One of the reasons many people begin to study a second language is simply for the challenge of learning something new, even if they have no specific end purpose in mind. One of the more challenging languages to learn as a native English speaker would have to be Japanese, and a big reason is that simple English to Japanese translation (and vice versa) is not always possible. This is not meant to be discouraging, but it is true that they are very different languages.
The most obvious challenge to Japanese translation is that their system of writing is completely different than the 26 letter Latin alphabet. Japanese use characters that each designate a syllable (Hiragana and Katakana) or an entire word (Kanji). The ability to read and write a significant number of Japanese characters is something that takes time. Even a relatively simple task of coming up with a Japanese translation of your name would require the use of at least 5-7 Katakana characters. There are many very good English/Japanese dictionaries available and having one is essential to your learning.
There is a system of writing that is commonly accepted will get you halfway to your Japanese translation without knowing any Japanese characters: Romaji. This is “Romanized” Japanese which uses the Latin alphabet to spell out Japanese words by the way they sound. It is not ‘true’ Japanese, but almost anyone in Japan would be able to read and understand it as Romaji is taught in schools, and it is the primary system of inputting Japanese on computers and electronic devices that do not support Japanese characters. Most Japanese language programs and texts rely heavily on Romaji because without it, the new language learner would be lost.
One other challenge to Japanese translation is that there are many words in the Japanese language that have no English equivalent. There are many times that Japanese words with English translation just do not exist which can complicate your learning. This is primarily a result of the Japanese culture being so different from Western culture. The Japanese have ideas and concepts that just do not exist in the west and therefore cannot be translated into English.
One other aspect of the language that makes Japanese translation difficult is that there are many words and phrases that could be different based on the situation. Gender, seniority, and social class can determine whether one word (or word form) is used over another. Fortunately there are fairly straightforward guidelines for those distinctions, but as in any language, exceptions exist.
So is Japanese translation impossible? Absolutely not! It is a challenging journey but one that can be accomplished with the right attitude, time, and the right tools. A great place to start is a computer based learning program like Rocket Japanese and a good Japanese/English dictionary.