How to Translate Words in Kana?

Hi everyone! So I’ve been playing around a bit with trying to read things in Japanese, such as children’s stories and news websites, but I’m really struggling with it. I’m fine with the kanji and some of the grammar, but I’m finding that I’m having a lot of trouble with things written in kana. For example, I have no problem figuring out 力, but if I saw it written as ちから、I’d likely be confused. I find this issue is compounded by the lack of spaces between words, so I can’t even figure out which kana belong together to try and parse them. Any tips for reading sentences in kana? I feel like it’s the biggest thing holding me back right now, but I just can’t figure out a method for approaching it and I’m getting really frustrated.

Unfortunately, that will probably be a problem for a while. The more words you know, the more you should be able to separate words from each other without kanji there. I still struggle with that some times when parts of sentences are written only in hiragana or katakana but the more words I learn, the easier it gets. Also, the more I read, the more I get used to it as well, but yeah…definitely it is easier to read things with kanji because it makes it clear where a word ends and begins and gives a hint as to the meaning a lot of the time so…keep reading, keep learning new words, and get those kanji down pat so you can read stuff with more kanji eventually. Best of luck.

1 Like

Unless you have the gramar down it might be hard. If you have the grammar it will be easier to see where words start and end, when you’re not familiar with the word itself. You’ll also need a decently sized vocabulary before you’ll be able to read even simple text easily. Other than that it’s just exposure. The more you read the easier it gets.

I compare it to reading aloud and listening. That makes it hard for speed reading.

As far as avoiding frustration, have you tried a +1 approach? Tofugu has a nice article on it here. Essentially you read as much as you can. If there’s something you don’t understand, MAYBE look up a word or two, but move on quickly and try not worry about it. If you want, save the page you were reading and give it a few weeks/months. Then go back and try again with the same approach and see how much more you understand.

If you’re trying to understand every single word, it can be really tough. I know that all too well. To balance the +1 spam approach and the dissection approach, what you might like to do is find 1 article that you wouldn’t mind dissecting and just go ham. Every word, every grammar bit, look it up. But then make flashcards so you remember them. At the same time, keep up the +1 reading if you’re getting bored to death. Once you finish that article, find another. And on it goes.

Personally, I started reading more heavily around level 20-30 I think, and my exact thought was “Sheeeeeet, I know all these kanji but the damn kana are killing me!” The problem for me was mostly grammar. All the random kana floating around slowly started to fill in as I learned more verb forms and expressions (potential with られる/える endings, passive form with られる/あれる endings, etc). After learning those, strings of kana like ~られていました that were a nightmare before quickly became a lot more manageable.

As far as recognizing kana vocab, IMO it’s just a matter of drilling over and over until it sticks in your memory well and good. Once you have enough moments of realizing that you actually know the word you’re reading from WK, it’ll start to stick. No quick solution that I see unfortunately.

I hope that helps!

Honestly, some children’s books can be more difficult to read because they often use pure kana and have a bunch of onomatopoeia thrown in. But it becomes easier to distinguish words like ちから with practice. If you hear a word enough, you’ll eventually recognize what it means, whether you read it in kana or kanji. A good example is a common word like 犬. If it’s written as いぬ, you’ll likely still realize that it’s referring to a dog because you’ve heard the word enough. The same goes for all the new vocabulary you’ll be learning. It’s about practice.

1 Like

Thanks everyone! It’s nice to know that I’m not alone with this at least. I suppose at some point I’ll have to sit down and really dig into the grammar and forms and all that. That’s the part that always gets me with languages though, so I tend to avoid it, but I think perhaps I need to suck it up and dig in.

I struggle with that too, and prefer to see kanji instead myself. Reading aloud helps me… When I hear it I start to recognize words/phrases/sentence patterns more (though I do have over 15 years of listening experience from lots of subtitled anime…).

Some fairy tales and books aimed at kids have the kana separated for individual words. If you can find passages like that, that’s another way to ease yourself into it.

Maybe give KaniWani a try. It’s great for reinforcing vocab.

I still have trouble with this (not that I practice reading as much as I should…)

I was thinking about this the other day, and I realized it’s like reading english when it’s like this:


In English, I can read that quite well, but if you gave me a similar Japanese sentence, it’d take me forever to read it. Like others said, the more you read, and the more words you learn, the easier it’ll get.

Thanks for this suggestion! I’m trying it out, and oh man is it tough. I think it’s especially nice since I’ve always had trouble remembering which reading to use between kanji and vocab, and I think KaniWani will help a lot with that.

Yeah, it’s a bit complicated. You have to remember what kanji are in what word, and also what okurigana to use, so I usually have lower scores on Kaniwani, but in the end, it’s incredibly helpful if you intend to speak/write in Japanese.

This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.