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 Natsumi Shibata 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. Again, I would recommend my friend Natsumi Shibata for Japanese.
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.
北海道札幌市 – 2017/09/09
Undergraduate Software Engineer and Language Enthusiast.