Tips on how to break down and read longer sentences?

Just wondering if anyone has any tips/tricks for breaking down longer sentences? To be honest, I’m not sure if I’m even reading them correctly XD

Take for example this sentence:

あの国が、誤った教育を通じて子どもたちに愛国心を植え付けようとしているのは好ましくないと思います。
I don’t like that the country is trying to instill patriotism in children through misguided education.

After a comma, I know that that phrase ends, and I always try to separate what comes before and after an “を”, but if you take long runs like this: 通じて子どもたちに愛国心を植え付けようとしているのは好ましくないと思います

I start to get confused and start losing meaning for the sentence, so I was wondering how should I approach it?

I know the verb comes at the end in Japanese, so should you start at the end and work your way back? Or read left to right for the whole sentence, and break down right to left for each break (comma, を, etc)?

I’m wondering what tips/tricks people use? I know that Japanese word order can lead to multiple English translations, so I don’t want to fall into a trap of always working backwards.

You should be able to understand the sentence, at least partially, before reaching the very end, right? Like I said, I’m not even sure if I read sentences in the “correct” way lol

*I know there’s a couple of years-old similar topics, but I had a quick look and they don’t seem to be what I’m after.

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Yeah, just take it from the end and build it up if it’s hard to grasp in a straightforward reading. Eventually you will be able to hold all the information in your had as you build up to it and put it together.

好ましくないと思います - (roughly) I don’t like

What don’t they like?

しているのは好ましくないと思います - I don’t like that they are doing (something)

Doing what?

植え付けようとしているのは好ましくないと思います - I don’t like they they are trying to instill (something)

Instill what?

愛国心を植え付けようとしているのは好ましくないと思います - I don’t like that they’re trying to instill patriotism.

In whom?

子どもたちに愛国心を植え付けようとしているのは好ましくないと思います - I don’t like that they’re trying to instill patriotism in children

How?

誤った教育を通じて子どもたちに愛国心を植え付けようとしているのは好ましくないと思います - I don’t like that they are trying to instill patriotism in children through misguided education.

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For me personally, it’s pretty much all about, I guess, the rhythm of the sentence as I read it through.
For instance, I read your example casually and wasn’t paying that much attention, and it felt like this:

~ (lead in), ____(tapping)______のは (big beat) 好ましくないと思います (finish).

Then if I didn’t pick up the details the first time, I can go “oh right I was supposed to actually pay attention,” and read it again from the beginning filling in that structure with more words. Like the lead-up to のは can gel from “uhh long topic” to “誤った教育を通じて子どもたちに愛国心を植え付けようとしている” now that I’ve already got the structural role it’s going to take preloaded in my head, so to speak.

I’m not sure if that description makes any sense, and I’m not sure if that’s something to aim for, or just something that develops over time or what – but I do think that even as you break stuff down it’s good to remember that ultimately a sentence is made to be read in one direction and there’s a logic to how it’s constructed that way.

I think a lot of what will make reading easier for you over time is just getting used to like, what phrases signal big organizational shifts vs. others. My experience in terms of what was going on in my head when I read the て in 通じて vs. the とは was very different, for example.

I’m not sure how to target paying attention to that kind of thing though, to be honest. I think reading aloud and trying to approximate the right kind of intonation might help, or if not that then just reading along with narration if possible (like in a game with voice acting). But practice and breaking down sentences otherwise certainly helps too!

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Reading it backwards might help until you get a better handle on how things are expressed in Japanese. For me at least, I tend to read things as “blocks” or “chunks” I guess, it definitely took some getting used to because I’m so used to the order of information being essentially backwards in English.

In English the most important information comes first, and details come later. In Japanese, the details come first and the most important stuff is at the end.

If I had to break your example sentence into sections I’d do it like this:

あの国が (1)
誤った教育を通じて (2)
子どもたちに愛国心を植え付けようとしているのは (3)
好ましくないと思います。(4)

I think it’s distasteful (4) how that country is (1) trying to instill patriotism in children (3) with misguided teachings (2).

That third one is a bit long, but a lot of it is because of how “wordy” ようとしている is as a phrase. I think getting used to reading grammatical patterns like this as one chunk will help avoid feeling like you have to keep track of so much stuff.

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I figured this, but which what is the direction to read? Left to right? Or right to left?

Thanks for your example! Breaking it down into chunks is what I’ve been trying to focus on doing. At least I know I’m heading in the right direction.

This is another thing I’ve been trying to do - isolate who’s doing what and what are they doing, and then adding in the how/why/where/when/etc.

Again, at least I know I’m heading in the right direction :smiley:

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Well, I was thinking of how sentences are written for native speakers to read once straight through, the same way we would in English. So, left to right and then down to the next line (or down and then left to the next line if it’s written vertically). When reading a book at full speed, ideally a reader is just motoring on through on one wave of momentum, rather than backtracking every sentence.

That’s why I suggested narration might be especially helpful for practice, since someone giving a speech for example, has to word the speech appropriately and pause at the appropriate times, so that the audience can track the whole complicated flow of the ideas even though they’re only going to hear it once.

I honestly don’t think that personally I’ve ever started from the end of a sentence and literally gone from the end backwards to pick it apart. Not saying it’s not useful! And I might be misremembering…
But I think I read Making Sense of Japanese relatively early on, and that might be one of the suggestions in there, to break down sentences in the original direction.

With the example sentence that might look something like the following, with line breaks where I think a speaker might naturally pause for breath (generally after particles) and notes at major transitions:

あの国が、
we’ve got a subject, expecting to hear about that country. And with the comma, there might be some complicated clause business coming.
誤った教育を
通じて
we didn’t get a different subject, so it’s probably that country doing this, and the て is leading us to expect it’s not done as we’re going to hear more.
子どもたちに
愛国心を
植え付けようとしているのは
with that second action we expected, we’ve got a target, an object, and the verb. The verb’s a bit complicated, but with it isolated like this we can break it down further if we need to and find “is trying to instill” in there the same way it would be constructed in a shorter sentence.
and then のは lets us know this brace of actions we’ve pieced together isn’t the full range of what they wanted to tell us, but the topic. So now we expect them to say maybe how they feel about that topic, or a result of that topic, or something like that.
好ましくないと
思います
And indeed, we get a brief judgment call.

Anyway, not intending to confuse you further with conflicting advice! But that’s another possible breakdown strategy to employ if you find it useful.

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I was about to suggest the same breakdown. Smaller chunks in the same direction they’re “supposed” to be read. Don’t just separate at commas, は, が, and を but at all particles (especially if there are big chunks and clauses).

Honestly, I also have never started from the end when reading and I personally think it sounds like overcomplicating things. After all, Japanese people don’t exactly start from the end of a sentence when speaking

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Along those lines, something I thought to mention that helped me is noticing how someone speaking and thinking at the same time tends to sound a bit like:

xxxx… yyy… zzzzzzz…αααααと思います

and in manga at least, word balloon transitions and even line breaks within word balloons generally stick to those same natural breaks, to the point that I think it would be rare to see an を for example at the top of a manga word balloon.
(in stark contrast to poor translators having to cram English into the same balloons no matter how many hyphens it takes…)

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This is really helpful! Thank you so much! I thought it was supposed to be left to right, but I’m in a stage right now where I seem to be second guessing everything I thought I knew cause I’m struggling to break down some of the longer sentences.

I actually don’t have much trouble with the bubbles and stuff in manga, probably cause as you said, they’re broken at appropriate stages. It’s just written sentences like in the WK context sentences that I have trouble with.

I will definitely check out the link you shared and look into narration/speeches and the like.

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This is one of those questions I didn’t know I had. Thanks to everyone for breaking this out. I struggled with the sentence (and still couldn’t read it on my own, not having all the kanji I need just yet), but the breakdown made a ton of sense and got me way closer to reading it on my own. Thanks all!

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Cure Dolly has lots of videos on breaking down complex sentences structurally
the most important thing is to be able to identify what is the fundamental sentence and what is part of a modifying clause

Be aware that a sentence can only end in 3 ways: verbs, い-adjectives, and the copula だ/です (with optional sentence ending particles afterwards). If you see one of these and the sentence doesn’t end it mean that it modifies what comes next.

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Do you have Rikai installed on your browser? It’s a life saver.

I can’t deal with cure dolly. I don’t mind the virtual person but the artificial voice is just… I don’t understand why they simply couldn’t have a real person record the lessons.

I… never noticed this. It’s probably something you see all the time but are not really consciously aware of it. Thanks for pointing that out. I’m certain it will come in handy.

There’s something very unnerving about learning “Organic Japanese” from an android.

Yeah. Like I said though, the image itself doesn’t both me. It wouldn’t matter if there was no image. I watch streamers all the time. No idea what any of them look it. Doesn’t bother me to hear a voice without a face attached.

It’s just the voice itself lol

Hopefully she gave a disclaimer that in natural speech (regardless of what is technically grammatical), sentences can end in many other ways.

  • You can end sentences with particles that aren’t considered sentence-ending particles, such as は (e.g. お名前は?).
  • You can end a sentence with a な-adjectives without the copula (e.g. これは変).
  • You can also have sentences where you add context after the fact, making the sentence end with what what normally be the middle of a sentence.
  • You can end a sentence with something left unstated but implied, leaving the sentence technically incomplete.

Just to give a few examples.

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Yeah of course. Obviously people don’t speak in complete sentences all the time. For example see the first “sentence” of this response.

This is just typical copula dropping in casual speech - “na adjectives” are nouns, and this can be done with any noun, not just “na adjectives”

and just to be pedantic は actually CAN be a sentence ender in female speech but that’s kinda irrelevant lol I’m an idiot it’s written as わ in that case

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Actually it’s called 10ten now :slightly_smiling_face:.

Edit: @rodan offered a more intuition-based approach and I’m showing a more linguistic approach but we both ended up at the same exact separations so that’s good

Rules

  1. Japanese is almost entirely left branching. This means modifiers come before the thing that modify (unlike English, where they can come before or after).
  2. Sentences are made of postpositions which are [ noun phrase ] + [ postposition (にはを etc.) ]
    2.1. A noun phrase is (optional modifier or sentence) + noun
    2.2 In relative clauses, postpositional phrases modify the relative clause’s verb (not the primary verb)
  3. The primary verb comes at the end of a sentence therefore if you see a verb before then it must be a) creating a relative clause (which modifies a noun) or b) creating a complex/compound sentence.

[ あの 国 ] + が,
“That country is”
(see #2)

[ 誤った教育 ] + を 通じ**て**
“Through a misguided education”
I think て form is technically a postposition in itself, although it works at a clause level not noun phrase level (like certain forms of と).
(see #2.2, 3.a, 3.b)

[ 子どもたち ] + に
“In children”
(see #2)

[ [ 愛国心 ] + を 植え付けよう**と** しているの ] + は
“The fact that they’re trying to instill patriotism”
So と operates on a clause level like て. の is a nominalizer so it just turns the sentence behind into a giant noun phrase. Since Xしている is now a noun phrase it can have a postposition attached to it.
(see #2, #2.1, #2.2, #3.a)

好ましくない**と** 思います。
Nothing to explain here. と acts on the clause level, clause being Xない.
(see #3.b)

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This is incredible. Thanks so much!

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