On Wednesday (January 17th), officials from South Korea and North Korea have met and discussed the Olympics for 11 hours. Two major decisions came out of this meeting, both turned towards friendship: first, South and Nord Korea will enter the opening ceremony together, under a “flag of the unification” (a white flag with a blue Korea peninsula); second, the two countries will create a joint women hockey team. Concerning the size and the participation of North Korea teams, it will be settled tomorrow (20th).
The article is long, but there were few difficult words to me in it. Yet, it was difficult to read and I had to re-read most paragraphs twice and slowly in order to fully understand them. More than often, my eyes would just go through the whole paragraph with my brain lazily following. I would end up having a vague idea of what the paragraph is about but I would have been unable to translate it.
Reflecting on what makes a news article difficult to read, I came to the conclusion that the grammar is the problem. I always thought that news articles are challenging because they contain a lot of difficult words. This is also true, but it does not explain why I feel discouraged even when I know most of the words.
If we look at the first paragraph of this article, we see why it is difficult to read for a Japanese learner: the first paragraph is composed of only one long sentence (this is true for almost all the paragraphs of this article)! To understand how it is structured, we must pay attention to the grammar. But, as pointed out by the Antimoon website (I mentioned it on Monday), we tend to “read for contents”. This is exactly what happens when I read the news in Japanese. I focus on words and kanji and I completely overlook the grammar. Let’s take the first paragraph as an example:
Grammar analysis 1
Let’s start with the vocabulary:
- 次官・じかん means “undersecretary”. 次官級の・じかんきゅうの means “of undersecretary level”. I don’t know what would be a proper English translation.
- 実務・じつむ: practical business, administrative work
- 協議・きょうぎ: consultation, deliberation, discussion
To be honest, these are the kind of words I don’t really focus on. It is maybe enough to know that there were discussions at a high level between South and North Korea.
Then we have 4 topics:
- Topic A: アイスホッケー女子の合同チームの結成
- The formation of a joint women hockey team
- Topic B: 開会式での合同入場行進
- South and North will march together during the opening ceremony
- Topic C: 北朝鮮の選手団の規模
- the size of the team sent by North Korea
- Topic D: (北朝鮮の選手団の)参加種目
- the sports in which North Korea will participate
Now the grammar:
Those three grammars give the context: we are told what it is about を巡り, who is involved は, and where and when it took place で.
There is a difference here between や and し.
や , in association with など, means that both A and B (among other things) are on the same level, it is an enumeration. That is, both topic A and topic B (among others) were approved (合意) during the meeting.
し, however, marks a turn in the sentence. Basically, the paragraph tells us two things: During the meeting about the Olympics, an agreement has been reached concerning topic A and topic B AND (し) it has been decided that the final decision concerning topic C and topic D will be made on the 20th.
については introduces the two new topics, topic C and D, here again, separated by や.
ことになりました: This grammar shows that during the meeting, it was decided that concerning topic C and topic D, it will be settled on the 20th, during で a discussion that will involve による 4 participants, among whom など, the IOC.
When I first read this paragraph, I was confused to find two dates. In fact, I overlooked the し, I thought it had the same meaning than や. As a consequence, I thought that we were still in the same enumeration and was lost when they introduced a new date, it just didn’t make sense.
Grammar analysis 2
Another paragraph that left me confused is this one:
When I first read it, I had a general idea of the meaning. Basically, the article just says again that concerning topic C and D, the final decision will be taken on the 20th. What puzzled me is “４者会談” because I had no idea what were supposed to be the 4 actors. Here again, let’s analyse the paragraph:
Concerning the topic C and the topic D…
It has been decided that it would be settled…
今月２０日にスイスで開かれる (…) ４者会談で
during a conference between four actors …. that will take place on the 20th in Switzerland.
- IOC= International Olympic Committee (ＩＯＣ＝国際オリンピック委員会)
- South Korea Olympic Committee (南北のオリンピック委員会)
- North Korea Olympic Committee (南北のオリンピック委員会)
- The Organizing Committee of the Games (大会の組織委員会)
Once analysed, the paragraphs that seemed difficult at first prove to be quite easy at the end. If I analyse in this way each article that I read, it will really take me one year to complete today’s newspaper… But, being aware that I have to pay attention to the grammar will help me, I hope! What I have to do is to focus on these little grammar words that seem to precede every coma in this kind of article. This is a difficult exercise because, as said earlier, we tend to read for contents and ignore the grammar. I guess that we have to train our brain to focus on grammar, too. It requires a conscious effort. By doing so, we will get used to targeting grammar when reading and going through long news article will not be discouraging anymore!