Help: Japanese phrases I don't understand

Firstly, it is mostly all of them. Japanese study makes me feel stupid because the grammar seems so simple… and I just can’t understand it. I am a bit embarrassed to ask for explanations. I will know all the vocabulary in a sentence but I can’t tell how they connect, I just can’t follow what the message is.

I am going to end up spamming this thread with many many sentences because My brain is struggling But to start I have 2 questions, or 2 characters that I just don’t get.

One of the reasons I have trouble is the direct translation of phrases is often more confusing than helpful.
This character has been giving me trouble 気

I know it means spirit or mood, but that doesn’t seem to fit sentences it is in.

ダイヤル し 終わら ない うち に 気 が 変わっ た.

The translation I get when I highlight the phrase is “River cares in less Finished Dial”.

It is split up in lingq like this.

ダイヤル し 終わら ない うち に 気 が 変わ っ た.

I understand that in the first part “ダイヤル し 終わら ない” means something like, did not finish dialing.

But this "うち に 気 が " I just don’t understand. Like, it has something to do with house and feeling or moods… but the ni connection…I just don’t get. This character in particular seems to come and be plopped in the middle of phrases that are totally unclear to me. this part the translation I get is. “care within” In which case it comes out to

Did not finish dialing, care within, was different.

うち means “inside” うちがわ そとがわ inside outside
うち に by extension means “during”
終わら ない うち に means before it stopped (during the time it didn’t stop)
気 が 変わっ た means changed my mind


Please post a link to the lesson. I am curious to see what the dictionary and google translated come up with.

wow, thank you it makes so much sense now!

As fellow Japanese student, I find that the core ideas of Japanese sentences tend to be at the end. A useful technique for parsing text is first to decode the chunk at the end of the sentence— - then go to the penultimate chunk, layer that meaning on, and so on.

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It is a private lesson of a book I am trying to read. It is the last line of the page here Login - LingQ

That is a very helpful tip, but do you have a recommendation for the best translator? Google translate usually gives me word salad. Even when I try to break it down.

Linguee is useful … but in my humble opinion it best not to translate more than 3-4 word collocations or chunks. Longer than that and you start messing with the discourse which is highly complex for machines to understand. As a human, you just need to slow down and get used to it.

You should use the dictionary. It seems excellent. Make jisho your default dictionary.

The formatting got distorted here but I would refer to it.

  1. inside; within
    背が高い。John is the taller of the two.
  2. whileUsually written using kana alone, See also ないうちに, also 裡
    癖がでてしまった。The young boy got sticky fingers when he walked into stores.
  3. among; amongst; betweenUsually written using kana alone
    Pronoun, No-adjective
  4. we (referring to one’s in-group, i.e. company, etc.); ourUsually written using kana alone, See also 家 うち
    尋ねました。“Would you like to work for me, Tony?” asked Mr Wood.
  5. my spouse

How to I change my default dictionary?

It seems I spend so much time searching to find explanations or decoding phrases as opposed to just reading since I am so terrible at finding out specific explanations. Any given phrase or connector word can have a bunch of meanings. I just feel like I am crawling at a snails pace. I’m worried that this is not very efficient and it will take 10 years to start to make sense of it. I have heard of people who have studied japanese for years and still can hardly understand anything.

My brain is being really stubborn in not accepting and making sense of the sentence structure. It keeps fighting me, like my it’s working against me. With Russian and German, all had to do was keep reading and listening on linq and phrases just started to click as I learn new words.

My biggest problem, be it by internet ineptitude or other, is my inability to find answers to specific questions when I encounter them. I’ve read through this grammar page Jim Breen's Pages Have Moved over and over and everything seems to clear, in simple sentences, but I I can’t find the exact source of my confusion and if I highlight and google search something, I get linguistic examples that confuse rather than clarify… and I’m thinking “i just want to know what this sentence means”.

Did you experience these types growing pains in the early throws of learning Japanese? If so how did you eventually get past them? I want to make sure I am working efficiently as to not waste time.

Hi usablefiber,
I would highly recommend you a book, which is called “A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar”. It’s a great book with many example sentences of grammatical structures in Japanese. Actually there are 3 “A Dictionary of Japanese Grammar” Books, but I find only the first one is really needed. I doubt that without that book I would be where I am right now in my Japanese abilities. I know the Japanese Grammar Book is quite expensive, but I think it’s very useful and you should try it out.
If you’re searching for a good (word) Dictionary I would also recommend you, like Steve said, it’s simply the best Japanese Dictionary online (in my opinion). But in addition I would use Rikaichan (Firefox) or Rikaikun (Google Chrome). These are some great Addons for your Browser. You just hover over the words you don’t know and you get the translation. It also works with phrases like 気にする or 気になる etc, which give me some terrible headaches. And don’t worry, your understanding of Japanese will improve. It’s perfectly normal to have these sort of problems in the early stages of learning. It’ll get better.

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Thanks for asking and I am happy to try and help.

When i started I had never been to Japan and I was terrible at motivating myself to work on it. At the time there was no real Internet and I just used a textbook I got from he uni library. The kana were fairly easy but I just found everything else way too foreign, for lack of a better word, to relate to.

Luckily I had the opportunity to move to Japan to teach English. Being plunged into the sea of Japanese certainly helped me break down some of the foreignness to the script and culture accompanying it. Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji was a first great help as well, although looking back it served more as a motivator rather than a help in actually acquiring the language. It also alerted me to the power of your personal imagination when learning new things, as I write next.

Another palpable step forward was abandoning grammar altogether and simply memorising full dialogs, as if I were an actor with a lead role in a Japanese film. Dialogs were from the standard Japanese Basic and Intermediate textbooks. I developed a personal method for memorisation and tried to really pretend I was in the situations the dialogs proposed, again like an actor. To me, the pay off of putting my imagination to work learning these dialogs by rote (and by sometimes acting the same dialog in different contexts.) was far greater than trying to master grammar which, as an ESL teacher, I knew were largely partial explanations anyway. The result was I could access full, grammatically perfect, stretches of the language at will when interacting, since most chitchat is somewhat scripted anyway. It also made me become aware of the power of leveraging a small vocab to learn new words even while chatting with people. I cultivated a strategic faculty when chatting in Japanese and eventually in any language.

I did not try to read that much until LingQ came my way in 2008. I am still a poor reader since Japanese has not been my big focus (family, job etc). But again I think the LingQ method was a big step for me because it substitutes actively wringing out your imagination for learning to just massive input which your normal brain activity will eventually grab onto. But the imagination has its place for people who are uncomfortable with Steve’s’ approach of not worrying if you do not understand. In a sense you have to just imagine you understand and forge ahead.

THink of reasons to trust yourself that you will get it the next time. DO not get hung up on a passage because there are infinite possible passages to come. Remember what Flaubert said (with reference to religion): “The rage for wanting to conclude is one of the most deadly and most fruitless manias to befall humanity.”


To change your default dictionary or add dictionaries just click on All Dictionaries on the right hand panel. There you can add or remove dictionaries. Whichever dictionary you last used becomes your default dictionary.

I agree with Dooo. Use a good dictionary, and Jisho is excellent. Get a handle on the words. Try to make sense of it. If it doesn’t make sense move on. It is more important to ingest lots and lots of content and you will soon find that things start to make more sense.

I can’t change my default dictionary. It only gives me the option of google translate or jisho pop up which only helps with individual words, can’t highlight phrases or connections which is the crix of my problem. My default translator still isn’t any help

google translate is the only dictionary that will give you help with phrases, although their translations of phrases for Japanese are often not helpful. Works well in other languages though. You should be able to change your default dictionary and highlight phrases.

If I notice some more complicated patterns, one thing I often do is use Google, but not Google translate.

For example, I’ll google,

“うちに 英語”

You’ll find quite accurate translations for Japanese speakers wanting to learn English.

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Thanks again for all the help. I’m finally starting to get into a good rhythm of reading. Jisho and the chrome character reader have been really helpful.

At the very least I think I am starting to pick up on which parts of a sentence I can’t understand which seems like some sort of progress to me.

the “mo” particle seems to give me trouble. I read it as “also” but I know that’s not always the case.

In the Japanese lingq podcast, episode 4, you are talking about driving in the cold weather and say

"車 が です ね. 早く 走れ ない ような 道 も 結構 できて ますよ ".

I am reading it as "not walking fast as the road… も … 結構 できて ますよ

I think the も is throwing me off. I can’t tell if in the comparison of walking and driving the “結構 できて ますよ” has anything to do with the it or if it just sort of a modifying comment after the fact like saying … “in general”.