For the Beginner

I really like to analyze Japanese sentences! Yes, dear reader, this process can be fun. At least I have fun doing it, because it involves writing by hand, instead of writing everything on the computer. So i thought i write something about the process, and tell you how it is done, since this is an essential skill that’s going to be useful for you later on.

Let’s start with something easy.

これは車です。
This is car.

Not a lot is going on, we have これ which indicates that what is being talked about is close to the speaker, は which is a topic marker, 車 car, and です is. Now, as you can see, there is something missing, namely the word [a]. There is no a, because this simply doesn’t exist in Japanese, so you have to fill it in. And you will get, This is a car. Simple, isn’t it? Let’s move on to something more complex.

あの店の食べ物は高くて、おいしいです。
That store food is expensive, delicious.

Again we will break this sentence down grammatically. あの that, 店 store, の is a particle that connects two nouns [店 + 食べ物], 食べ物 food, は is a topic marker [the shop], 高くて expensive, the てform of 高い connects two sentences, おいしい delicious, です is. Which gives us “The food in this store is expensive and delicious.”

Here comes one final example, this time a longer one, with lot’s of things going on, in it.

韓国で買い物をしたり、韓国料理を食べたりしました。
In Korea, did such things as shopping, and ate Korean food.

Now, there doesn’t seem to be much going on, on the outside. But it’s full of information, behind the scenes, so to say. So, let’s take it apart. 韓国 Korea, で in [this particle when placed after a location noun [韓国] indicates where an action took place], 買い物 shopping, したり did such things as … [した is the short form past of する to do, したり when used verbally, it means doing such things as A and B …], 韓国料理 Korean food, 食べたりしました [short form past of たべる, 食べたり and did eat Korean food.] しました [する to do, しました polite past, did]. Which gives us this sentence, “In Korea, i did such things as shopping, and eating Korean food.”

Doing this, with pen and paper, when you first open up your beginners textbook, gives you several advantages. First of all, you learn what all the words, particles, nouns, verbs, inflections, and other parts of the sentence mean, and how they function. When you are working with a textbook, you normally don’t have to do it, because they give you ready made translations. For instance, here is a typical dialogue, taken from Genki.

ジョン: 大家さん、大変です。泥棒に入られました。
Mr. “Landlord”! I am in trouble. I had my room broken into.

大家: えっ。何か取られたんですか。
Oh! Has something been taken?

ジョン: コンピューターと・・・・バイトで貯めたお金もありません。
My computer and … the money that I’ve saved from the part-time job has gone.

大家: 兎に角、警察に連絡した方がいいですよ。
Anyway, you should call the police.

When you are looking at it, the translation is accurate, and everything is there, nothing seems wrong. But …! This is not at all what is written in Japanese. In the first sentence, John calls out to his landlord, but this Mr. and what’s written after that, all this information is not present, in the original Japanese text. “Landlord, it’s serious!” “Thief broke in!” Or “Have been robbed [potential, polite, past form 入る]. Now look at the translation in sentence 3. In the original sentence there is no my, there is only “Computer, and money saved from part-time job, is gone.” So, if you are looking at sentence, the way they are written, there are things missing of course, when you are translating it. But this is no problem. Because you are used to think in this way. You are also making yourself familiar with grammar, particles, and other parts. You can identify them, you can use them, and you learn to understand how they are working.

Of course you will need accurate translations in the beginning. But the sooner you let go of them, the better it is for you. You will become able to process the material naturally, once you are familiar with the process, and you don’t have to worry about long sentences in Japanese. Because you will know, how to identify those parts, that will help you to understand them, without lengthy translations that contains information, that isn’t necessary to understand, what the actual sentence says. I did it for some time, and let go, after having finished Genki I, which was a big mistake. Now i restarted doing it, because I have seen, what it leads to, being dependent on translations. And, as i have already mentioned, it is fun and a relaxing activity. As for you, dear reader, if you start doing it or not, is all up to you. But i strongly suggest you start doing it. At least do it as long as it takes you, to understand Japanese sentences, and how they are working.

One response to “For the Beginner

  1. Pingback: Level Up | 日本語の日記

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