Getting into Reading¶
Reading Japanese is CRUCIAL. It is important you learn how to read Japanese. Often you get people asking "Well can I learn Japanese without learning how to read it?". You can, provided you don't want to understand basic grammar and have a tiny vocabulary size after years of study.
With that said, it may seem difficult to learn how to read, after all there are like so much unique kanji on the page! Well yes, reading for the first time will always be painful, you just have to get through it and over time you will become more confident and better at reading. And if anyone is curious on how on earth you're supposed to find out how to read Japanese words and what they mean, just read on, there are certain tools that let you do this easily.
Before you start reading for real, it is important you have already worked through a pre-made Anki deck, such as Tango N5+N4 or Core3k and also a grammar guide such as Tae Kim or Cure Dolly, this is to make the process less painful as there will be more words you know. Second, I recommend also having prior listening immersion experience because 1. it prevents you from developing a bad accent and 2. it helps you parse sentences better when reading.
- Learning to read will always be painful in the start. You shouldn't wait "until you're ready" because you will never be ready until you start reading.
- It is not recommended you start reading without prior listening experience. I recommend that you have a feel of what the language sounds like before trying to reproduce the sounds yourself in your head (which is what you're doing when you are reading)
- Don't worry about not comprehending a sentence no matter how many times you read it, in other words, learn to tolerate ambiguity. Things will become clearer as you read more.
- If you hate reading books in general, you can always play visual novels or read manga, both of which are very good for reading.
- Your first light novel/book whatever will always be the most painful. Get through it no matter how painful it is or how long is takes you.
- Don't rush yourself. Take your time. Go at your own pace. You wouldn't want to burnout and end up never reading again or anything.
Learning how to read¶
As mentioned earlier, make sure you have an adequate vocabulary size (say, you've finished a starter Anki deck) and a grasp of Japanese grammar before reading, this will make things much easier.
Japanese subtitles are a good way to introduce yourself to reading, trying to read the subtitles can be challenging but fun, and it will also increase your comprehension of the show you're watching. Certain tools let you easily look up words in a dictionary. I recommend you use the Anacreon MPV Script paired with Yomichan.
Manga is probably the best way to get into reading without it being too intimidating as the way its written is similar to spoken Japanese, and assuming you're already quite familiar with that, it won't be much of a trouble getting used to. And if you're not yet familiar, you'll be familiar after reading manga and watching anime in Japanese.
Manga: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (yeah... as you can tell I'm not a manga reader)
As you can see, manga uses all 3 writing systems, hiragana, katakana and kanji, therefore manga can be a great way to practice your skills in all 3 fields. But how about looking up words? That's literally a picture isn't it? There's a new program called Poricom that makes looking up words in manga much easier. You can find it here For Android users you can use OCR Manga Reader. For iOS users you can use Kantan Manga Reader
Expect manga to be pretty hard for you at first, but over time it will smoothen out and get easier. You just need to read more. You just need to read a lot.
Even if you read like 100 manga, you still need to read novels since there will be words you still won't know a lot of words that are commonly used in written text.
Literary Japanese is not that hard as it sounds, it's only slightly different from spoken Japanese and will be easy to get used to. For reading light novels, I recommend using Yomichan, you can find a detailed Yomichan setup tutorial [here]
I seriously recommend you read novels on this site: Itazuraneko Old Library, sort by kanji count, usually 1,000-1,600 kanji count is a good, this just means how long the book is if you actually look at it. If you have an Android you should use Typhon Reader or Typhon改 if the other one does not work with your phone. There are little buttons you can click on the itazuraneko old library to download epubs to load into it. You can also visit the full epub list but warning: you need a good phone to load that page because there are a LOT of books! If you cannot find the book you want on Itazuraneko you can try looking on Boroboro. iOS users can just use the Books app with epub files.
Your first light novel will be extremely painful, but your second light novel won't be as painful. Expect a light novel to take a 1-3 months to finish reading when you're first starting out, it will get quicker overtime (I can finish a light novel in around 10 hours). Just read more, read a lot.
Reading scans or physicals like these is not recommended, because it is hard to look up words from it. Note: I am not against 縦書き, (vertical text), the image below is an example of a scan.
Novel: Hibike! Euphonium
Novel: Nichijou no Natsuyasumi
This is digital. Very important. I can select the text and use Yomichan with it.
Visual Novel: Angel Beats! -1st beat-
Visual Novels are very good if you hate reading books. It's helped supercharge my reading. It's similar to watching anime with Japanese subtitles. It is also good for making AnimeCards from and also serve as semi-listening semi-reading immersion.
I wholeheartedly recommend VNs for people that have attention span issues when reading novels.
Just make sure you have texthooking setup, you can find out how to do that here. To get good at reading visual novels, you just need to read more, you just need to read a lot
Don't worry about how much "kanji" you "know". You can start reading after you have enough listening experience, and have finished a grammar guide or something. That's all. Don't hesitate. Don't feel like you're "not ready yet" because you will never be if you don't start reading. Read more, read a lot, that's how you get good at reading. No hacks, no tricks, sorry.
Have fun immersing!