Reading Translated Novels Alongside Original

So I just found out one of my favorite series was translated into Japanese. Which, great. I’m well aware it’s probably way above my level right now, but for future reference, would buying it and reading it alongside the English version be good practice? I’ve heard of people doing the same with the Harry Potter series, but I’m not a fan of Harry Potter (don’t crucify me pls), so that’s out. I don’t know, I feel like in theory it’s probably a good way to study, but does anyone have any experience with it? Is it one of those more trouble than it’s worth things, or was it actually rewarding for you? And how did you go about it, in the first place?

I am trying to actively improve my grammar, to give some context to this, but I think my main issue is nothing’s sticking. I’ve tried Genki, probably gave up way too soon but oh well, read through Tae Kim’s, and am now working through (i.e. taking notes as I read) Rita Lampkin’s guide to verbs. Yet, when I try to put it into practice, despite thinking I have a fairly decent understanding I can hardly read more than simple “This is a dog.” sentences. I’m pretty sure it’s just actual practice and experience I’m lacking, and I want to try to implement some of what I’m “learning” in a way that can actually keep my flighty attention. So, reading novels? Thoughts? Anything you can throw my way I haven’t already read a thousand times in other posts asking pretty much the same things?


I love you all, by the way. Thank you for always answering some of my less than intelligent questions. Okay bye.


I dunno the biggest issue is how liberal and/or localized the English translation is. Some translations are straight up just bad and you won’t even know that they’re bad if you can’t understand the Japanese on your own. I feel like studying other people’s translations makes more sense as like a J->E translation exercise. Like, “What are the different ways I could turn this phrase into English? What sounds better and why?”

If you want to do it though try to pick up something of professional quality. Manga has a higher chance of being extra localized (and thus being out of touch with the Japanese text). Novels might be truer to the text but also they’re novels so they might be difficult.

Anyway, give it a try and tell us how it goes :ok_hand:


I think I would personally advocate going the other way (Japanese original, English translation), but it’s worth a try.

I recently was reading some short stories in Japanese. I found it helpful to wait until after I’d worked my way through the Japanese before reading an English translation. But I also plan to start doing some reading of stuff I am already familiar with (from movies or English translations), since it can give a bit more confidence that I am understanding things correctly. When I tackle something longer, I was thinking I might read a chapter in Japanese, then the same chapter in English, until my confidence is up.

A couple bits of advice:

First, read texts written more recently. Anything written before the 1950s–60s can be a bit too different from contemporary writing. In particular, I was reading some texts written in the 1920s, and it was littered with all kinds of kanji no longer in use and stuff that’s really non-standard now.

Second, avoid fantastical writing. I read one bit that had me scratching my head until I realized that inanimate objects were actually talking and interacting with human characters in a way I wasn’t expecting up front.


I think this was kinda my biggest fear about it. Thanks for your thoughts! I’ve often found the best way to get things to stick in my head is to just bull right through them, so I’ll probably be giving it a try no matter what :wink:

I do like that idea! Would you say overall comprehension or understanding each individual sentence is more important? I mean, obviously it’s a bit of both, but I wonder if focusing on one over the other would help me progress?

quietly shelves the fantasy series that was what prompted this exact post


I think it depends. While you’re learning early on you might want to avoid reading the Japanese equivalent of Lord of the Rings or Song of Ice and Fire, but there’s nothing wrong with reading stuff with some fantasy and sci-fi elements. If all you like is fantasy, then read fantasy, even if it means pushing yourself a little more. It’s better that than getting bored and giving up.


I’m a super beginner and try to decipher manga pages, then look at the english translation to see if I got the gist of it. I’d say anything that motivates you, do it. I learned English by reading Jane Eyre (which I’d read in French many times) when I could barely understand 2 words out of five, then translating Madonna songs by ear and learning Shakespeare’s scenes by heart. Never had to get a diploma to become a literary translator 10 years later. If you love it, it will help, and stick.


I plan to do this eventually. I think it’ll be fun/interesting.

Going either way, if the translation is well done, Japanese to English or vice versa, you should be able to pick up on cultural nuances and how vastly different the languages are. This might be a bit scary because a lot may be “lost in translation,” but, for me, it’ll still be nice to try to figure out where those places are and what could be done differently to better convey the meaning of the original text.

For example, if the text is going from English to Japanese, you’ll see how kun/chan/san/sama… is written into an environment in which it never existed and also when Japanese people use different politeness levels. If you go the other way, you’ll see how it’s taken out and a hierarchy may be flattened.

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Personally, I would focus on overall comprehension first. This really depends on your level of understanding, but I find it keeps me from getting bogged down in details that could be more about the translator’s choice. I would focus on individual sentences if I felt I really misunderstood something and was trying to suss out the finer point I was missing. Or, if your goal is to be a translator, then individual sentences might be where you want to head.

And, like @seanblue said, if fantasy is your primary motivation, go ahead and dive in. I turn on the Japanese subtitles when my kids watch Harry Potter and enjoy the bits I am actually able to pick up.

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there are some side by side readers out there as well, with Japanese original short stories, with English translations on the opposite page. The challenge is keeping yourself from going over to the other side too soon (before having tried to figure it out yourself). I have two. Penguin and Kodansha. WhilePenguin offers ‘just’ a parallel translation and interesting footnotes in the back, the kodansha actually does compact sentence breakdowns. Also, both have the stories ordered from simplest to hardest, front to back. Coincidentally, both start with a Murakami.

If anybody knows of any full length novel, parallel texts, I would be very interested!

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I think the answer to your general question depends on where you currently are in your reading level.
From what you said, it doesn’t seem like you would be at a place at which reading prose would be a very efficent excercise. Reading novels, etc, is one of the most difficult kinds of texts you can try to read (you can just think back to your experience in your native language, im sure you were reading for years before you would have been able to read adult fiction).

That being said, motivation is a huge part of success, so if you really love the book it might give you the motivation to persevere. But there isn’t a shortcut. reading comprehension is built from understanding smaller to progressivly more complicated things. You are going to have to go through that process no matter what text you try to tackle.

So if you want to try it:

  1. be prepared to go really slow at first. If you are doing 1 hr reading sessions, at first you are prob only going to be able to get through a couple sentences an hour.
  2. get a really good grammar resource (i like “grammar patters for teachers and learners of japanese”… ill put the link below). And also familiarize yourself with using online resourses (not just jisho. a really good thing to do is to use japanese-english dictionary and j-j dictionary)
  3. while you read, build an anki deck out of unknown vocab from the text. also add things like prepositional phrases and common verb constructions.

One caution i would throw out: If you have a translation of the text into english, looking up the words in japanese and then saying “huh, that sentence means… whatever is in the translation”, I don’t think is going to be useful at all. you need to be prepared to decipher the japanese yourself using dictionaries and grammar resources. alot of liberties are taken with translations.


Have you tried to produce grammar? Like writing Japanese sentences with tools like Bunpro, Duolingo, or Lingodeer? Even though those tools can be strict, they’ll help you with actually recalling grammar, instead of just trying to memorize it. Simply reading about grammar points will only take you so far.

Reading a Japanese version of your favorite work is a really great long-term goal. But I’ve found it’s easy to get in over your head, and progress is definitely slow at first. Working your way up to an overall grammatical understanding through progressive example sentences or graded readers is probably a good way to start down that path. A lot of it really is based on repetition, practice, and exposure.

I also agree with others that a lot of translations are localized and don’t always accurately capture the Japanese. I think it’s a fun exercise in comparison, but maybe not the most efficient way to test comprehension.

I definitely understand wanting to read something interesting, but I honestly doubt it’d be effective compared to buckling down and solidifying the basics. I ran through Genki I and Tae Kim last year too, but needed several revisions before truly starting to retain the material. Don’t rush and don’t try to learn it all at once (still hard for me). Conjugations are only the beginning of what you need to know, but get those down pat first. Understanding how to modify nouns is also huge:

You may also just need time to augment vocabulary - if you’re constantly looking up words it’s going to waste your time and keep you from focusing on the grammar points. Have you done the Core 2K before starting WK? That plus WK may be the best place to focus on for now.

I also second Bunpro - until I started, I hadn’t realized that I didn’t actually recall if a particular grammar point used the stem or te form or past form or dictionary form of a verb.

Not what you want to hear I know, but trust me I’ve been there too. Getting to the point where I can understand most NHK Easy articles was probably my best achievement over this summer (my WK level was way above my actual reading ability).

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I think it’s a very good method. I did that with Italian on this site and found great success. I read the English first then the Japanese (edit:the ITALIAN), not the only way but that’s what Krashen told me to do lol. The site I linked doesn’t have Japanese but this does: Haven’t used it myself since it’s beyond my level but maybe you can

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I’ve done it recently. I read the Murakami translation of The Catcher in the Rye. It was great.


I’m really not, yeah. I was thinking somewhere around level 10-15 is when I might get serious about trying to read? At least the simple things, nothing novel-level. Which still might be jumping the gun, but I’m impatient, so there’s that. I absolutely love to read more than anything though, so I at least think I’ll be motivated when the time comes. Like you said, it’ll be painfully slow, but I think as long as I make some progress it won’t be wasted. Maybe.

This is another thing I was worried about. Thanks for the link (and advice)! I’ll have a look at it. :slight_smile:

I have been working through Lingodeer. If “one or two lessons every few weeks” can be considered working. I can’t afford something like a graded reader or subscription service at the moment, but I agree I should probably look into those before trying to tackle a full novel.

Bunpro is one those things I tried then kinda just… forgot about. It couldn’t hold my interest, and that’s big for me when it comes to studying. (That’s why I love WK so much; it might tedious at times, but the convoluted mnemonics make it interesting for me.) Is it really that much a help with cementing grammar? I might have to force myself to work through it some more. Then again, I’m also the type that does best with reading, clear instructions and the like.

I think what I’m taking from all this is I need to find some way to produce grammar. Anyone have any tips on this? That don’t involve something like writing on HiNative which absolutely terrifies me?

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