Do you actively translate or subconsciously understand while reading non textbook stuff in Japanese?

The way I was taught emphasised not translating (the language school I started with were pretty insistent about never using English in lessons and they even tried to discourage writing English glosses for beginner vocab words like ゆき and ねこ, which they taught with picture-flashcards). I’m not that dogmatic about avoiding English (outside class I happily used English grammar resources and looked words up in a JE dictionary), but I think I always tended to feel that translation in your head gets in the way both in comprehension and in output and is better avoided.

To be a bit clearer about what I meant above, I mean that I don’t translate more than perhaps a word or small chunk into English (usually if I just looked up the word in a dictionary); mostly for too-complex-to-understand sentences it’s about working out which bits of the sentence connect to which other bits and what the structure is.


Conversely I find it really strange that most(?) people apparently do see pictures. It’s weird that there’s so much variation in peoples’ internal mental worlds.

(I don’t have complete inability to mentally visualise things, but it’s pretty close.)


Same. I find @squarefairy’s description that they are basically watching a movie in their head to be totally wild. Maybe this is why I don’t like flowery writing styles. It’s kind of difficult to enjoy two pages’ worth of text describing a town or some wilderness when I can’t even picture what’s being described.


I also visualize things like a movie but no one really has faces until they’re described. Like mannequins almost. Brains are weird.


I started off translating, but for most stuff I read now, I just subconsciously understand it without translating, unless there’s a word of grammar structure I don’t understand, but even then i search it up all in Japanese so never actually see the English.

For me it's

more like a series of paintings and humans remain always kinda blurry… they never get proper faces but they might have certain features visible if they had been described in the book. It’s also really interesting to notice my own biases when my brain creates characters.
But at least, if ppl don’t imagine stuff, they also can’t be disappointed by the choice of actors in movies. :rofl:
I don’t mind flowery descriptions if they serve a purpose, i.e. setting the mood, explaining the environment, etc. but often they have 0 impact on understanding or furthering of the plot.


I think that’s what I need to work more on as currently I seem to be understanding the stuff I’ve checked but I’m not checking everything I read, just the bits I feel I don’t fully understand or may have misread.

I think for me at this stage it’s more making sure I understand what I’ve read but I am starting to find more and more subconscious understanding as I read more. It does make sense that it would get in the way since our brains seem to shorten the process by just learning it and then being able to recognise it subconsciously instead of actively thinking ‘what is this?’

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I do both.

Sometimes it’s interesting to think about how things would translate into English, especially things that don’t really have a good match in English.

Lately, I actually prefer JP to ENG for the translation of words and phrases I want to check. Especially for phrases, because it is interesting to see which ones have a close English match and which don’t (ex. 墓場まで持って行く). I also learned a lot in the past from dual text games and also from watching anime in Japanese with English subtitles (mostly the first few years though).

But at other times, I get confused which language is which. I have read things in Japanese and then thinking this is too easy, I should read the Japanese and not the English part… but I am reading the Japanese part (and sometimes it’s for a Japanese book which has no English anywhere). And when I flew to Hawaii recently I kept thinking “why do they keep repeating everything”. But then realized they were saying it once in Japanese and once in English.


I want to have the ability to translate, not actively, but when situation arises; like when I want to retell literally. No need to go slow and think hard. Indeed, I can do this for English.

I see translation as two separate skills – having a clear picture of a sentence or a phrase; and putting into words in another language. I see only the first one being important for fluency; but the second skill is important for a proof of the first skill.

Still, to start with, it’s probably better start with not-so-clear picture, in order to describe the whole story; rather than having clear fragments, but whole story is broken.

Technically for me, it’s not a picture; but some feelings or something. I don’t know how anyone can effortless have a clear image in their mind. I can try to imagine, like black-and-white, but with effort; similarly things like memory palace.

I don’t have an absolute notion of thinking in Japanese; but probably thinking isn’t in a language. Also, to think at all is more important that giving words.


Interesting. For me, what I think of as thinking is my internal stream-of-consciousness, which is words. I do other stuff that I guess you could classify as thinking, but I don’t really notice that. Thought, for me, is me talking to myself in my head.