Does it always feel this way?


As I get more into the world of language learning, I’m beginning to realize something;

Whether I’m reading or listening, it always feels like my brain has to go through two processes: Translate, then comprehend.

Now, this makes perfect sense, since I am pretty new to Japanese, and language learning in general.

My question is, does it ever change? Can I expect my brain to ever skip the “translate” phase, and go straight to “understand” like it does for English?

What are your experiences with this topic? I’m very interested to hear/read!


Yes. You will do. Easy example of this if you watch anime is if you hear the word baka thrown out randomly. I don’t know about you but even before i started wanikani i can understand it. Now throw kanji in the mix mizu水 and you get reading ability
I don’t know if i made sense or not but this my attempt at it


Yes :slight_smile: It’s a gradual process, but there are probably already words or expressions that you don’t need to translate anymore. Over time you’ll build your intuition and have more and more of these experiences until you realize you’re mostly thinking in your target language.

Disclaimer: I’m very far from fluent in Japanese :grin: But even at my level I don’t need to translate everything I’ve learnt anymore, just the stuff I’m less familiar with.


Absolutely. In fact, I found the opposite (comprehend, then translate) becomes a bit harder (or more time consuming) once you get a better grasp at the language. For example, when I’m reading and come across a sentence I don’t fully understand, I like to write down the parts I understand in English, and then look up the parts I don’t. What I find is that while my brain has processed the meaning, I’m hit with “wait how do I word this in English?”

Edit: I’m so bad at using Discourse forums, I didn’t mean to reply to skymaiden.


Going from my own experience learning english, I’d say the answer is pretty much “yes”. At some point, you’ll stop thinking about what the words translate to and your brain will jump straight to the abstract concept they represent.

And like skymaiden said, you’ll even start naturally thinking in your second language.

A funny thing that tends to happen at that stage too is that you may know the meaning of a word, but still struggle to find its translation into your native language :stuck_out_tongue:


It did for me with English. It takes many, MANY hours of listening reading and speaking, but it’s so doable. I don’t mentally translate anything from English to my native language anymore.

It’s not tree = boom = :evergreen_tree:
It’s tree & boom = :evergreen_tree:

Your brain has to make the connections first, so the translating is a natural part of it all! Just keep at it! :muscle:


I think absolutely at some point you “Cross over” to even being able to not have to step out to “translation” mode and go straight to understanding.

For sure it can get that way with reading…I can see the kanji and know what it means after a while instead of trying to go through all of the different “channels” of meaning, pronunciation, remembering every detail of the kanji, knowing the verb form or how the particles are interacting. I’m a year and a half in, and I’m starting to see that “short circuit” for a few things. I just keep reviewing like a madman.

What Omun said. There are so many different connections to set up with your studies: listening, speaking, seeing, using. They are different parts of the brain, and it’s best to activate all of them for each word


It depends…

If you “just study” It will take a long time to became normal japanese thinking.
You’ve to use the language daily with japanese people and reading japanese and listening to japanese. I’m not saying you’ve to comprehend books or movies or you can speak with japanese about politics or physics… I’m saying that you should do this kind of stuff, bad, really bad… but everyday.

There’s no other way to learn a language, that’s not to use It, and just study.


If you speak often with native speakers - you will absolutely begin to lose the middle “translate” step. The more “immersed” you are, the quicker you’ll develop this ability. I personally found that this general development / milestone coincided with when I started to have dreams in Japanese.

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I’m just echoing what everyone else said, but it definitely changes eventually, or at least it always has for me. For Japanese I translate pretty much literally nothing(the exception is when looking stuff up sometimes) when I’m reading or listening to stuff.


As others have said, yes you will eventually skip the translate step and just… get it.

And once you start “getting” some parts of the language, I would recommend applying those parts to things you are learning fresh. So instead of looking up the Japanese -> English definitions, see if you can comprehend the Japanese -> Japanese definition for the new word / phrase. This will train your brain to think in Japanese when it hears Japanese, instead of thinking in English.

An example that I had of this personally was learning: 兄 and 弟. I already understood the word きょうだい, and just “get” it. So I basically think:
Does it make sense in actual Japanese? Not really, however this cements kanji in my head better than any English mnemonic.


It happened to me in European languages…Japanese not yet (so far). It will take a lot more time because, duh, European roots and I guess absence of casually hearing the language. more passive immersion might help? any experiences out there?

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As someone who learned 90% through immersion (since I hate to study Japanese, I mean to study using textbooks), I cannot remember going through the phase of “translate --> comprehend”. Most of the time, I understand what a specific statement means. So when people ask me “how do you translate it (some japanese statement) to English?”, I cannot answer right away but I know it means that. In fact, translating is harder for me.


Yup, it does happen. It’ll go faster the more immersion and experience with the language (as in physically communicating and using it, not just listening) that you get. It’s like muscle memory, but with your brain.


Yes! The more you use your language, the more you’re able to understand “directly” without understanding.

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You will get a taste of this as you get items to enlightened and beyond where you no longer need the mnemonic. In fact, you may even miss an enlightened because you can read the word and know the concept but don’t know exactly which of the half dozen English words that describes that concept WaniKani wants.


Yes, you will learn instant recognition - but it will come in bits and pieces. There’ll be a word, or a phrase, or one kanji, that you’ll just know.

The rest you will still have to decipher.

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As everybody already said - it does happen, though not quickly and not easily.

For me it hasn’t happened with Japanese yet, though I am happy to notice moments where I know the meaning of a kanji without having to remember the mnemonic, which is kind of a similar situation, I think.

From my experience learning English, I would add that when it does start happening, the habit of staying in the ‘translate’ mode might not be easy to break, but it’s best to drop the training wheels as soon as you can.

Getting a bit off topic, it's just one of my favourite things to think about.

Something that helps with breaking that habit is noting words that don’t really have a one-to-one ‘translation’ to your first language. I guess, that is actually all words, but with some of them it is more obvious.
Dictionaries have to offer some sort of (relatively short) translation, or several translations to approximate the meaning, but it will still not be the concept itself.

I see 生活 from Level 6 as an example of this. WK has to say ‘livelihood’ because it has to give a short translation, but Wikipedia says ‘In Japanese social science, seikatsu (生活) is similar to livelihood; the conscious and non-submissive activity of ordinary people in shaping their lives.’

Also I can’t resist adding a quote I just recently saw in a similar discussion, it’s just a great way of phrasing it:

Languages are not words. Languages are shared cultural concepts that use words to communicate.


That is such a succinct summation of something I’ve been trying to put into words as I’ve been getting further along in my Japanese studies.

Thanks so much for sharing it. :blush:

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Personally, as much as this definitely happens for every new language we learn, I think that the likelihood/prevalence of this phenomenon changes depending on the structure of the language being learnt and its proximity with our native language. It’s far more likely with, say, a European language like German or French when an English speaker learns it, because sentence structure is very similar, and so real-time translation is easy. With Japanese though… at the lower levels, translation is probably necessary or helpful for understanding, but I find that the further I go, the more I tend to see things in terms of sentence elements, rather than as a question of translation. The reason is that it’s too difficult, especially with long sentences, to produce a faithful, near-literal translation for Japanese, since word order is far too different. I currently need to work on being able to retain entire Japanese sentences in my memory as opposed to simply capturing them for a few seconds like a news ticker, but I think that even in our native languages, we have a tendency to turn information into comprehensible blocks instead of memorising entire sentences word for word as we attempt to understand.

Separately, with time (unless you consistently learn new expressions by memorising them as monolithic blocks with their translations), you’ll probably start to see that certain things are genuinely untranslatable, and that it’s necessary to understand their logic in Japanese without translating in order to decipher what they really mean. Plus, once your Japanese ability is developed enough for you to form coherent thoughts and sentences in your mind, you’ll probably stop relying on translations altogether. In any case, that’s more or less what happened for me for French, though I know English still occasionally influences my word choice in French.