WK Context Sentences + Grammar Breakdown

Following up on the promise from another thread:

There is a couple of problems people typically identify in regards to WaniKani context sentences:

  • Too abstract to be meaningful or relatable
  • Use kanji from higher levels
  • Use nuanced grammar structures, which are challenging to understand without context
  • Have translations which focus on naturally sounding English, but not on overall correctness

Since we get either individual questions in the vocabulary thread or new threads dedicated to single sentences or to complain about them, we can start by breaking them down and pointing out the grammar structures used instead :slight_smile: .

Here’s a format we can use for the posts:
WaniKani Item: <link to the item>
Context Sentence:
<The Japanese context sentence>
Original Translation:
<The English sentence>
"Fixed" Translation:
<The new English sentence>
Breakdown:
<Grammar musings and whatnots, including links to grammar resources>

The English translations are going to sound awkward in some cases as the point is to align them more accurately with the sentences in Japanese.

14 Likes

I can start with an example :slight_smile:

WaniKani Item: WaniKani / Vocabulary / 大人
Context Sentence:
これは、大人のりょうきんです。
これは、大人の料金です。
Original Translation:
This is the adult price.
“Fixed” Translation:
This is the adult fee.
This is the charge for adults. (thanks @Belthazar ! :slight_smile: )
Breakdown:
これ - this
は - topic marker
大人の - something related to adults (大人)
料金 - fee, charge
です - copula


WaniKani Item: WaniKani / Vocabulary / 大人
Context Sentence:
大人は三人だけです。
Original Translation:
There are only three adults.
“Fixed” Translation:
As for adults, there is only 3 people.
Breakdown:
大人 - adult
は - topic marker
三人 - 3 people
だけ - only
です - copula

Here だけ is the simple version of “only”. If we wanted to emphasize that the “3 people” is a very small, insufficient number, it would be:
大人は三人しかません
or another politeness level which would fit with the しか〜ない structure.

EDIT: Fixed above sentence.

Also, if we wanted to stick very closely to the English translation, another option in Japanese would’ve been:
大人が三人だけいます。

The original sentence might come up for instance in a conversation at a ticket office, cinema, etc. when one is considering how many adults and children need tickets and the current topic is the adults (大人).

6 Likes

Maybe you could always translate は with “as for…” because that would indicate to everyone that the translation of は is always an interpretation of the context. In my impression this is something most people are struggling with at some point and because sample sentences don’t have a context, like eg 私はうなぎだ they tend to be translated without the “as for…” and this is a seed of later confusion for beginners.

I don’t know, just my impression after struggling a long time with は and が and finally realizing it is super simple :rofl:

And thank you for this topic! I was waiting for something like this :sunny:

2 Likes

I’d probably go with “the charge for adults”.

1 Like

Yes, agreed! Sometimes I see it replaced by Aにとって in written passages, but the “as for” or “in regards to” (a little too long) still works so let’s stick to that :slight_smile: !

Big thanks for the input both!

1 Like

What do you mean by “overall correctness”? It seems to me that the “fixed” sentences are simply less natural English. Someone at Tofugu made the decision to prioritize more elegant English over direct translation and that’s totally fine. After all, WaniKani is a kanji learning site, not a grammar one.
And don’t get me started on translating は as “as for”. It’s a perfectly sound translation but unless you’re going to append every sentence that has は in it with the (necessarily) long-winded explaination of は vs が, then it will only end in disaster later on in your studies.

Imagine if every example sentence on WK with は used “as for”. Take the three used for 没 for example:

こないだの原稿は没になってしまった。
As for that manuscript, it was rejected.

申し訳ありませんが、この案は一旦没にしてください。
I’m sorry but as for that idea, we’re going to have to discard it for now.

その歌手は、2015年12月1日没、とされているが、真相は定かではない。
As for that singer, she is said to have died on December 1st 2015, but the facts are not clear.

You’d end up with a slew of repetitive, monotonous sentences, all containing “as for”, and without the context thaty may or may not necessitate it. This is just one of the many reasons its best to avoid that sort of direct translation. If you want to read more, I highly recommend Jay Rubin’s “Making Sense of Japanese”.

You might want to read Rubin again, because he is actually making his students use “as for” in the beginning all the time. It’s not about correcting WaniKani here by the way but to analyze the grammar and discuss it without creating an end result in natural English.

1 Like

I would say yes and no. On one hand we get more naturally sounding sentences in English, but on the other that sometimes completely changes the English gloss used in those sentences and confuses people. It’s brought up everytime there is a content update on WaniKani :slight_smile:

I added a note to the original post to make the part about translations clearer.

1 Like

From page 32 of “Making Sense of Japanese”:

Early on, we are usually given “as for” as the closest
English equivalent to wa, which it indeed is, but after en-
countering wa several thousand times and mechanically
equating it with “as for,” we forget the special effect that
“as for” has in English, and it simply becomes a crutch for
translating Japanese into a quaintly Oriental version of English
before turning it into real English.

I understand what you’re saying but there are basically two philosophies here as far as context sentences go:

  1. You prioritize literal translation which allows learners (especially beginners) to match A to A and B to B between the sentences, effectively relying on the English to make sense of the Japanese.

  2. You prioritize natural sounding translation which in turn separates the Japanese sentence from the English, and discourages the learner from relying on the English to make sense of the Japanese.

The pros of the first approach are, as you say, there may be less confusion as the context sentence and its translation are more congruent. The cons are that you may effectively be learning Japanese via English, which is a practice effective learners learn to avoid early on.

The pros of the second approach are that it forces you to engage with the Japanese sentence more independantly of the English, and provides you with natural examples in both languages (avoiding cave-man or unnatural English). The cons are that for beginners or people who haven’t studied a lot exclusively using Japanese, the descrepancies that naturally arise when one views a natural Japanese sentence and its natural English counterpart side-by-side, may be confusing.

For the record I don’t think there’s any one right way to do things, but IMO: the more time immersed in only Japanese the better. I believe there are even addons that can hide the English translation in the context section of reviews, which might actually make things make a little more sense.

1 Like

Don’t quote me on it, but I think that should be 大人は3人しかいません

1 Like

I can understand that you feel uncomfortable with an unnatural sounding English, that’s quite normal and a good thing.
It could be a good idea that we do this translation in a way that allows us to analyze the grammar however clumsy that may sound and you offer your kind advice on how to make it sound proper English afterwards?

Personally I am currently more interested in the analyzing part treating Japanese as interlinked raw text blocks so mixing up the literal translation with the “make up” layer of “making it sound beautiful in English” is not something I am looking for here. That’s already done in the WaniKani translations and we don’t need to do it again here. We are sketching here, but we want to do it precisely, I think. It is about the structure and not appearance. For me at least.

2 Likes

One of the problems is that many learners progress from the former to the latter. In my case, the literal translation was useful to get through that period but it’s a crutch you have to eventually give up as it quickly begins to become less useful.

Me neither, but I agree on the pros/cons you presented.

1 Like

I think this one is wrong, right? From 雌花

ヒマラヤスギは、樹齢30年を超えないと雌花を付けません。
You can’t cross a 30 year old Himalayan Cedar with a female flower.

My take: Himalayan Cedars can’t grow female flowers until they’re older than 30 years old.

Well, yeah, because they’re conifers. :wink:

I googled for a while and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what age cedars start producing flowers.

But I agree that the translation seems solid. :smiley:

2 Likes