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I am studying Japanese using the Michel Thomas Method. It says you can use nagara to show that one action happens while another occurs.

It then gives the following example:

nominagara shigoto o shimashita
I drank while I worked / I drank while working

konban sushi o resutoran de tabenagara Nihon no tomodachi to hanashimasu
Tonight I will eat sushi in a Japanese restaurant while I talk with my Japanese friend.

tabenagara terebi o mimasu
I eat while I watch TV / I eat while watching TV

koko no resutoran ga suki desu kara shigoto o shinagara koko de tabemashita
Because I like the restaurants round here, I ate here while I worked.

The last one really confuses me. In all the others, the order of the actions in the English translation mirrors the Japanese.

However, in the last one, the English translations mentions eating first and then work, whereas in the Japanese it's the other way around.

Is there are a reason for this, or, like most things in Japanese, does the order not matter?

8

The verb in the ながら clause is always secondary to the main verb in the sentence. To take the example from the excellent book 'A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar' by Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui, If you were told

ちょっと話がしたいんですが。
I'd like to have a little talk with you

You could answer in two ways

A) じゃ、コーヒーを飲みながら話しましょう。
Then, lets talk while we drink coffee

B) じゃ、話しながらコーヒーを飲みましょう。
Let's drink coffee while we talk

Both responses would be fine in English, but in Japanese the main verb is about talking because that's what the original sentence was about. Therefore only response A) is appropriate. Drinking coffee is secondary to the main action of talking.

In your last example, the man is talking about liking the restaurants around here, so the main action would be about eating or drinking in them. Working there is secondary to the main theme, i.e. things to do with restaurants.

4

V-nagara is basically a kind of transgressive: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgressive_(linguistics)

my native language (Russian) has those. I'm not a linguist so take my explanation with a grain of salt, but the way I understand transgressives, the action that provides background is mentioned first and the main action comes last.

English doesn't have this kind of transgressive structure, so these sentences are translated using coordinate clauses instead. Consider the following ungrammatical sentence:

"Eating a cake, I read the newspaper."

No one ever talks like this. However, you should be able to understand the general concept and why eating is mentioned first - it serves as a background for the main action (reading the newspaper).

In your last example, working also serves as a background, not the main action. Kinda like "working there, I used to eat there".

P.S. in Russian, you can often switch the word order depending on which action you want to bring into the spotlight. Therefore "reading the newspaper, I ate a cake" also works if you wish to focus more on the cake eating process rather than the newspaper reading one. However, this is only possible for actions of similar scale. The "working there, I used to eat there" example can't be reformatted into "eating there, I used to work there" because eating can't serve as a background for something bigger, like work. I have no idea whether this rule applies to Japanese, but most likely it does.

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