Translation:The year before last was a bad year.
You mean like when England (not named like that then) decided to use the Roman writing system and they got illogical multiple readings (sounds) on each character (letter), all over? Yeah, I think I agree with you (although that makes the language more likely to teach you things about the languages from which it borrowed, which can be positive if you're interested in those languages)
BTW: I think the story that the OP was referring to was the one behind that "bad year"
In English you'd say "the year before last". It would be grammatically correct but confusing to say "the year before the last year". When you put "the" in front of "last", you've detached it from "the year before" so you need to specify last what. For example you might be saying "the year before the last big storm" or "the year before the last time I saw her".
Ok but this is a Japanese course, having to worry about subtleties like these makes translating stuff a pain in the ass. In this course I just want to understand the meaning of the sentences not worry if the English grammar was 100% perfect. It should be an acceptable answer still imo.
Ok so i have two questions: 1) why is 年 pronounced "toshi"? I thought that reading was for when the character is used with other kanji. 2) why not write おととし with the kanji for year おと年? Is it because you cannot rip the actual writing of 一昨年 apart and only give one half a kanji?
No, とし is the kun reading, not the on reading. 一昨年 are two separate words. 一昨 is "one previous", but normally read as いっさく, it's in effect slang that has become proper japanese, and the phrase has just taken to mean 2 years prior.
What's funny is that the reading flips back on multiples. 一昨昨日 「いっさくさくじつ」Or 「さきおととい」