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Reading Techniques and Strategies

The REAL Getting Started with Reading Guide

Reading is pretty much the most effective way to get better at Japanese. There is no doubt about it.

"Read more" is often the first piece of Japanese learning advice that advanced learners of Japanese will give to any beginner, and for good reason.
This article aims to give you tips and talk about worries that you may have when reading.

Reading Tips

I am JUST starting out, what should I do?

Just starting out = don't know Japanese? See UsagiSpoon.

Noob friendly reading practice = anime with Japanese subtitles, it's described in UsagiSpoon

Or maybe just starting out = "I have been learning Japanese for a while with [x] method, and I want to start reading for real! What should I do?"

Then read the rest of the article.

Are visual novels better for beginners?

Visual novels are better for beginners because they don't have to rely on a lot more descriptive text in order to create a story because visual novels have pictures on the screen, etc.

They are easier to approach than novels, difficulty-wise, and therefore they are perfect for easing yourself into reading.

See my visual novel guide to learn how to learn Japanese with visual novels.

Yomichan + Textractor + Texthooker page

The holy trinity of Japanese learning (for visual novel enjoyers).

Everything you need to know is in The VN guide

Read a book of something you've seen.

Did you know many people become readers (in their native language) because they read the book of a movie they liked or something?

Learning how to visualize scenes in your head is a different skill than just "being native."

You can apply the same exact strategy to Japanese.

And it's the strategy that I recommend everyone take when they get into reading.

Read the light novel series of an anime you enjoyed.

Read the novel after you watch the anime, or even while watching the anime. And after you've seen the anime, still refer to the anime to help you read.

Anyway, this is obviously a God tier reading strategy because, by watching the anime, you have given context to the text on the page, which translates into i+1 Krashen approved effective language learning gains, and the light novel will have multiple volumes, which is great for learners because getting used to one author's writing style is easier than reading a different author every time.

Yomichan, Itazuraneko, EPUBs+ッツ Reader

The holy trinity of Japanese learning (for novel enjoyers).

Manga

Manga is good reading practice. Of course it is, there is no way it can't be.

But you should kind of be aware that they only have speech and short descriptions most of the time.

Nevertheless, they are still good for reading, and you can obviously learn tons of words from manga, and you'll get good at reading manga by reading a lot of manga.

Yomichan, Mokuro, and a good OCR

The holy trinity of Japanese learning (for manga enjoyers).

Pomodoro / Timeboxing

This is another God tier strategy that I'd like to introduce to you.

The Pomodoro method requires you to focus on a task for a set amount of time (usually 25 minutes), after which the timer rings and you take a short (5-minute) break.

So you will be reading in 25 minute sessions.

It doesn't really sound like much, but it is actually a very useful method.

I usually drink water, get up, or walk around during break times; it helps to get refreshed before reading again.

Here's the Pomodoro timer that I use. Pomofocus.io

The default settings are 25 minutes of focus, a 5 minute short break, and a 15 minute long break.

However, I feel like the 25 minutes are too much, so I recommend 20 minutes instead.

You can click Setting at the top to change this. Also, I recommend you turn on Auto Start Breaks and Pomodoros.

The act of making reading a habit — baby steps!

You aren't going to become a crazy reader seen at the top of TheMoeWay's Discord reading leaderboard overnight.

You need to make reading a habit; read in amounts that are manageable for you every day.

And overtime, when you do this every day, it will become a habit, and you may feel like reading without thinking about "time to improve my Japanese," because reading every single day will become a normal thing for you.

Setting yourself goals every day

Setting yourself a goal that you can reach everyday is an amazing way to keep up motivation to read every day.

Try to find a concrete goal for yourself.

Try to read for how long you are willing to read for the day, and then check how many characters (if it's a digital novel or visual novel) or pages (if it's manga or physical novel) you managed to read.

Then take that amount of characters or pages and increase it by a bit (round it up or something) and make that your goal to read every day.

The usefulness of grammar study and some specific Yomichan dictionaries.

Honestly grammar study is very useful for reading.

If you haven't studied a lot of grammar and don't know all JLPT N5, N4, N3, N2 and N1 grammar points, then I highly recommend you study them. But I don't mean this to say "study JLPT grammar before reading." I mean, "study JLPT grammar to improve your reading, which you should be doing, probably right about now"

I want you to watch Cure Dolly's playlist (your basic fundamentals) then study JLPT grammar with medamayaki's JLPT grammar deck.

Listen, I don't care if JLPT grammar is not "actually grammar."

They are useful to study because they are phrases and structures in Japanese that have a rather ambiguous meaning just from the words alone, so you are likely to miss them in immersion.

You really can't go wrong studying JLPT grammar.

Now, the Yomichan dictionaries I really want you to use are:

  • EVERY GRAMMAR ONE
  • 実用日本語表現辞典
  • Your favorite monolingual dictionary. (if you dont have a favourite then use either one of my favourites: 新明解国語辞典 第七版、明鏡国語辞典 第二版 (doesn't work with Anki, btw.) or 旺文社国語辞典 第十一版)

If you can't understand monolingual dictionaries yet, still keep them because if you ever get stuck on what a word actually means, the monolingual dictionary will come through.

My Comprehension Tip

This is a tip for more experienced learners

This is the only comprehension tip that actually works for me.

The trick is to focus on nouns (and numbers).

I came up with the idea when I noticed that when I read in English, the nouns stand out.

Nouns are names, people, objects, places, etc.

I felt like there was some type of word hierarchy.

Any nouns/numbers → "action" verbs → adjectives → "abstract" verbs.

And of course, within nouns, there is also a noun hierarchy, with names, pronouns, and physical objects at the top.

I noticed that when I read Japanese, it feels a lot more hazy because my brain just doesn't make the nouns stand out more than adjectives or verbs.
I started to "focus" (I hate to use this term because that's not what I am actually doing, it's more like noticing) on the nouns in sentences and noticed how my comprehension skyrocketed without losing speed.

It can be a little tricky to notice nouns every time they come up, but trust me, this is an S-tier strategy, and all you need is practice.

Comprehension Tip: Bilingual vs Monolingual: The difference between not knowing what's going on and actually understanding?

In many cases, yes.

Bilingual definitions can be too ambiguous sometimes, so it is always best to check the monolingual dictionary.

Reading nayamigoto (aka: stuff you worry too much about)

How many words you should I look up?

I don't know because I was looking up every single thing since the beginning, and I think it worked out fine?

Yomichan makes everything so easy.

If I had to use copy paste into external apps or write out the word or even worse, use a physical dictionary then I would probably not look up many words.

But YOU are living in 2023. YOU have Yomichan. Take advantage of it.

Install a frequency dictionary (I recommend JPDB) so you can see what words are actually common. Below 10,000 frequency is a sign that it comes up a lot in books and anime.

Reading Speed

I'm just going to go out and say this right now.

You will only get faster at reading by reading more.

You are only able to read at the speed you are reading at right now because that is the speed someone, who has read the amount you have and the material you have, would be reading at in a perfectly normal situation.

READING SPEED TIPS AND TRICKS

I have some breaking news for you... the best way to increase your reading speed is to read more.

But let me explain the magic behind it and the magic behind reading speed.

Reading speed is comprehension.

When you read more, you will comprehend more.

Do not be worrying about reading speed if you don't already understand a lot/know all of the words in most books!

Q: Should I read a lot of manga if I want to improve my Wikipedia reading speed?

A: No. Specialization is required to get faster at reading at what you want.

Comprehension Nayamigoto Type 1

Type 1: "I have been staring at this sentence/paragraph/word/thing for ages and I have no idea what it is saying."

Solution?

The obvious thing to do is to look up the words and grammar used in the sentence, and also refer to the context (read previous lines).

But what if you've already done that but still don't understand?

The simple answer is to read more.

Because comprehension is a gradual process.

The factors that go into "comprehending/understanding" are much more broad than "knowing the word" and "having studied the grammar."

When you read more, you will see words used in many, many different contexts.

And it is through your exposure to these words in various contexts that you will learn to comprehend more sentences.

As much as I don't like to admit it, there is another way of training comprehension too. And that is by analyzing the sentence by referring to grammar points, dictionary definitions, example sentences, HiNative and Yahoo!知恵袋 answers, etc. If you have the drive to do all of that, then I'd say you can't go wrong with that, but at the same time, there is no way you aren't improving by just reading more, so I would say this decision is all on you. Perhaps learning to balance analyzing with just reading more is a useful skill to have.

Anyway, the ultimate solution is to try your best and read more.

Comprehension Nayamigoto Type 1.5

Type 1.5: "I have type 1 comprehension anxiety. I absolutely despise not understanding, I want to understand everything. I am a high believer in analyzing sentences. But how much should I actually do it?"

And as a high believer in reading more and an ex-high believer in analyzing sentences, I'd say there is only so much comprehension you can get out of analyzing unfamiliar sentences; the learner that has read a ton will understand a lot more than the learner that just analyzes everything.

Analyzing is by no means bad; I just think you should do it in moderation because reading more sentences will benefit you more than hyperfocusing on the same one.

Comprehension Nayamigoto Type 1.5 Variation 2

Variation 2: "But wouldn't analyzing everything make me improve faster!"

In my experience, it is nearly inevitable that you'll have the urge to analyze everything.

After all, it seems like a very good reading strategy, and it is, to a certain extent.

There are books I read 3 times (Volumes 1-3 of 龍ヶ嬢七々々の埋蔵金 each 3 times) and then some because I was doing sentence cards and mined unknown words from the books with their sentences, so I ended up reading the same sentences over and over again.

I analyzed the crap out of those books.

And guess what? When I went back and read those books after reading a lot of other books, I realized how much I had missed.

This goes back to the whole "the person that reads a lot will understand more than the person that analyzes the same stuff."

You will come across a ton of sentences in a ton of contexts when you read more, and you'll improve a lot when doing so.

Now back to the question, would it make you improve faster than "just reading" more?

Hard to say, but when reading, I always thought about what I was reading. I always thought about the meaning of what I was reading. I felt like everyone did this though, but sometimes you end up reading words without thinking about their meaning, which is another question I'd like to answer.

Q: What should I do when I end up reading words without thinking about their meaning?

I think in every book they have those useless/less important lines, right? I think it is perfectly fine not to think too deeply about them.

And there are lines that make you want to stop reading sometimes, right? I think it's fine if you don't think deeply about them either.

However everything else is a matter of a few different factors. There's comprehension, focus, and fatigue.

With really hard sentences, it is very common to end up reading the words without taking in the meaning. Read the sentence again 2 times. If you don't understand it after that, it is way above your ability, and you should just move on. I know I sound like a broken record, but I'll say it again, you get better at reading harder sentences by reading more because you see words used in tons of different contexts.

Losing focus when reading is actually a thing. And getting fatigued is also a thing. While I can't give much advice about maintaining focus other than getting rid of distractions, I can say fatigue happens at around 20 minutes of reading for me. After a Pomodoro break, I am able to read the same sentences with a new set of eyes.

Anyway, here's what you shouldn't forget:

Is it enjoyable? ← This is the most important question.

I am unable to draw an objective conclusion about analyzing everything vs. just reading, but what matters most is that you are having fun, being interested, and wanting to read.

Comprehension Nayamigoto Type 2

Type 2: "When I am reading for a while, my brain turns to mush, and I read too fast, and things slip through my comprehension."

Honest advice: I think you should just suck it up and read slower. Also, take breaks. I often have times where, after a break, I comprehend the same sentences more.

Comprehension Nayamigoto Type 3

Type 3: "I can read all the words, I know all their meanings, but I can't visualize the scene! I don't understand what is actually going on! I have to analyze and even then I have no clue what is happening. What should I do?"

I know this is very hard for you, but here's what you need to do:

  • Read more

Q: Is that it? Come on! I'm sure there is something else I could do that would really improve my situation right now.

A: Well everything boils down to "read more." I answered with "read more" because the theory behind it is: Your comprehension lacks because the kinds of sentences you struggle with are ones you are unfamiliar with. In language acquisition, force feeding yourself too-unfamiliar sentences is not as effective as understanding i+1 sentences. (Only one thing in the sentence that aren't so comfortable with; these "things" may not even be identifiable.) When you read more, you will come across a crap ton of sentences, and within these sentences, there will be plenty of i+1 sentences, and this is the peak of your language acquisition gains. As a result of reading a lot, you'll improve your Japanese and find it easier to understand those difficult sentences.

Comprehension Nayamigoto Type 4

Type 4: "I've been studying for a while, with [x] method, I've learned [x] amount of words and grammar. However, when I try to read I don't know any of the words. Reading is a huge struggle. What should I do?"

I'm sure you can already anticipate the answer.

Let me just go ahead and say it: It is impossible to get good at reading without reading. It is impossible to learn most of the words you need to a high degree of understanding just with Anki, without reading.

There is nothing else you can be doing than reading more.

Of course, you can study more grammar, and learn more vocab with Anki, which will of course help.

But you will only get good at reading by reading more.

The case for reading faster

OK, in my experience, trying to make yourself read faster just makes you understand less. But we all want to be able to keep our comprehension whilst also reading faster, right? Yes, but you can only get to that level if you read a lot.

If you a read a lot, you will end up reading sentences/words in clumps, right?

I consciously made mental conceptualizations of parts of sentences in order to read them in clumps.

This is just a fancy way of saying, "This means [x] and there is no need to read word this for word. I'll keep a mental note/recognition of the fact that I can read this as a "shape" to get its meaning instead of reading it word for word"

Q: No subvocalization = no comprehension?

In my experience, when the words/sentences you are choosing not to subvocalize are not that familiar to you (i.e., you cannot understand them just by glancing at them), An example that experienced readers should understand without reading it word for word is なければならない) then you will end up not understanding what it is actually saying.

Subvocalizing is a useful reading technique, and most people do it; if you read a lot, your subvocalization will just get faster.

So don't stop subvocalizing because you think it's slowing you down. It is not. The only things slowing you down are: You worrying too much about speed and character count, the fact that you haven't read enough, and the fact that it is pretty much common sense that you wouldn't be lightning fast at reading a text in a language you basically don't have much experience with when compared to a native.

Reading more is the crux of increasing reading speed, so don't forget!

I can't read! I am not a reader in my native lang! I am too dumb/adhd/young/bad memory to read!

C O P E.

And a cope I lived with until I realized all you need is a good book.

And timeboxing.

OK BUT how MUCH do I have to read???

It's a silly question because you never stop reading because you can always improve.

But how much do you need to read in order to get really proficient, you may ask?

I don't know the exact number, but after 300 novels, you would be pretty good.

If you mine the entirety of 30 to 40 novels and use monolingual dictionaries, you will have a very large vocabulary and will understand a lot more from listening and so on.

But knowing the words is only the beginning of being a proficient reader imo.

Anyway, stop worrying about how much you need to read because it's a waste of time calculating how many books you need to read until you never look at text again.

I would like to copy your exact Yomichan settings and reading setup, oh great shoui usagi

It's all a matter of personal preference but I guess you can't go wrong copying exactly what I use.

Dictionaries (in order of priority)

Main word dictionaries

  • 新明解国語辞典 第七版
  • 明鏡国語辞典 第二版
  • 旺文社国語辞典 第十一版
  • 大辞林 第三版
  • JMdict (rev.JMdict1)
  • デジタル大辞泉
  • 精選版 日本国語大辞典
  • 実用日本語表現辞典
  • 広辞苑 第七版

Grammar dictionaries

  • JLPT文法解説まとめ
  • どんなときどう使う 日本語表現文型辞典
  • 日本語文法辞典(全集)
  • 毎日のんびり日本語教師

Other dictionaries

  • Nico/Pixiv
  • 学研 四字熟語辞典
  • 新明解四字熟語辞典
  • 故事ことわざの辞典
  • 語源由来辞典
  • 日本語俗語辞書
  • 複合語起源

Kanji

  • KANJIDIC (English)
  • KanjiDict4COPE
  • 漢字源

Names

  • Jmnedict

Frequency

  • BCCWJ
  • Wikipedia
  • CC100
  • JPDB

Chinese dictionaries (lol these are useless 99% of the time, but it has actually been useful for meanings sometimes)

  • 中日大辞典 第二版
  • 兩岸詞典
  • CEDICT
  • 漢語大詞典
  • 萌典国语辞典
Audio

Turn on automatically play audio.
I also use local audio.
Follow this guide to get local audio.
I have NHK on top of my priorities by removing all sources and only having Custom URL JSON with the URL http://localhost:5050/?sources=nhk16,jpod,jpod_alternate,forvo&term={term}&reading={reading}

Appearance

Popup: Allow scanning search page content: ON Allow scanning popup content: ON Maximum number of child popups: 9999
Theme: light mode
Compact tags: on
All options checked for pitch accent display styles
Popup size 812 812.
Scale 100%

Yomichan CSS

INFO ABOUT THE FONT IM USING: IMPORTANT!!!

Do not just blindly copy my CSS

Let me explain.
The font I use is MS Mincho.
It is included in the Japanese language pack for Windows but you can get all the fonts we're gonna use here. Install them and restart your PC.
MS Mincho is a 明朝体 font that is made to look good on every possible screen resolution.
As a result the lines are thin, without setting a font-weight property.
And also as a result, the font falls back to bitmap fallback mode when you are too zoomed out.
I use a 1080p laptop, which means I am on 125% display scaling on a 1080p monitor.
You will need to zoom in more than me to get the same results.
Anyway, as a result of the CSS, assuming you have zoomed in properly and set font weight, your Japanese text will be incredibly crisp. The zoom is important and makes sense when you see my ッツ reader setup.
    .gloss-content {
       font-family: MS Mincho, SimSun !important;
       font-weight: 900;
       font-size: 19px !important;
    }
    .tag-label-content {
       font-family: MS Gothic, Microsoft YaHei !important;
       font-weight: 400;
       font-size: 15px !important;
    }
    .kanji-gloss-content {
       font-family: MS Mincho, SimSun !important;
       font-weight: 900;
       font-size: 16px !important;
    }
    .kanji-glpyh {
        font-family: kanji-stroke-orders, sans-serif !important;
        font-size: 8.5em !important;
    }
    .headword {
       font-family: MS Mincho, SimSun !important;
       font-weight: 900;
       font-size: 12px !important;
    }

How it looks

Image

If it doesn't look like this, you did something wrong!!!!!!!!!

ッツ Reader Setup: Part 1

I have a confession to make. I am a 横書き enjoyer. Because I mainly read on my computer and feel like my eyes move more naturally than they do when reading 縦書き. I don't want to start a 縦書き vs. 横書き war, but as a personal preference, I like 横書き.
Step 1: Zoom in 140% if you have 125% display scaling (laptop). Probably 25% more if you have 100% display scaling (desktop). ← VERY IMPORTANT
Step 2: Theme: white background black text
Step 3: Font families (both boxes): MS Mincho (see yomichan css for the reason and dl link)
Step 4: Font size 21
Step 5: Line height 1.65 (I did everything with custom CSS which is in part 2 but I was lazy to change it)
Step 6: Writing mode: Horizontal
Step 7: Blur image: Off
Step 8: Continuous viewing mode.

YOU ARE NOT DONE YET! FOLLOW PART 2

ッツ Reader Setup: Part 2

Install the Stylus extension. Chrome Web Store
Now when you're on the ッツ Reader web page, click on the Stylus icon in the extensions toolbar.
Now click on the left end of the URL. So reader.ttsu.app or ttu-ebook.web.app is underlined. Not "/This URL". Now copy and paste this CSS and SAVE:

.book-content div, .calibre2 p {
    font-family: MS Mincho;
    font-weight: 900;
    margin-top: 0px;
    margin-bottom: 18px;
    line-height: 38px
}
.book-content div, .book-content p {
    font-family: MS Mincho;
    font-weight: 900;
    margin-top: 0px;
    margin-bottom: 18px;
    line-height: 38px
}
.book-content .calibre2 {
    font-family: MS Mincho;
    font-weight: 900;
    margin-top: 0px;
    margin-bottom: 18px;
    line-height: 38px
}
.book-content .calibre3 {
    font-family: MS Mincho;
    font-weight: 900;
    margin-top: 0px;
    margin-bottom: 18px;
    line-height: 38px
}
.book-content .calibre4 {
    font-family: MS Mincho;
    font-weight: 900;
    margin-top: 0px;
    margin-bottom: 18px;
    line-height: 38px
}
.book-content .calibre {
    font-family: MS Mincho;
    font-weight: 900;
    margin-top: 0px;
    margin-bottom: 18px;
    line-height: 38px
}
.book-content rt {
    font-family: Meiryo;
    font-size: 12px;
}
.md\:px-8{padding-left:12rem;padding-right   :12rem}
Allow me to explain the reasons for this CSS.
The default horizontal setup on ッツ is TERRIBLE.
In order to read with natural eye movement you need appropriate space between lines and optimal eye distance between lines.
The CSS I made just makes the text easier to look at so I can read with no fatigue.

How it looks

Image

If it doesn't look like this, there is something you did wrong!

Mouse side buttons and tips

I don't know about you, but I absolutely despise the default function of mouse side buttons being "front" and "back"
I reconfigured them (in my mouse software) for the "front" one to be AltDown, which is the Yomichan shortcut to jump to the next word in the scan results. I have the "back" button for Shift. This is so I can look up more comfortably. I KNOW that you can look up words with the mouse wheel, but I don't think it is as comfortable as using the side button mapped to Shift.
Also you can hold the mouse in your lap instead of having your arm reached out all day.
Also I often click the mouse wheel and scroll slowly when reading. It's just a habit at this point and I don't know if it's any better than just scrolling.

Shameless plug

I make everything for free (and intend to continue making everything free), but I would highly appreciate some Patreon subs.

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