I almost know Japanese

Allow me to explain my situation: I know an alright amount of Japanese. Enough that I can watch fairly straight forward shows without the need for a translation. Beyond that, in shows where the assistance of subtitles is needed, I can generally grasp anywhere between 50 and 75 percent of what’s going on without the need for a translation, and this is where the problem starts.

Maybe I’m just weird, but I have a Japanese “switch” and an English “switch” that never really turn off, but get set at different priority levels depending on what’s going on. At least, that’s how I make sense of it.  When I’m watching anime, these two switches sometimes come into conflict. For instance, I can understand most of what’s happening Keion! raw. However, I found that while watching it raw, I miss a lot of the punchlines. So watching it subbed, a lot of the dialogue seems redundant, because I’m taking it in on one level in Japanese, then taking in the translation again in English. In the end, I’m only really doing it to catch those few jokes that I missed, since that’s the main selling point of the show. It is a comedy, after all. So, going back and doing this almost seems like a chore when I understand most of the dialogue.

That said, this only really happens to me if I’ve seen the episode raw beforehand. As such, I have opted to only watch Keion! translated.

And even then, it’s rare. If my first outing with the show is the translated version, the chances of that sort of interference happening is even lower. However, if I’m particularly tired and don’t feel like squinting at words on a screen, I’ll just ignore the subtitles at times. But that in turn doesn’t work terribly well when the script suddenly throws unknown vocabulary at me, because then I have to quickly switch back to English-mode, which in some ways takes me out of the experience.

I can only describe this feeling as “almost” knowing a language. It’s generally not too bad, but I suppose if you’re a weirdo like me, it does sometimes get in the way.

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7 Responses to I almost know Japanese

  1. lvlln says:

    Hmm, that’s an interesting metaphor for what’s going on in your brain. Can’t say I really experienced anything like that. I watched The Good, The Bad, The Weird recently with English subtitles, and like you, I had to turn to the subs at times when I didn’t understand some of the vocabulary. But I didn’t feel as if there were a switch or differing priority levels in my brain. Rather, things happened pretty seamlessly.

    One thing that I have experienced is how my perception of other people’s conversations change when moving back and forth from Korea and the US. When I go to Korea, when I overhear some babble, it sounds English to me for at least a few days, and vice versa when I come back to the US after spending some time in Korea.

  2. shindou says:

    I know what you mean. essentially, for me, my japanese is fully set. All i need to do now, is build up vocabulary. so while I could, in theory, watch k-on raw if i wanted to, the second they pulled out some weird way of saying pinch harmonic, I’d be completely fucked. I’d know they played something, but i wouldn’t be sure what it was. or same with verbs, I’ll know exactly what a sentence was, but if I don’t know the verb, I am completely fucked.

    it also sucks when a japanese speaker gets used to your specific way of speaking, or you get used to theirs, and then an new person comes along, and you don’t get their speech pattern. that sucks too.

  3. TehShien says:

    You couldn’t be more spot on with that description, that’s exactly how I feel it as well.

  4. kuroyuki says:

    I can kind of understand what you’re saying. I’m that same way with Spanish language and quickly heading towards being that way with Japanese too. What really bothers me is when the spoken dialogue and the subtitles don’t quite match up. Like it’s usually not off by enough to be wrong, but it just comes off feeling a little weird to me. I feel like either something was left out in the sub, or that they assumed and inserted some information that was not there.

  5. Tasaio says:

    So just study it until you have no problems with understanding it without subtitles? ^^

    I do understand what you’re saying though… I was in the same position, not really knowing whether to watch with or without subtitles. I usually just watched it without subtitles, looking up words if I felt it was necessary (which destroys the pace of the show a bit, but I was focusing on my studies, so).

  6. Yuriko says:

    Hmm for me its not like that at all. My perception of the spoken Japanese and the written English mesh together effortlessly. I don’t think I really have the switch thing I just process both languages as the concepts that the represent and if a translation is awkward or not accurate it is immediately replaced with the Japanese dialog.

  7. uncreative says:

    I’m with Yuriko on this one. When I watch something with subtitles, I listen to the Japanese and let the English meaning map onto it. If they don’t match up, the Japanese takes priority and I think “huh, that was a weird/non-literal/bad translation.”

    Where I have a problem is when watching raw shows and someone comes up to me and tries to speak English to me. My Japanese comprehension drops out completely, but my English comprehension also gets noticeably worse. Similarly, if I’ve been speaking/listening/etc. to nothing but Japanese for an hour or two, my brain switches over to Japanese fairly strongly, although seriously hindered by my terrible lack of vocabulary.

    This all needs to be qualified with a strong note that I haven’t been watching things raw then subbed much lately (lol free time right?) but I don’t recall having any problems when I did do that, beyond the usual sort of “well, I kind of watched this already” vibe.

    Then again, I only started learning Japanese formally in the first place in order to sort out all the stuff I had picked up just from hearing it a lot – not having the structure was driving me nuts. That weird area where you can pick out a lot of translation errors but don’t have any proper sense for how the language works in practice is maddening.