all the main parts of grammar you would ever need and then translating them to other languages. Not sure how that is going but I would give it a search.

      I only used this with one TV show at the beginning of learning Japanese so I’m afraid I don’t have any particular recommendations. I would suggest to just go with what ever you really love or have enjoyed reading before.

      Hope that helped 🙂

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