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Feb 3, 2011

The Time to Read is Now!

Reading is a major asset to learning Japanese, which makes it distressing to me that so many people put reading off because it's "too difficult" or because they "aren't ready yet." The simple truth is that you'll never really be ready, because reading authentic Japanese will be a challenge for you at first regardless of how long you've been listening to a professor or reading a textbook. So if you can never really be ready, then there is no point in putting off reading: start now!

The most important thing to do when starting reading is to keep it fun. My advice is to find a manga or something similar that you have already read or already know and begin trying to read it purely in Japanese. Keep a dictionary nearby to look up words that you see a lot and start getting acquainted with common phrases and structures. The great thing about starting with something you've already read is that your memory will be able to fill in some of the gaps and you'll start seeing how the Japanese words fit into what you already know. It'll be extremely slow at first, but by the time you finish reading your first volume of manga in Japanese you'll be moving at a much faster pace.

I first began trying to read while I was working on finishing the Remembering the Kanji first book, so I was by no means "ready" to begin reading - I didn't even know 100 words! But I ordered some manga of various levels - some I had read, some I had not - and after trying to read the first page I promptly put them on my bookshelf and declared I wasn't ready. It took me a couple weeks to finally muster up the courage to venture beyond that first page, but when I did I began to notice some rapid changes.

At first I had trouble reading even kana at any great speed, but now I was recognizing them instantly. The kanji I'd been learning in the Heisig books were now appearing before me and I could actually differentiate them and even gain some meaning. I couldn't understand much of it at all, but I just continued on through that first volume with dictionary in hand. By the end I'd learned far more than I'd gained in my experimentation with Rosetta Stone and other such programs - and I'd done it completely on my own while having fun.

My point in telling this story is that you'll never be ready, so don't wait to be. Find a book you want to read and just give it a shot. Don't force yourself through it, because then you'll just rush through and jot down definitions like it's some kind of chore. In fact, I advise not looking up words unless you have to. At one point I made the mistake of saying, "I'll look up every word I don't know and add it to my SRS!" - I promptly quit reading altogether. I gained a new philosophy after that - forget about looking words up, just read for enjoyment. If a word I don't know is stopping me from enjoying or understanding the story, then I won't need any additional motivation to look it up - it will demand to be known.

Don't wait to be ready, just do it and have fun.

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    1. That's some good advice. I guess the sooner you delve into any kind of reading the better. I need to get my hands on a good dictionary!

    2. This is some great advice, man. That's probably why a lot of people end up quitting, they just don't have fun while learning.

      The sooner, the better. I'll keep this in mind.

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    4. >and after trying to read the first page I promptly put them on my bookshelf and declared I wasn't ready

      Yeah, kinda how I feel. I can read a whole volume of something really really easy though, like Yotsubato!

      Thanks for this post, really. I really do get a lot of inspiration from your blog. I tend to think my Japanese isn't good enough for things. I do translate random 4koma that I see posted on /jp/ or while looking at Pixiv or something, but I should push myself to try reading a bit more than I currently do. The problem I had was the same you had, when I'd run into a word I don't know, I'd immediately jot it down and try learning it. That'd get in the way of my reading big time, which is probably why I have problems reading things that aren't Yotsuba easy.