Breaking out of English sentence structure and thinking in Japanese

Hi everyone!

So in my efforts to dive head first into my Japanese studies again, I’m devoting a ton of my time into listening practice/shadowing. (I plan on finding people to actually practice speaking with down the road when I have some more vocab under my belt).

My question for those who have been studying Japanese for a long time is how they have managed to break out of the English sentence structure and begin thinking in Japanese. I find myself slowly starting (very slowly lol) to get it but its definitely one of the hardest obstacles.

Even when I know what I want to say and I have the vocab in my head, my thought process still wants to resort to the order English would want to express a sentence. When I’m studying grammar points I sometimes resort to translating it into Greek since sentences in Greek can actually do both what English and Japanese do, and it ends up helping me make sense of what’s going on…

Another thing that I have been practicing more of, is to learn vocabulary within set sentences or phrases that helps me paint an image in my mind. This way when I want to use the word again, I don’t resort to a translation but fall back on the image.

Thoughts on this matter will be appreciated :grin:



The only thoughts I have on this are:

Practice. Practice. Practice. Take in as much Japanese as you can and do your best to keep trying to create Japanese sentences in your head. It can be a slow process, but eventually it’ll just seem trivial for you


Japanese was my third, maybe fourth language? I don’t know why but it was easier for me to get used to thinking in Japanese than to thinking in french…
Overall I think you need to listen and maybe internalize a lot of sentence structuring, without fighting it… I used to fight and think I still do so, with french sentence structuring because I thought it had to be close to Spanish (my mother tongue) and got angry and frustrated when it did not. Japanese I just accepted it was going to be different.

Overall, practice and find a medium that engages with you in a way that feels natural. Some people do it by reading, others by watching drama or listening to audio interviews and music.
For me particularly it was music and music shows as they show the lyrics as subtitles while the artist sign and a I took in a lot of grammar like that before ever encountering it in my classes.

Another thing that immensely helped, I had a Japanese friend who barely spoke Spanish or English and we would sit and I would speak in my broken Japanese until he understood what I wanted to say and said it back to me in a more natural way. It helped break out of the Ïf I don’t do it exactly like the book is wrong and I don’t want to make mistakes" mentality I had before, boosted my confidence enough to believe in my own communication skills even while knowing I still had a long way to go.

Sorry for the totally not helpful rant ^^"


Thank you! You were helpful! I think my biggest problem is to stop discouraging myself and to accept that this new way of thinking will come with time. I’m doing all the right things … Like you mentioned, I am bombing myself with all different kinds of listening/reading materials. I try to scramble things up so I don’t get bored and I also get exposed to different kinds of speaking… I’ll watch a few episodes of anime, maybe a drama, I’ll listen to music (particularly slower songs so I can try and understand the lyrics lol), Teppei podcasts are also great for me to listen to when I’m driving. And then for passive listening I listen to harry potter audio books where I try to pick up whatever I can and mostly focus on the reader’s way of inflecting certain things, so that it becomes more natural when I come across it later on in a study session. I’ve also bought graded readers so I can begin getting used to how prose works in Japanese.


Exactly what @Wantitled said. You have to consume Japanese. I’ve found it easier to get the right mindset through listening and watching rather than reading since you will automatically rearrange things in your mind as you first start reading.

With listening, the main thing I do is try to catch the nouns as they speak. Practice holding those in your memory. Once you start noticing those then start listening for the verbs at the end.

In the beginning, try not to worry too much about comprehension. Just listen for nouns and then the verb.

That should bridge the gap.


Thank you! I’ll try incorporating this while listening to podcasts

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It sounds like you are already doing the right things! Don’t beat yourself up about how long it takes you. I agree with what everyone else has said, it’s something that will come naturally with time. After you pick up some phrases and common sentences you may find that they naturally flow as a unit and you won’t be fighting to translate in your head. When you are further along, you might even have situations where you automatically think of the Japanese first when you are trying to form a thought in a different language. :sweat_smile:


I thoroughly look forward to the day my thoughts are able to be entirely in Japanese like that haha


The part I struggle with is… being married. :smiley: :rofl:

I don’t mean that in a bad way. The problem is my wife is not learning Japanese and has no desire to do. If we spend time together, it is difficult to convince her, please, let’s watch Demonslayer. Or some other Anime she doesn’t hate (of which there are far, far more than there are she enjoys!). I will leave the subs on for her and focus on listening.

If I spend as much time trying to learn Japanese as I would like, I would never see or hang out with my wife. :smiley:


You’ll know you’re close when you watch anime with subs and you feel a disconnect between the subs and the audio as the information is delivered in a different order.



I wasn’t going to add anything to the good advice already here, but something in another thread reminded me (It’s so internalised I don’t think of it as a ‘technique’ anymore.

The goal is always to understand something in Japanese first off, without translating into English. But that’s not always possible. So when I do translate, I try to be as literal as possible - “As for Me, Japanese, study do” or even “Me (topic) Japanese (subject) study do”.

This somehow helps me keep it ‘not-English’ and focus on grasping the meaning without going all the way to English and back.


As someone who had to learn the structure for english, I think not only consuming content helps, but also writing it down. When you write things, your brain is working way more than just listening. (It’s the whole reason professors are so adamant in you writing down their lessons).

It may be a bit harder with japanese since you can’t write it traditionally without knowledge of stroke order and which kanji are which, but if you’re focusing on grammar and sentence structure vs kanji and how to write, you could write everything in hiragana, and later substitute with kanji. Or you can type stuff instead, since computers and phones already have the list of kanji done, you just have to click it.


I believe it. I’ve completely forbidden myself from watching anime with subs since I’ve picked up my studies again. Already seeing a major improvement since I’m forcing my brain/thoughts to pay attention to what they are saying. I’ve watched enough anime over the years that I can go back and rewatch some shows that I know, and can pick up new words based on context.

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I’m actually big on learning through visual things and with writing things down. Everything I’ve ever learned in Japanese, I’ve done through handwriting it as well and I’ve learned stroke order for every kanji that I know. It takes a lot of effort, but it’s definitely paying off. Like you mentioned, I have actually been keeping a journal and its only in Japanese. I add an entry every night and try to use new words/sentences/phrases that I picked up that day. It definitely helps to slow things down and make my brain focus on learning how to compose sentences on the fly.

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Thanks! I actually totally understand this haha. I’ve been trying to do this more and more so that I don’t resort to translations/thinking in an English way. I’ve actually noticed myself catching certain translations of things and saying… “well actuallyyyy its saying something a little different” haha

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reading (and listening to) more native japanese is the only way. articles, manga, books etc. specifically comprehensible japanese. basically if you can look up a few words or grammar points and understand it, it’s comprehensible. start with relatively easy texts and work your way up to more challenging stuff.

textbooks and “learner materials” like apps or even wanikani, are stepping stones to making native input more comprehensible, but they can NOT replace native input. you need hundreds of hours of native input to comfortably think in japanese and process it like a native would. so find something you like and get to it :slight_smile:

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