Bilingual Japanese books are a learning resource that have been around for a very long time. The concept is simple. Take a book, and every time you turn the page:
- The left page is written in English
- The right page is written in Japanese
- The two pages correspond exactly with each other, so you can follow the story in both languages at the same time
This type of reading sounds super beneficial. It gets you reading real Japanese stories, with training wheels to give you support. Any time you have trouble with a Japanese part, you can check in an instant if your understanding was correct. You can proceed smoothly through any story with 100% understanding by rapidly switching back and forth. You’ll learn a ton of new words, grammar, and sentences, without the need for a dictionary.
That’s a lot packed in one small resource.
The big problem
Eternal translation mode: translating in your head forever, and never thinking in Japanese. This is an issue that I feel bilingual books reinforce in the worst of ways:
- It gives you false confidence. Kind of like the way subtitles in anime make you think that you are understanding the Japanese, but the second you take them away you understand nothing.
- The translations are going to be loose. These are fully translated sentences that need to tell a story. Creative liberty is taken to make the sentences sound good in both languages.
- It’s going to keep you away from a monolingual dictionary.
- You are going to have a full blown case of second guesseritis.
- You get repeated unintentional English exposure to definitions you already know in Japanese.
Worth a shot?
I don’t like to give a firm “NO” to any Japanese learning resource. Because I know people who swear by bilingual stories and have said that they were the main reason they become fluent. Just like there are plenty of people who never touch a monolingual dictionary and still do fine. This might be you, and this might be an invaluable resource you like.
If it’s the only thing that would get you reading Japanese novels, then it is definitely better than nothing.
How I would use it
Read the entire English version first, and then the entire Japanese version second (or vice versa), with no reference to the other at all. This is a method many people use for everything from anime, to manga, to novels. This takes away the translation problem, and just helps you understand the major parts of the story without worrying about getting lost. I did this with a number of books when I started out.
The only thing you’d have to be careful of is the tempting nature of having both texts side by side. You might be better off just ripping the book in half and pasting together two separate books…
Give bilingual books a go?
Have you ever used bilingual books to learn Japanese? Did they work for you? Do you have any techniques that helped you along the way?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.