Analyse and Understand the Text before Translating it

1. Read it through

Do you understand it? If not – why not?

Difficult kanji?

look it up, then apply what you’ve found to the next section, vocabulary.

Difficult vocabulary?

  1. Look at the context of the rest of the sentence to get an idea of what kind of word you’re looking for:
    1. Part of speech: Is it a noun, adjective, verb, etc?
    2. How does it fit into the sentence? E.g. If it’s a noun, is it a direct object, or the topic, etc? If it’s a verb does it have a direct object, is it an inflected form (i.e. if it’s a -te form you’ll need to work out what its plain form is)
    3. Based on (1) and 2 what kind of meaning could it have? E.g. If it’s a noun, is it a person, place or object, etc. If it’s a verb does it involve motion, etc. If it’s an adjective, what is it describing?
  2. Once you have an idea of what you might be expecting you word to mean, look it up in the dictionary.
  3. Use a 国語辞典 if you can, to get an understanding of the word in the source language.
  4. Apply the meaning you’ve found to the sentence – does it make sense now? If not then try the next section.

Difficult sentence structure?

Do you understand all the words but not understand how they relate to each other in the sentence?

  1. Break the sentence down into its main clauses.



悪いものを食べた + から、 and 気持ちが悪くなりました。

Remember, the last clause is usually the most important.

  1. How do these clauses relate to each other?

Example answer

Syntax: plain form verb, conjunction, masu form verb.

Meaning: cause and effect.

  1. What is the topic of each clause? Do they have the same topic?

Example answer

Probably 私 (remember, when you directly describe a feeling, you’re usually talking about yourself, otherwise you might use -と言う, -ようです, or -そうです). Same topic for each clause.

  1. What is the predicate of each clause?

Example answer

食べた and 悪くなりました

  1. What are the arguments of each clause?

Example answer

悪いものを and  気持ちが

  1. If the arguments are phrases rather than single words, then break these down too if you want.

Example answer

悪い・もの を

  1. Now you have broken the sentence down into its constituent parts, work backwards making sure you understand how each word fits into its phrase, how these phrases fit together to form clauses, and how these clauses relate to each other in the sentence.  
  2. Remember in Japanese, obvious information is often left out, so there might be no reference to the topic at all.

Difficult logical structure?

Do you understand each sentence individually, but not see how they all fit together?

  • It’s important to remember that unless stated, the topic of each sentence is likely to be the same as the previous one.
  • Sentences often start with a direct reference to the previous statement:
    • それは、そして、ですから、
  • Sentences might end with a reference to the previous statement:
    • -のです。-から。

2. Analyse the text as whole

Look at the text in these terms:

  • Does it have a title? If so what does it say?
  • How is it laid out?
    • Does it have a start, middle and end? If so, the start will probably set the scene – you’ll need to understand this.
    • Does it have headings? If so, what do they mean?

Then use what you have found to infer answers to the following questions:

  1. Who wrote it?
  2. What medium does it come in? Newspaper article, letter, poster, etc.?
    What type of publication is it? Tourist magazine, photography magazine, etc.
  3. What is the subject matter?
  4. What general message is the writer trying to convey? (Because it’s the first thing you read, the title is really important here)
  5. Who is it for? What kind of target audience are we looking at?

Knowing the answers to the above will give you lots of contextual information about the text to help you make choices about what you think it means. Try reading it again now to see if you understand it better.