How Learning Japanese in Japanese Makes a Difference

Thinking about finally putting aside your Japanese-English dictionary? Wondering whether learning Japanese words in Japanese really makes any difference? Through the Japanese word 悔しい(くやしい), which is something we definitely feel sometimes when studying Japanese, let’s look how it all works.

How Learning Japanese in Japanese Makes a Difference 1

There are two keys to learning a Japanese word in Japanese:

1. Analyzing the definition

Definitions will show what a word means.

J-E Definition (WWWJDIC): “vexing; annoying; frustrating; regrettable; mortifying;”

J-J Definition ( “物事が思うとおりにならなかったり、はずかしめを受けたりして、あきらめがつかず、腹立たしい気持ちだ。残念でたまらない。”

A translation of that J-J definition:

“When something doesn’t go as you thought it would, facing embarrassment, having the feeling of not wanting to give up, feeling angry about it. The disappointment being hard to bear.”

While translators can use words like annoying or mortifying to translate this word depending on the context 悔しい is being used in, there is no one word translation for this word in English to capture every aspect of it.

2. Looking at the word in multiple contexts

Seeing the word in context will show when to use the word.

We need to see the context in order to find out what kind of situations this word is used in, indicating what “物事が思うとおりにならなかったり” or “when something doesn’t go as you thought would” means.

Video: フラガールズ甲子園(福島テレビ) (Starts at 2:43)

In the above video, a hula club from a high school in Fukushima competes in a competition but loses. The leader of the club says the following in response:

“少しは悔しかったです。でもやっぱり新メンマーと踊れて楽しかったので一番です 良かったです” (Starts at 3:52)

You could insert one or two of the English translations above to translate the above sentence as such:

“That was frustrating and embarrassing, but dancing with my new team members was the best. I’m glad I did it.”

Having analyzed the definition in Japanese above, we know there’s more to the word 悔しい then just frustration and embarrassment. There’s also an aspect of not wanting to give up, feeling angry about it and disappointment. Now we also have a context, losing a competition and using the word 悔しい in response. 悔しい is commonly used in this context.

Learning A Japanese Word In Japanese

From the manga, たいようのいえ: “お父さんと新しいお母さんと妹に うまく打ち解けられないことが 悔しい…!!”

“The fact that I can’t get along with my dad and his new wife and daughter is just frustrating and embarrassing.”

In this context, 悔しい is being used after not being able to overcome an emotional barrier the protagonist has put up against her dad and his new family. To give a little more context, the protagonist had just come across her step mother in the park and ran away from her out of embarrassment over her feelings of not being able to be friendly with her. The feeling of not wanting to give up doesn’t really apply here.

Did you feel like you gained a lot out of the Japanese definition and context?

Want to throw in some more context examples to show how you really attain Japanese vocabulary enlightenment?

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Rachel M.

Writer and Educator. Learning Japanese using immersion, currently soaking up as many novels and manga as possible in hopes of one day writing her own novel in Japanese. Also because she loves Japanese books.


How Learning Japanese in Japanese Makes a Difference — 12 Comments

  1. When talking about 悔しい, you can’t leave out ザブングル, whose face alone apparently embodies everything that is 悔しい.

    • Thanks for sharing! I didn’t know about him. Yet, if I type 悔しい onto google, almost every picture is of his face! How could I have missed this!

  2. That feeling when you know what a word means from seeing it in many different contexts but are unable to come up with a definition of it on-the-spot by a non-native speaker of the language: 悔しい!

    • Yes! I often feel the same way! Translating and knowing a language are two different things. Translators work years and are trained professionally or/and have a lot of experience to get to where they at, from what I’ve heard. 悔しい is exactly the feeling when being asked on the spot!

  3. I like to think of it as “Japanese isn’t just English written in a secret code.” Which sounds stupidly obvious, but it actually came as something of a revelation when I realized, some time back, that I was treating a block of Japanese text as something to be deciphered rather than understood. I’m looking forward to trying monolingual (again), but this article is a good reminder that even a native definition doesn’t give the full nuance and flavor, which can only come from multiple contexts.

    • I think many language learners start off as “code-breakers”. I loved breaking codes as a kid! Thanks for sharing your realization that Japanese is more than just a code! I really love going monolingual. It’s even more exciting than code-breaking! Thanks for the comment!

  4. Thanks for the reminder Rachel!
    This article actually made me stop procrastinating and finally switch my iPhone J-E dictionary (imiwa?) to a proper J-J one (大辞林/daijirin).
    I made the transition to J-J over a year ago BUT on my iPhone I only had the J-E dic. So I used to only look up the words I really, really needed and piece together the rest of Adshap’s definitions from that.

    The results from the switch: A wake-up call & reminder of the fact that J-J definitions are waaaay superior to the English crutches I used to utilize. +You get to read a lot more Japanese.
    So thanks again Rachel and for those who haven’t made the transition – it’s worth it.

    • Thank you for your comment!

      Apps are a hard one (especially for someone like me with an Android, though Android apps tend to be free). I’m glad you finally made the switch! Now you’re completely switched over!

      Sometimes you just can’t escape the J-E. Android doesn’t have as many options as iOS (though Android apps tend to be free more often). I just recently installed Kanji Recognizer to look up kanji on the go (works offline and copies to clipboard). Technically, it’s a J-E dictionary, even though I don’t use it for that feature. I still can’t find a J-J dictionary on Android that’s free, works offline and isn’t just a trial that’ll expire. I do however have a J-J electronic dictionary (no kanji drawing feature). But it’d be nice to have one on my tablet too.

      • Not being free was one of my excuses for not switching from “Imiwa?”.
        But the built in Kanji drawing possibility of iPhone and depth of the 大辞林 dictionary made me hopeful that this was the first AND last expensive app (around 25 bucks!) I need to buy – ever.
        Hope you find what you are looking for Rachel!

        • Thanks! That app does sound incredibly useful and worth the money! I may invest in a old electronic dictionary that does draw kanji one of these days. Uncomfortable with buying apps. They don’t feel physical enough.

        • For dictionaries on the i-phone, I can recommend “imiwa”, “japanese”, and “midori.” Imiwa is free. Japanese has a good range of words and midori has rather nice example sentences and a space to cut and paste blocks of text to do a massive dictionary search on.

  5. This post is probably the best argument for the benefits of J-J that I’ve seen yet! Makes it concrete, tangible. Plus it was really interesting. Thank you!

    Also, googling for 悔しい was one of the more rewarding experiences I’ve had lately…

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