Need help learning how to translate manga better

I have recently started reading the Naruto manga and I know a decent amount of grammar and I know a good amount of vocabulary. There are parts in the manga where I don’t specifically understand what some parts mean and I want to translate them. For now, I use my grammar knowledge of Genki 1, jisho, and searching up what things mean.
Do any of you have any recommendations on figuring out how to translate or figure out what some sentence mean? I don’t feel like posting a forum (or on hinative) for each specific thing I don’t understand is reasonable. :laughing:

I have also been using japanesetest4you that explains and shows grammer from all levels of JLPT and that helped me learn new grammar that popped up in the manga.

You could always ask in Short Grammar Questions so you don’t need to make a new topic for each question. If you don’t even want to do that, all I can say is learn more grammar and practice a lot. I wouldn’t exactly call Genki 1 a “decent amount of grammar” for the purpose of reading. I started reading at about that point as well, and it was incredibly difficult.

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I mean, this is kind of a hard question to answer without saying, “Learn more grammar”, “Learn more vocab” and “Read more”. The only way to really get better at, is to do it.

I thought you were talking about actually translating at first. But my advice in the case of this post is to worry more about understanding the Japanese. And if you need to use English, then just use English, but just use the English to understand the Japanese, and don’t really worry how the English itself sounds.

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If you just want to know what something says, Deepl is a better option than Google: https://www.deepl.com/

However, that’s not gonna tell you why it says what it says, and if Deepl’s mistranslated something because it’s made a bad assuption of the context, you’re not gonna spot it.

But yeah, like people said, “learn more” is the best advice. The advantage of posting here in the forums about it is that we can give you targeted mini-lessons on exactly what’s going on in the sentence.

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If you haven’t gone through genki 1 and 2 as well as a book like tobira, my advice would be to start off with easier manga. I read pokemon adventures in Japanese which I feel like is geared for elementary/young JHS kids and there are still bits that I find confusing and difficult to translate. (my japanese reading level is somewhere in between N2 and N1).

If switching to an easier manga isn’t an option for you then my next piece of advice would be to watch more of the naruto anime as you read along. I think often times a difficult part of reading manga is picking up on the nuances of the character’s speech patterns and their quirks but sometimes its a bit easier to pick up when a voice actor says it vs when we read it.

Either way keep up the good work! Hope this helps.

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As others have said, just Genki 1 isn’t “a decent amount of grammar.” Genki 1 only covers up to N5 grammar, and reading is awful with anything less than N4, and is painful with anything less than N3. And despite what I have seen said by some people online, yes, you will very regularly encounter N2 and N1 grammar, even in just manga.

And the average Japanese vocabulary is about 50,000 words (bigger than the English average of 30,000). Obviously any work is only going to contain a fraction of that, but it is still worth putting your vocabulary in perspective.

In other words, like the others said, you just gotta keep on learning if you want it to be less painful.

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Additionally to deepl you could also use http://ichi.moe. It picks apart the sentences you enter so might get a better grasp of all the different parts. It’s not giving you a full translation though, so you still have to put it together yourself based on the information they give you for each part of the sentence which are possible translations (i think they’re based on jisho.org) but also some grammar points like “non past - formal”.

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Thank you all for your feedback! I have already started to learn n1 n2 grammar while reading the manga. I should of been clearer but I intent to learn more vocab and grammar from this manga. I have also been putting them in anki and researching the vocabulary and looking into different grammar levels. After reading a lot of the messages I think I will go to more resources and take finish genki 2 which from what it looks won’t help that much. It all takes time and practice. Once again, thank you for your responses!

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You were doing so good right up until this part. Even if we assume this is good data in the first place (Aka, Japanese citation needed on vocab size). There is no single cross-linguistic definition of what a “word” is. So even if we assume the tests had the exact criteria (ie lemmas only), what is generally counted as one word in one language is not generally counted as one word in another language. For example, “Chicken soup” is generally counted as two words, despite it being one single idea despite it being a concept distinct from both “chicken” and “soup” On the Japanese side, 第二次世界大戦, is that one word, because it’s a specific concept? Or is that three words because it is three distinct parts? I don’t know either. But I do know that the “average vocabulary” is a useless number in these kind of cases.

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halle heckin lujah

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These slides reference 6 studies on it. Unfortunately, I can’t find all of them online.

Study 1 (from 阪本 in 1955): 50,000 for 18 year olds
Study 2 (from 林 in 1971): 48,000 for 20 year olds
Study 3 (from 中尾 et al. in 2012): 34,900 for female college students
Study 4 (from 松浦 in 2015): 33,611 for college freshmen
Study 5 (from 荻原 in 2016): 45,354 for college seniors
Study 6 (from 佐藤 et al. in 2017): 42,000 for college freshmen

In English, it is pretty easy to check that the ranges tends to be 20k - 40k, which is lower than this 30k - 50k range. Applying conservative to conservative estimates, and high estimates to high estimates, and it does appear that Japanese is bigger.

Now, I haven’t exactly looked into the methodology for each of these studies, so yes it is difficult to compare. But my feeling is that that the gap may even be underepresented by just checking younger people, since with the changes the language has went through in the past century, I feel like the union of a young person and an old person would actually produce a decently larger pool as well. Of course, that is just my gut feeling.

Edit: I added links to what I could find. I couldn’t find an online source to study 1, so there is none, and study 3 I found what was referenced but I couldn’t find the number mentioned anywhere in the source, so I decided to omit it.

I feel like its especially problematic comparing english to japanese for a couple reasons

Japanese has verb conjugations tied to the words in all cases while we only do this in some cases. I’ve seen studies like this actually count certain conjugations as their own word.

Some words in japanese are really just two words put together and its a lot more common than how we do it in english. In english, you can easily say ok words that are hyphenated can count as one word, but for Japanese its a bit harder to draw the line.

Japanese can have a few ways of writing the same word. 解る、分かる、判る, 訊く、聞く、聴く can be considered to be 6 words or you could consider it 3 forms of two different words. Honestly I learn towards the former, but I think you could make a valid argument either way.

Theres probably more but I wanna go do my reviews.

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I’m assuming that conservative Japanese studies/high estimate English studies account for this though.

What I’m saying my issue is is the fact that theres literally different criteria you can set for words. So the “average” youre talking about is the “average of different criterias’ average vocabulary size” when in reality, what an individual person considers to be the criteria for a word can vary. That coupled with the large ranges just makes it seem kinda pointless to even bring up on its own.

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In any case, the “good amount of vocab” the OP says they know is probably in the couple thousand words range or less, so I’d guess none of this really matters to them.

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Seems like something me and Mega can agree on

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Isn’t naruto being translated already? Look for the version already translated into English by someone and use it to check the particular meaning or nuance of any part you don’t already get. Manga is particularly easy to do this since stuff is usually in the same panel in both.

Depending on how patient you are, you could do this for everything in order to check for any nuance you might have missed.

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My personal method (that I picked up from watching a Youtube video of a professional JPN>ENG translator and then adjusted to my needs) is to put the sentence into some sort of spread sheet. I have a column for the speaker’s name, a column for the original Japanese sentence, and a column for things I want to remember (grammar or vocab) from that sentence.

Sometimes just the act of writing out the sentence myself does the trick and that’s all I need to do, which is nice. When that’s not enough, I give different font colors to individual parts of the sentence to break it down into chunks. Grey for things I understand, a bright color (blue or green) for things I don’t, or just to separate things into pieces that are easier to link together. Sometimes I write down a bit of context so I don’t forget what the scene was about.

I don’t actually translate it into English because my goal is to understand it in Japanese, but you could add another column for the English translation if that’s what you’re aiming for.

I use A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar (and also the Intermediate version) to look up grammar, or JLPTsensei. I use jisho.org for vocab.

If I can’t find the piece of grammar anywhere in English I look it up in Japanese by copy-pasting into a search engine with the word ‘例文’ after it.

By default, I keep the rows all white. When I fully understand a sentence I color it green. I leave it white if I want to come back to it. If I can’t understand it even after a second review the next day then I turn it red. I’ll go back sometime much later to try again.

If I can’t wrap my head around it no matter what, I bring it to one of the quick-questions thread here.

Here’s a screenshot of what my document looks like.

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I’d like to weigh in because this is exactly what I’ve been doing for months now! I’ve found it more motivating to learn grammar as it comes up “in the wild” vs. to learn grammar through a textbook. The process is tedious, but it also feels really satisfying (to me, at least). Since you have a good foundation via Genki I, you should be in a good place to seek out grammar knowledge on your own. I have some resource recommendations and advice!

First, resources.

I’ve found the first few videos in Cure Dolly’s giant beginners playlist really helpful with just understanding the underlying mechanics of the language. Specifically, I watched up to lesson 16, but more can’t hurt. She discusses the different types of sentence structures, verb conjugations, and particles in a clear and succinct way that worked for me. Later on in the playlist, she also goes over a portion of an example story to show the thought process behind her understanding of Japanese.

You’ve already got japanesetest4you as a resource, but I have a few more that I kept coming back to a lot in the beginning:

  • Maggie Sensei’s website - blog with really simple explanations by a native Japanese speaker! What makes her blog stand out for me is that she goes over every single way the particular grammar point can be used on one page, including extremely casual speech (very important for manga) or somewhat atypical circumstances. On the other hand, she doesn’t use linguistic terminology and doesn’t always go into detail on why that grammar point is that way.
  • Imabi - on the other side of the spectrum, this is a website with incredibly detailed explanations. Although the author is not a native Japanese speaker, the explanations seem to be complete and correct (at least, according to what I’ve read from others - I’m certainly in no position to judge that). This is a great resource if you’re interested in knowing why a particular grammar point is the way it is. On the other hand, the explanations are very dry and very detailed, so it may take some working up to.
  • ichi.moe - invaluable at the beginning, this website will help parse long lines of Japanese text into their individual grammatical parts. In the beginning, I had a really tough time knowing when a verb conjugation ended and the next part of the sentence began, or whether this kana is part of this word or a new word or a particle, etc. The parsing is not 100% perfect, but it brought me a long way in terms of getting used to the flow of Japanese writing. At this point, I consult it maybe once a week vs. almost every line in the beginning.
  • A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar (and presumably the rest of the series) - a physical book with grammar points listed from A to Z like a dictionary. I’ve only gotten this recently, but it provides some more in-depth grammar explanations that seem to work well for me. It throws around a lot of linguistic terminology (adverb, adjective etc.), which I like, and the explanations are more concise than Imabi. I like that it includes exceptions in each entry, and it also explains the difference between similar grammar points.
  • DeepL Translate - generally better than Google translate, but try to avoid using either one as much as you can. Japanese is very difficult for an automated translation services like these because English and Japanese are just so fundamentally different. I use DeepL or Google Translate as a final check to make sure I’m on the right track sometimes, but you’re much much much better off consulting the English translation of Naruto that has been done by professionals. (though often a translator will completely re-write a line vs. translating from the Japanese literally - when this happens, you’ll at least know if you got the right gist)
  • the Japanese stack exchange, hinative, etc. - sometimes, especially in the beginning, you just have to google it. I’ve found Stack Exchange extremely useful for contractions in casual speech for example. I couldn’t know a particular verb conjugation was actually a contraction, so I couldn’t just look it up using one of the other resources. Sometimes, you just don’t know what to search for. If you google the verb conjugation or whatever thing is stumping you + “explanation” (for example: “て form plus て explanation”), a Stack Exchange page might come up with the information you need to point you in the right direction.
  • a tutor can also be helpful! There are tutors out there on websites like iTalki that will go through manga with you, but they do cost money.

I also have some advice. Don’t get too bogged down by understanding every sentence 100%. Learning a language is a process - and a long one at that! The goal here is to keep yourself reading and keep yourself learning. Trying to understand too much at once might result in burn-out and frustration. If a sentence is frustrating you, it’s okay to move on and come back to it later. In fact, I would recommend reading the same pages again a few days, weeks, or months later because you might be able to apply some new information to old sentences and reach a better understanding. That line that stumped you on page 1 may become clear (or at least clearer) by page 100 or page 1000. In fact, you will probably find that you misunderstood something the first time around, or you will pick up on additional nuances. That’s okay! It’s all part of the process. It’s also okay to reach out for help here on the forums - I believe the short grammar questions thread has already been linked!

Similarly, don’t worry too much about the translation itself. Your goal, for now, is to translate enough of the Japanese into English as you need to make sense of it, not to produce beautiful or even decent prose. It only needs to make sense to you. Of course, the eventual goal is to not have to translate anything at all, but some translation is helpful in the beginning. (I’m still in the translation phase myself).

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Are you actively translating, or just reading? Because those are different skills.

In terms of just reading, what I tend to do with the manga I’ve read is skim over anything I don’t quite understand, and go back at the end of the chapter and look up anything that I didn’t grasp. Usually I’ll get it through the rest of the context given, but I’ll make a note of it and add it into my grammar/vocab studies. Then I’ll keep reading.

I don’t spend much time ruminating on what I didn’t understand, because that breaks the flow and brings motivation down for me, and I don’t want to get bogged down by “Ughhh, it’s too HARD waaaah” just because some old-man character decided to bust out some archaic structure. Reading is for fun after all!

I do make sure that whatever I didn’t understand comes back to me eventually though. Even if it seems useless at the time to learn - it’s worth doing so, because it came up that one time, and it would have been nice to at least have an idea of what it was.

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