All Japanese learning starts off the same. Simple sounds become simple words. Simple words become simple sentences. Simple sentences become not so simple sentences. In the beginning, confidence flows like a river. When you get used to confidence, you expect things to be that way forever.
Very few people have trouble learning “hello” or “good morning” or “this is a pen.” But slowly start combining things, and life can get confusing fast. Everyone reaches the point of “I know the words but I can’t understand the sentence.”
You can’t understand the sentence. If you can’t understand this sentence, you won’t understand the next one. And the next one. And the one after that. Your entire Japanese language future is dependent on you understanding this one sentence right now.
The Jalup decks make the problem seem dire. I don’t give you the sentence translations, unlike most other learning tools.
“Whyyy?!” you ask.
“Just tell me!” you proclaim.
There are 3 reasons behind this.
1. I want you to learn Japanese
Sentence translations are the English way of putting it together. You need to learn how to put it together in Japanese. The time spent combining the pieces is an invaluable experience that will pay off sooner than you think.
2. I want to challenge you
3. I want to build your confidence
Every sentence you figure out on your own, every tiny challenge you overcome, brings satisfaction and a drive to learn more. Winning builds confidence, and this is something you can’t live without.
“But……….” you say.
Let’s say you used learning materials that you gave the full English translations of every sentence. You’d still eventually reach a point of confusion and frustration. Just slightly later. And it’s harder to build resistance to this later on.
You still have an issue to face.
You know all the words of a sentence, but you can’t understand it.
What do you do? Throw it into Google translate? Ask a Japanese friend? Pray to the Japanese gods?
You use your knowledge you have. You make a valiant effort. Then you move on.
“But I don’t understand it!”
First, this isn’t true. You probably don’t understand one small part, meaning you actually understand 80-90% of it. The last link in your mind just isn’t there yet. So you move forward. Does your Japanese wall come crashing down? No, because you absolutely will acquire that small missing link as you move forward.
Your understanding of words, but not the sentence, often is solved in one of the following ways:
1. You don’t get it at the current moment, but just needed to look at it again later.
2. You need to see that confusing piece of a sentence used in a different way.
3. You need to see that confusing piece of a sentence used in a simpler, later sentence.
4. You actually understand the sentence, but just doubt yourself and think you don’t.
These solutions present themselves only after you’ve moved on from where you currently are. You can’t stand still. Stop fearing what won’t happen.
I sometimes get e-mails from people telling me they don’t understand a sentence and to explain it. These e-mails usually resolve themselves in one of the following ways.
1. Before I even reply, a few hours later, I get a followup e-mail saying they figured it out.
2. In the e-mail, they say they think the sentence means X, but aren’t sure. I tell them that they were correct.
3. I reply, and they reply to that saying “ahh, that’s what I thought.”
While not everything always works out so smoothly, moving forward takes care of the rest.
The next time you think you feel you understand the words, but not the sentence, you are in nowhere near as bad a place as you think. If anything, you are exactly where you should be. That place is going to make you fluent. Work with that momentum. Don’t fight against it.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.