Step 2 – Learn What You Don’t Know
Welcome to Step 2 of the Read Japanese Faster series!
In the last step, you:
- Found an article from the NHK News website
- Removed all that pesky Furigana
- Read the article and noted down the parts you didn’t understand
In this Step, I’ll show you how to translate words and Kanji and create an optimised study list for the next Step.
Individual words and Kanji is easy enough, but what about longer sentences or paragraphs? Don’t worry – I’ll also direct you to where you can get help for these harder parts!
Ready? Let’s go!
Vocabulary & Kanji
If you’re looking for the meaning of a specific word, or want to know how a Kanji is read, then Jisho.org is your best friend.
It’s an online dictionary that you can easily copy-and-paste Japanese text into. It will give you the meaning and the on/kun-yomi readings for Kanji.
Of course, you can use a dictionary app on your phone/tablet, or even (gasp!) a hardcover dictionary. I prefer using Jisho.org just for the copy-and-paste convenience.
Your task is to use this website to help you translate the parts you highlighted in the previous step. Translate as much as you can, but don’t worry if there are parts you just can’t get your head around – we’ll deal with those parts later!
Now for the super important part – after you have translated a word, try and use it in an example sentence. The secret to learning new words quickly is to practice using them as often as possible.
How you structure it is up to you, but I like to use a table like so:
I like to separate Kanji and Kana (読み方) into two different columns. The Kanji column is optional, whereas the Kana column is always filled.
When we convert this table into Anki cards you will see why this is my recommended way of structuring your list 🙂
As you might expect, long sentences are harder to translate than single words. Especially if it uses a grammar structure that you’ve never seen before!
So how do we translate longer or difficult sentences? There are a few ways that you can go about this.
#1 – Do it yourself
I always encourage people to at least give one proper attempt at translating a sentence. This is one of the most frustrating parts about learning Japanese, but it is also the most rewarding if you do it yourself.
Start by picking out the key words of the sentence, and then guess the overall meaning of the sentence.
Now look for grammatical structures in the sentence. It’s great if you recognise them, but what do you do if you can’t? My tip would be to look at the verbs, adjectives, nouns or adjectives and figure out what form they are in. This makes it easier for you to Google.
Let’s use the following sentence as an example.
The key words I picked out are りんご (apple) and 食べない (don’t eat).
The verb is the plain negative form of 食べる (to eat).
I would then literally Google “japanese verb naidekudasai“.
Google gave me these results which pointed me in the right direction:
#2 – Use Google Translate
You might laugh, but hear me out!
Five or so years ago, Google Translate for Japanese wasn’t very good. Even with the most simple sentences.
It’s improved a lot since then, but it’s best used for getting a general understanding of the sentence.
Japanese as a language is based very heavily on context, which will always be a limitation for Google Translate. It will help guide you in the right direction, but you’re likely going to have to do some more work on your own to fully grasp the sentence.
#3 – Ask for Help
If you have access to the Internet, then you have access to a MASSIVE knowledge base to ask for help.
The hardest part is knowing where to go. Here are some of my favourite places to ask questions:
Join a group related to learning Japanese, and ask your question there. Even the larger groups tend to be welcoming for newcomers, and the sheer number of people means at least one person will know how to help you out.
If you frequent Reddit, this is a great subreddit that I’ve personally found very helpful. Be sure to read the community guidelines before you post and be respectful of other’s opinions.
Lang8 and HiNative
Both are very good apps that you can sign up to for free and get native speakers to help you with translating sentences. The idea is that you first try to translate your own sentence, and then native speakers will correct you.
That’s it – we’re done for this step!
To summarise, by the end of this step you should:
- Have a vocabulary/kanji list (like the example I gave above) for the words/kanji you didn’t know
- Understand the longer or more complex sentences, even if it’s a high level understanding
You also know some good online places to ask for help when you get stuck in the future – nice!
So what now?
In the next Step I’ll show you how to convert your optimised study list into Anki flashcards so you can study them using a technique known as Spaced Repetition.
Hang in there, you’re doing great!
As always, here’s our motivational kitty to cheer you on