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Do you think in Japanese?

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Do you think in Japanese?

Postby Snowflake » Sun 01.27.2008 12:23 pm

Long ago, I had a friend who spoke six different languages. I always marveled at her ability to just switch from one to another. Over the years, inspired by her, I've tried to learn French, Spanish and German. I always wound up trying to interpret back to English in my head, and I think that has led to my eventual failure at each of those languages.

Obviously, when I listen to, speak or write English, there is no need to do such interpretation.

Given that English syntax is different from Japanese, I'd imagine the task of interpreting back to English sentence structure while trying to participate in a conversation would be difficult. I've noticed, even when I see written translations, they are written using English, not Japanese, syntax ("I am Jane" as opposed to "Jane [I] am"). I wish I could see some translations that reflected the Japanese syntax.

Anyway, here's my question for those of you who are far along in your studies: do you find yourself actually thinking in Japanese when you listen or speak? Or do you try to reconfigure and interpret back to whatever your native language and syntax is? I'm hoping for me, it will eventually be the former.
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RE: Do you think in Japanese?

Postby richvh » Sun 01.27.2008 12:35 pm

English with Japanese syntax makes your eyes bleed, and is only useful as a diagramming tool. That said, the late, lamented Mangajin magazine used this as an intermediate step, I think, so if you can get your hands on a back issue, or one of the books compiled from its contents, it may be what you're looking for.
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RE: Do you think in Japanese?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sun 01.27.2008 12:51 pm

I don't consciously think in either Japanese or English, I just participate in the conversation in Japanese. I don't know if this is "thinking in Japanese" but I definitely don't translate everything I want to say into English; that's way too slow to keep up with a real-time conversation.

The skill that you need to develop is automaticity -- that is, the ability to deal with the grammar and vocabulary without having to think about it. Pretty much the only way to develop automaticity is drilling and practice. A big problem that plagues a lot of self-studiers is that they grossly underestimate the amount of practice and drilling they need, and so they end up having "learned" a lot of vocab, grammar, and kanji, but unable to actually use much of it.

I wish I could see some translations that reflected the Japanese syntax.


As richvh indicates, this is unlikely to be helpful. It's not a good substitute for actual explanations of the grammatical patterns. English explanations can be very helpful for understanding Japanese, but they should always be a supplement to drilling/practice, not a substitute for it.
Last edited by Yudan Taiteki on Sun 01.27.2008 2:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Do you think in Japanese?

Postby LustBaka » Sun 01.27.2008 1:38 pm

I'm not very far along in Japanese but I do try my hardest to think in Japanese. It doesn't always work because I'm also learning German and school, and I usually end up thinking in German.
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RE: Do you think in Japanese?

Postby sei » Sun 01.27.2008 3:00 pm

The little skills I have in Japanese don't obviously allow me to think in Japanese that much, but when I see a sentence I don't try to translate it, I try to put together what I know of Japanese and think of the sentence with as little translation as possible.

With English for example, and I can say this with all certainty, I do think in English. As I'm typing this, I'm not thinking in Portuguese in my head and translating to English. I'm thinking in English and typing in English just as I do when I type in Portuguese. In fact, when I'm thinking to myself, most of the times I end up thinking in English without noticing. It has gotten to the point where I slap myself saying, "What the hell am I doing? I should be thinking in Portuguese since I'll need to say this in Portuguese!"

I want to get to that point with my Japanese too. ^.^
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RE: Do you think in Japanese?

Postby Kisshu » Sun 01.27.2008 3:44 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
I don't consciously think in either Japanese or English, I just participate in the conversation in Japanese. I don't know if this is "thinking in Japanese" but I definitely don't translate everything I want to say into English; that's way too slow to keep up with a real-time conversation.


You read my mind. Ha. I think this is what most people do, right? I mean, after some practice.
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RE: Do you think in Japanese?

Postby Snowflake » Sun 01.27.2008 4:14 pm

sei wrote:
...As I'm typing this, I'm not thinking in Portuguese in my head and translating to English. I'm thinking in English and typing in English just as I do when I type in Portuguese. In fact, when I'm thinking to myself, most of the times I end up thinking in English without noticing...

...I want to get to that point with my Japanese too. ^.^


Me too! That's exactly what I'm hoping for.
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RE: Do you think in Japanese?

Postby Oracle » Sun 01.27.2008 7:59 pm

I agree with Chris about 'automaticity'.
Whether I'm speaking English or Japanese I'm not consciously 'thinking' in that language - the idea of what I want to say is there in my mind and it just comes out as the right words. The selection of words and grammar etc is automatic.
Last edited by Oracle on Mon 01.28.2008 8:34 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Do you think in Japanese?

Postby sei » Sun 01.27.2008 8:03 pm

the idea of what I want to say is there in my mind and it just comes out as the right words. The selection of words and grammar etc is automatic.


Just to clarify. This is what I mean by "thinking". I don't consciously think about it, but I know my brain is not translating things back to my mother tongue, it just simply uses what I know of the language. That's what I mean by "think" in that language... If that makes any sense at all. :|
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RE: Do you think in Japanese?

Postby Snowflake » Sun 01.27.2008 10:39 pm

Yes, that's what I was going for, too. Additionally, when it comes to listening to my inner voice, I want her to speak to me in Japanese (when I'm in Japanese mode) the way she speaks to me in English now.

My son has taken Spanish for several years, and he says he now occasionally finds himself thinking in Spanish, even when he's in math class. How exciting is that!
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RE: Do you think in Japanese?

Postby shades_of_ben » Mon 01.28.2008 12:03 am

if you become proficient in any language, and use it almost to the exclusion of all else, then yes, you will think and even dream in that language. when my mother and aunt went to Norway as teenagers and stayed there for just a couple months, they learned Norwegian from their family and neighbors, and soon thought and dreamt in Norwegian as though it was their native tongue. when they came back home to the States, they went to french class in school, and they had to translate the french to english, and the english to Norwegian before they could make heads or tails of it. my aunt accidentally answered the french teacher in Norwegian, and everyone looked at her like she had two heads.

so, yes, its possible to become so proficient in a language that you think with it. also, certain concepts are more accurately expressed in certain other languages, so you eventually use those words without even realizing it to convey your idea. granted, Norwegian is a lot closer to English than Japanese is, especially concerning syntax, but it's possible with any language.

and personally, i sometimes use a japanese interjection in heated english conversation completely by accident, and i have to stop talking because at that point, people get confused and stop taking me seriously. and while thinking, i sometimes use english words with japanese syntax without realizing it at first.

i suppose the brain is a very complex and curious thing.
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RE: Do you think in Japanese?

Postby skrhgh3b » Mon 01.28.2008 3:03 am

I definitely don't work backwards from English when speaking in Japanese. I won't claim fluency in Japanese or anything, but sometimes it's difficult switching between languages. For example, I was having dinner with a Japanese friend here in America not long ago, and we had been chatting in Japanese all day long, so when our waitress came by to refill my glass, I turned to her and said, "Arigatou." ... Then realized I just accidently spoke in Japanese to an American waitress in America. Same thing happened earlier when I reentered the country after spending six weeks speaking Japanese. Customs was asking me a bunch of questions, and at least twice a "hai" escaped my lips. "Hai... I mean, yes."
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RE: Do you think in Japanese?

Postby NZJutsu » Mon 01.28.2008 7:45 am

skrhgh3b wrote:
I won't claim fluency in Japanese or anything, but sometimes it's difficult switching between languages.


Agreed.

Last year I had to give a speech in my German class, and I screwed up (Used the verb conjugation for 1st person instead of 3rd if you're interested, fellow German students.) and a すみません just slipped out of my mouth heh. Luckily my German teacher can speak Japanese as well so he didn't really mind.
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RE: Do you think in Japanese?

Postby Mike Cash » Mon 01.28.2008 8:14 am

You don't really have to "think" in Japanese. You just have to be sufficiently familiar with a facile with Japanese grammar and vocabulary that you can dive into speaking without having pre-thought out what you're going to say. You just create the sentence "on the fly" while speaking. Same thing in reverse for listening.

Translating in your head, in either direction, is generally a big no-no unless you're specifically working toward being a translator. Nothing kills progress and proficiency quite like the nasty internal translation habit.
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RE: Do you think in Japanese?

Postby Keo » Mon 01.28.2008 8:54 am

shades_of_ben wrote:
if you become proficient in any language, and use it almost to the exclusion of all else, then yes, you will think and even dream in that language.


I don't feel that is entirely true. Ive been teaching myself Japanese for going on 2 years, and I'm no where near proficient. Yet, Ive had dreams only in Japanese many times.
Last edited by Keo on Mon 01.28.2008 8:54 am, edited 1 time in total.
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