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Apr 26, 2011

The Two Styles of Reading

When it comes time to read Japanese, all of the skills you've been developing are tested. Your knowledge of kanji, your vocabulary strength, and of course your ability to read the kana. In reading, you'll inevitably face a wall of words that you don't know – which is where two very different philosophies are born. In order to become better at Japanese, you need to keep reading and learning, but how you go about it is entirely up to you.

Style One: “The Translator

This style means that you stop at every word you don't know and look it up in a dictionary. You'll learn a lot and make future reading much easier, much faster, but you'll also be slowing down your reading a lot as you look words up and add them to anki.

Style Two: “The Grasper

This style is all about enjoying whatever you're reading. Instead of stressing about the words you don't know, you take the context and “grasp” the general meaning. Doing this allows you to enjoy more media and experience more Japanese. You'll get tons of reviewing done through this and also add a basic understanding of many new words.

In reading, you'll probably alternate between the two styles a lot. The important thing to do is find a balance between the two, where you can find and learn new words without impeding your enjoyment.

The main point in outlining these two styles is to remind you that you can pick the way you read. If you don't want to worry about every word, you don't have to. If you want to be certain you understand it all, then you can take the time to do so. Set your own pace and find your own style.

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  1. I alternate between these two without thinking much about it really. If I'm reading and I see a certain word I don't know pop up a few times, I'll look it up. Or if I think I may know what a word means without ever seeing it before (either based on kanji or based on hearing the word a few times from Japanese media), I'll look it up. Often times I'll find I was right, even though I've never seen the word used before. That feeling is pretty nice.

    It's hard to explain, but you sometimes just have a feel for what words you should pick up and what words you should glance over for the time being.

  2. I alternate, but if there is one word preventing me from going forward I take time to look it up.

  3. I imagine that if I were really trying to get a full grasp of Japanese, I'd have to treat a book as studying, read translator mode first, then read for enjoyment after to see how well you've grasped it.

  4. I tend to be more of the second style, but it's pretty common that there's a word I can't read that's absolutely key to the sentence so I have to look it up anyway.

    It's interesting how you can sort of get the meaning of a word just by seeing it in context enough times, but still without being able to define it at all.

  5. I was going to say what Claude said. If it were me, I'd just learn everything before reading for enjoyment.

  6. @Claude and Hip-Hop

    In the beginning, you're essentially forced to read like that. Once you can understand most of a story, the option becomes more obvious. You can still stop at every word you don't know, or you can just "feel" the meaning and move on. The thing to remember is that you don't have to look up every word - so it's okay to read and not stop every time. Nobody is going to come out and punish you for not "eating your vegetables."

    ...gonna go write a post about that now.

  7. I try to focus on a picture or feeling when I hear/read the word. My only decent second language is spanish, so when I hear spanish i try not to auto translate in my head and just let a whole movie or image emerge.

  8. Thanks as always for the advice. I would like to try out both methods, but first I have to finish my hiragana and core 2000 series on first.