Learning Japanese as a third language, and potential issues down the road

I kinda came to a realization today. For someone to which English is their non-native language, learning another new language through English material might impede their efficiency/utility of that third language in the long run.

For example: If I learn the word for “chair” or something right now, I’ll associate it with just that, and not the “stol” that it would be in Norwegian.

As much as I want to say my English is pretty good, I’m still not quite there when it comes to speaking it and forming sentences efficiently on the fly. While my understanding of it is good enough that I never have to stop and think about what something means, I can still have trip-ups when speaking it myself.

I wonder if that issue would double up if I get my Japanese to a conversational level since I’d almost be speaking Japanese through a proxy.

If that’s the case, I wonder if I should try to also associate the words I learn with images of stuff in my head in addition to the translated word itself.

Anyone have some prior experience or thoughts on the matter?


After putting some more thought into it, I don’t actually think it’ll be a problem.

A “chair” and a “stol” is the exact same thing to me, I don’t have to cross reference with Norwegian to make sure, they’re the same mental image. In the same vein, I don’t actually think in Norwegian or consider how I’d phrase something in Norwegian whenever I trip up a sentence in English, it’s all done in English.

I suppose it’d be the same with Japanese if I got it to a similar level.


I’m not learning Japanese through an intermediate language, but I do find that if I don’t know a word in Japanese, my mind automatically jumps to one of the other languages that I do know it in.

(I’m not a polyglot… I’ve just had exposure to a lot of languages, and I have a good memory for things that I hear or read)


Yes, I also don’t think it’s a problem. English is not my first language either, but after some point in my studies I’m learning Japanese in Japanese anyway. Be it English, Norwegian or whatever other language, a crutch is a crutch, and you’ll want to get rid of it someday.


Quite the opposite I’d say, the more knowledge of languages you have the more easily you can build connections and improve your overall performance.

For example, you just said you’re norwegian, I’ve no knowledge of your language… But then you said that chair is “stol”

And I know Russian, and I know that for example chair is “stul” and table is “stol”

If I wouldn’t know this I would never remember that in norwegian chair is “stol” but now I can create the connection to another no native language, and trust me, I just won’t forget how you say chair in norwegian now.

Native language is Spanish btw


It happened to me too here A LOT. I must remember the english version which are usually new vocabularies for me.

For me, my brain interpretation always comes first. And then it could be any languages I use.

I have three native languages all at once by default

Two tribal languages I don’t expose in the internet and Indonesian. Another one is Javanese, it’s also one of Indonesian regional/tribal languages. So that’s four. My fifth language is English. I consider all my languages are bad considering I’m still bad in constructing sentences, correct prepositions, even correct words. Then My other languages that I consider I speak passively and very poorly are French, Malay (Yeah, I know, it’s similar to Indonesian, but still, could be very different, that’s why I’d rather use English in Malaysia) and Arabic.

Hidden explanation because long

Let’s say for example, I learned that カキ is persimmon from @OmukaiAndi. I didn’t even know what persimmon was. So I googled it. Then I knew from its picture. And then I also read its explanation on Wikipedia summary still on Google page. Note that up to this point, I still didn’t know what this fruit in Indonesian was. Then I was curious what it was in Indonesian. Oh “kesemek”. Although I knew that word immediately without thinking like the way whenever I want to talk in English, here’s what I did. I associated that persimmon reading to the same sound it has in Indonesian. Kaki in Indonesian means foot. :foot: So now whenever I see my foot, I remember what カキ is and vice versa. I don’t always remember the name of this fruit in my language (kesemek). But now I do remember that this fruit now is foot = kaki = persimmon.


@Fendon I would not worry too much about this.

As someone also learning 日本語 as a third language, my thinking is that once you start to engage meaningfully with the language, you will break free from the simple word associations and internalize the actual semantic meaning of the words.

What might happen is that by learning one language through another, you’ll actually keep your second language a bit sharper :slight_smile:


I also think you shouldn’t worry about it. Not even a little.

You can think of it as the English translations only being guidelines. They’ll get you from no understanding, to probably being able to understand the word in a sentence. However, the nuances won’t come from your mastery of the English language but from seeing the word used in Japanese often enough.

Once you know the word well enough, you won’t think of what i means in another language than Japanese anyway.

(I’m Swedish (so that almost makes me Norwegian too! :slight_smile:), so I’m not a native English speaker either)

EDIT: like @Ninkastmin said, this’ll also give you twice as many words to associate new Japanese words with!

Also, names of plants and fish and such can be a pain since I don’t always know of those even in English. But if a word shows up and you don’t understand the English translation, you can just add the Norwegian word as a synonym.


This is so true. I think in the language I speak. That way I don’t need milliseconds of translating time from x language to y language in my brain then speak.

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It ends up being an advantage for me because I can make up more mnemonics due to having a vaster array of words at my disposal.


English as a second language here too (another Swede). I’ve actually used the fact that I know Swedish and English. When the mnemonics doesn’t make sense to me (usually for reading) I will search my memory for Swedish terms or sounds that are familiar and change the mnemonic to those. Especially when the reading mnemonics rely on a certain English accent and that is not how I “pronounce” that word in my head, that is when I especially go to my first language and in general to my memory to find a way to get to the reading that makes sense with my knowledge.


Is there a club for Nordic People here? Another Swede…

I’ve been studying french in english for a while now, and in general I agree with most people here. I have had some issues with the grammar though, where some points becomes unnecessarily confusing in translation.

Other than that I really enjoy making up my own swenglish mnemonics and can only see the advantage.


Saying this is probably unnecessary at this point(I mean, everyone else kind of already did), but I’m learning Japanese as a fourth language and agree with everyone else: see it as an advantage, not a disadvantage. You can use your native language(or other languages you know) to make better mnemonics, and all that other stuff everyone else said(there’s not much point to me just saying the same things again, is there? I mostly just want to confirm that my experiences line up with what everyone else is saying)

Oh, and just like several of the other people who have posted in this thread, I also happen to be Swedish :sweat_smile:, so English isn’t my native language either.


I use English to learn Japanese (more resources) but I often find myself actually translating into my first language (Hungarian) a lot, despite barely using it in day-to-day life. Especially when it comes to grammar - much of how Japanese works is closer to Hungarian than English grammar. (Not to mention pronunciation is so much more easier. I’m very glad English is not my first language because it has so many unique pronunciation rules that would make being understood impossible without a lot of practice.) Stuff like rendaku and onomatopoeic words come natural to me too, because we have similar things in Hungarian.

Learning the language through another (non-native) is a huge advantage in my opinion, because more associations = easier to remember stuff.

I’ve actually seen research in the past that says you native language is in a part of your brain and all the other languages you learn are stored in a different place (that might be different for people that are raised with equal exposure for 2 language).

And they also said that when learning a third, fourth language, that’s why you will usually switch back to another of your second language rather than your native language.

My first language is French and when I learned some spanish as third language, i used to fall back on English even though spanish and French are much closer. Than when I learned japanese, I was falling back on spanish. Now I’m learning Chinese and I always fall back on Japanese -_-


I’m learning Japanese as my 4th language and… it’s helping me learning English!

Now I know what frantic or dwelling mean :stuck_out_tongue:

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