I read a very enjoyable non-fiction book by Polly Barton, who is a translator of literature from Japanese, which was published by the wonderful Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2021. Fitzcarraldo produce such beautiful books, that I’d be tempted to buy them for home decor reasons alone!

Fifty Sounds combines three of my interests: memoir, language acquisition and translation, so it was likely that I would enjoy it. The book is divided into 50 short chapters, each referencing one of fifty onomatopoeic Japanese phrases.

I attempted to learn Japanese for about six months from late last year, and my progress was so painfully slow that I jacked it in, despite the help of DuoLingo, plus a book-based course and eventually Zoom lessons with a professional. It’s so damn hard! So I’m awe-struck really that Polly Barton was able to hone her Japanese to such a high standard after starting to learn it only as a young adult.

Like Barton I spent time teaching English abroad – however, in my case I was teaching English in a grotty industrial town in Northern France in the early 1990s, where no-one in their right mind would want to spend more than an afternoon.

Fifty Sounds was a really enjoyable and enlightening read. Barton makes frequent reference to Wittgenstein, but don’t let that put you off!

Join the Conversation


  1. The grotty industrial town comment made me laugh. I spent the early 90’s teaching English in a small town in western Japan. It wasn’t the company’s most sought after destination–but surprisingly not the furthest out.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I can speak some Japanese. Far from fluent, but I have a decent Kansai accent. I haven’t used it in a while, but I usually watch at least one Japanese film (with subtitles) while traveling.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: