Japanese-to-English Translation Basics

Contemporary Japanese Literature

Old Books

Once upon a time, when I was an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to take a translation seminar with one of the finest translators of Japanese literature into English. The course texts she selected for the seminar presented all manner of interesting translation challenges, and she brought in a number of fantastic speakers from the Kyoto-based Society of Writers, Editors, and Translators to discuss these challenges with our class. Unfortunately, I was not able to take full advantage of this seminar; it was as if these professional translators were teaching us translation calculus, and I still didn’t grasp basic translation algebra.

I just finished a tertiary round of edits for two major translation projects, and I’ve noticed a number of patterns in the areas I’ve repeatedly needed to adjust. Once I became aware of the currents my editing was following, I started to imagine that I was getting at some…

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january tadoku – let’s read!

What if I told you that there was a language study method that wasn’t studying at all, and in fact barely even a method?

And then what if I told you that this method has been demonstrated over and over again to be more effective than just about anything else?

Do you remember the hours you spent as a child (if you were anything like I was, and, I’d guess, like most people reading this site were) devouring story after story, book after book? There’s very little the human mind hungers after more than knowing how a story ends. And there’s only one way to find out – just keep reading. So you did.

But the stories were not all you learned. While you spent those hours and days reading, your mind was processing what it saw, spotting patterns, storing vocabulary, organizing small patterns into bigger ones, learning which words could be expected to be seen with which others and in what order, strengthening and deepening over and over all those millions of connections that make up what we call language. And as time went on this unconscious learning grew and grew, and you graduated from children’s picture books to teen novels to Robert Frost and Shakespeare and Hemingway and Tolkien and the Brontës and Thoreau and, in short, became a master of the English language.

And then one day you decided to learn a foreign language, so you went out and bought a textbook and started memorizing grammar and vocabulary … or was I the only one that did something that silly?

I invite you to go back to that time of exploration and wonder, to start the process over, to find new stories in a new language, to see new things that you couldn’t see any other way. And don’t worry, the mind will take care of sorting out the patterns, as long as you let it see enough of them.


The 多読 (たどく, extensive reading) contest has been going on for a while, but has had a brief hiatus recently. But now we’re back on track and ready for another month of all-you-can-read, beginning January 1st. Registration is simple, and explained here. Many languages are supported, and if you like, you can read more than one. You can view scores on the web app, and can report your reading either there or using Twitter. Most pages at the end of the month wins! (No prizes. You already got a massive boost in fluency, what more do you want?)

It’s true that the most advanced learners have a nearly insurmountable advantage for the top position, but that certainly isn’t the only competition there is. You can pick someone close to you and compete with them (I always do this. I think most people do), you can compete with someone you know, and most importantly you can compete with your past self. If seeing that your score is two or five or ten times what it was in a past contest isn’t encouraging, I don’t know what is.

I look forward to reading together with all of you!



The Power of Reading – Two Stories

What is Extensive Reading?

What is Extensive Reading?


Extensive Reading: What Convinced Me

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how I use japanesepod101

If you’ve been poking around the web sniffing for Japanese-language studying help, odds are you’ve seen ads for japanesepod101.com (caution, annoying auto-play video on that link) learning podcasts.

I’d seen them for quite a while myself and never bothered checking them out much, but recently I decided to take a basic subscription.  This is a lot cheaper than the premium subscription, at only $8/month (less in larger chunks).  The main reason for this was that I can listen to music or whatever I like all day at work and for the most part it doesn’t interfere with what I do.  (I can’t concentrate on two text streams at once, at all.  So if I’m writing something I have to turn it off.  But mostly what I do doesn’t require thinking in words.)  So I thought, well, if I have all this time it hardly makes sense to let it go to waste.

I probably won’t resubscribe after the three months are up, because they have a heap of archives.  I downloaded them all.  Now I have over three continuous days of lessons just in the “beginner” category, which I’m going through now – I started on “lower intermediate” and did learn a fair bit, but that was mostly a tad advanced.  A lot of the beginner lessons on the other hand are too low-level, but I do pick up one or two things most lessons and after all the time is free.  Most days I listen for four to six hours.

I know a lot of people would make an argument that simply listening to native source material would be more productive, but, I don’t know, I still like having things explained.  Especially with grammar points, I find that one simple explanation can be worth a very long time of attempting to learn it by osmosis.  And of course I do still have a lot of immersion-style input.

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