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I've just found sentence: 子供に話を聞かせてあげました。and its translation: I read children the story.

Does this sentence seem natural to a native Japanese speaker? To me it sounds like it has more weight to it - like a person saying it could be for example a kindergarden teacher that actually made the children listen to him/her as part of a daily schedule. Like maybe the children, if given the choice, they would pick a different activity than listening to the story.

Also, there's this thing about あげる.. when it's used, can we somehow expect the receiver of it be glad/thankful that the action has been done. Like in this case maybe being told the story will have some positive impact on the children and so the person saying it could expect the children to be grateful, or at least he/she could feel good because he/she knows that telling the story was a good thing to do.

Being influenced by my native language and also English, I would rather say something like: 子供に話を言いました。to express the English translation of the original sentence.

I guess what I would like to ask is: am I thinking correctly about the '聞かせてあげました’ sentence? Or maybe it is a typical way to express that someone told something to somebody and I'm just imaginating things.

  • Perhaps you are mixing up the causative form of 聞く and 聞かせる? – Joe Staines Jan 1 '15 at 18:43
  • The English translation "I read children the story" is stripping out all the relevance of the あげました and 聞かせて. – virmaior Jan 1 '15 at 19:57
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「[子供]{こども}に[話]{はなし}を[聞]{き}かせてあげました。」

Does this sentence seem natural to a native Japanese speaker?

Yes, it is perfectly natural, correct, grammatical, etc. It has no problem whatsoever on any level. No one was forced to either tell or listen to a story, either. No stress or pressure on either party is implied in the sentence. It simply says that someone did something for another person.

Your paragraph #3 actually shows a good understanding of the sentence.

It is, however, not very easy to translate a sentence using あげる/やる/もらう, etc. as an auxiliary verb. It would become a very long sentence if one tried to include the nuance of these words.

「あげる」 implies that you are performing an action that you think would be beneficial to the other person. The action here is 「話を聞かせる」, which is in the causative form -- "to let the kid(s) listen to a/the story". I suspect this causative form used with 「あげる」 might add extra confusion for the learner.

To rephrase 「話を聞かせてあげる」 without changing the meaning, one could say 「話をしてあげる」 without using the causative. You mentioned a 「話を言う」, but that is not correct. We say 「話をする」.

So, the "real" meaning of 「子供に話を聞かせてあげました。」, in my own words, is:

"I (or someone) let the kid(s) listen to a/the story (thinking it would please/entertain him/her/them and the kid(s) would benefit from it)." 

Since that is so long, you are more likely to see a "I told the kids a story.", "I read the kids the story", etc. as a translation in real life.

Finally, after listening to the story, the kids will say;

「話を聞かせてもらった(or もらいました)。」

あげる <===> もらう

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