When I really started getting into reading last summer, being able to just read a book in Japanese at all was quite novel, however recently I feel as though my current reading speed has been holding me back. I read the first 10% or so of 本好き along with the audiobook last week, and it really showed me just how slow my reading pace is, and now I’m starting to feel that my pace is making reading less enjoyable than it could be.
Since then, I’ve been thinking of possible ways I can target and improve my reading speed beyond obviously just “reading more”, and so I’ve been doing some searching around the internet for answers. I stumbled across some literature on “repeated reading in Japanese” that seems quite interesting, however the studies on Japanese students specifically all seem to have used graded readers. There is also at least one follow up paper from a few years ago that tracked readers across the difficulty spectrum of the PDO (tadoku) graded readers, however the sample size of students reading at the hardest level was only three people.
I haven’t managed to find anyone online documenting their experience attempting repeated reading on harder materials such as light novels, so I’ve been considering trying it on myself and documenting the results. My candidate for this would be GJ-部, as it has an audiobook recording, it’s a book I’ve both read and listened to before, and most importantly, it’s broken up into many bite sized chapters that are meant to resemble the structure of 4-koma manga, allowing me to treat the chapters as easily benchmark-able passages.
Besides what I’ve mentioned though, does anyone has any strategies they know about or have used to improve their reading speed?
No, I’m afraid I’m as vanilla as they come. “Just read more” has been my mantra for a while. I will say, though, be wary of
confusing skimming with reading quickly once you get to that point. I’ve noticed as I read more it’s easier and easier to start not reading each individual word, which, while it does contribute to faster reading, also comes with the risk of my still-amateur brain misreading things.
Nothing worse that being horribly confused with a sentence, asking about it, and the answer being something incredibly basic…
Reading fluency involves being able to read silently with good comprehension at a
speed of around 250 words per minute.
Reading fluency develops through reading lots of easy familiar material. In English,
there are speed reading courses which contain texts that are written within very
controlled vocabulary levels (1,000 words, 2,000 words) and which do not contain
difficult grammatical constructions (see Sonia Millett’s web site) (see Activity 6.4). These
texts are all of the same length and are accompanied by comprehension questions.
When you read each one you keep a record of your reading time, and record the
time and comprehension score on graphs. You do twenty pieces of reading like this,
completing about two or three each week. By doing such a course, you can increase
your reading speed by at least 50%, and you may even double your reading speed.
Speed reading courses like these do not result in super-fast reading, but they result in
reading speeds which are close to those of native speakers, at around 250 words per
Another way to increase reading speed is to read very easy material. If the language
you are learning has graded readers (unfortunately not many languages beside
English do), then you can read texts which are written at a very easy level with strict
If easy written material is not available, then reading speed can be increased by doing
Activity 6.3: Repeated reading
Repeated reading involves reading the same material at least three times, each time trying to increase the speed at which it is read. Repeated reading can be done while reading aloud, or while reading silently. It is a good idea to keep a record of the time taken for each reading.
If repeated reading is done while reading aloud, then a reasonable goal is a reading speed of around 150 words per minute. If repeated reading is done while reading silently, then a reasonable goal is a reading speed of around 250 words per minute.
When doing repeated reading it is important that the material being read is understood. Reading fluency must involve comprehension.
Activity 6.4: Speed reading
A speed reading course typically involves a set of twenty passages of equal difficulty, each followed by a set of multiple-choice comprehension questions based on the passage. The reading passages are written within a controlled vocabulary so that you will not meet any unfamiliar vocabulary. You choose a passage, note the time or start a timer, and quietly read the passage trying to maintain a reasonable speed. When you reach the end of the passage, note the time you have taken to read it and then turn the passage over to answer the comprehension questions. When answering the questions, do not look back at the passage. Then get the answer key and score the answers to the questions. The time to read the passage is converted to words per minute using a table and this speed is entered on your speed graph. Your comprehension score is entered onto your comprehension graph. All of this takes only a few minutes.
Then a couple of days later read a different text measuring speed and comprehension, until eventually all twenty texts have been read.
Speed reading courses like this will help you increase your reading speed by 50% and maybe even double your reading speed. The aim is to reach speeds at around 250 words per minute with comprehension scores of around 7 or 8 out of 10.
I am mirroring eefara’s concern about skimming. We do not fully read things in languages that we are native or near-native in. We read sentences as a whole not every single word. Our brains don’t need every single word or letter. It can fill in a lot of gaps. It’s a type of skimming.
When you are learning a language you don’t want to skip over things. A native speaker can probably see kanji only and get a basic idea what the sentence is about - the more input you have, the more your brain knows how words usually go together and in what context. So, while still in the learning phase, audiobook speed is probably about right. We are more careful about reading every word if we have to speak out loud - which is also why the speed is so much slower. We have to process what we read and then output it again.
10k characters per hour seems to be a generally agreed on good speed for an intermediate learner, if they are reading on their level.
Regarding repeated reading: There is no harm in trying, if you want, but I don’t think it works, unless you keep reading only that author. Because imo, it will only help with that particular writing style not reading in general.
I have largely been doing the “read more” approach, and I’m not sure it has increased my reading speed by an obvious amount. I read at about 25 pages an hour, and I don’t think that’s much different from what it was five years ago. The year I set myself a goal of 50 books in a year I hit that goal not by raising my reading speed but simply by putting in more hours.
My subjective impression is that what slows me down is sentences with words I only sort of know (as opposed to knowing 100%). But as usual with subjective impressions it could well be wrong.
Wow, great responses so far! Just to be clear, I’m also in the “read more” camp as well, but I don’t think there’s any harm in trying possible targeted studying strategies on the side, hence the thread.
This is definitely something I want to be mindful of. My hope is to bring my reading speed in line with what would be considered normal for a native speaker, but not to do “speed reading”. In the study posted (and it’s follow up) they place an emphasis on improved reading speed in relation to comprehension.
Thank you for that excerpt, it’s reassuring to know that this is an existing practice. I’ll also definitely check out shin kanzen, if not for the reading speed then just to see if there are any good insights to be had.
I totally get the concern, and it’s something I’m trying to keep in mind so I don’t trick myself into thinking I’m making improvements.
Currently, I read at around 0.5 - 0.8x speed compared to the audiobook for 本好き, which is part of what has sparked my interest in improving my reading speed. I found it almost impossible for my eyes to follow along at the pace the audiobook was moving at.
Part of this is most likely that I tend to start subvocalizing without realizing when reading Japanese (and maybe just in general) regardless of the content or difficulty, which slows down reading a lot in any language.
This is a good point actually; I’m unsure as to if the graded readers used in those studies would have a more realistic level of variety, will keep this in mind when setting up the test for myself.
At my Japanese school, my teachers would often tell students to just scan/skim and no Japanese person reads every word when reading and the students would always get mad.
But really, I have even wondered because anytime I show something to a Japanese person they just scan it really quick and never read it carefully. I have had many times where I want to check something and the Japanese person just skims it, so then I have to stand there and say something like… well no it doesn’t say that, can you check it again? Then they will read it more carefully and come to a different conclusion.
One thing that helped me a lot is learning grammar well and using ANKI to study JLPT N1-N3 grammar points. Eventually, all the grammar seeps in and you can parse the sentences automatically and then it is just the endless war against never ending vocab.
Just my 2 cents, but that’s a difficulty issue. If it were sentences were you recognize the kanji, grammar, vocab easily, your brain is able to follow. Your eyes are slowed down by your brain having to figure out what you are looking at. By the time it has figured it out, the audiobook is already on the next sentence. I don’t know if you have any really easy books where you have a recording available. That would be a better measure, imo. 本好き is intermediate if not advanced reading material.
We all do that in our native language. At least, as far as I am aware. If we don’t read for pleasure but for information gathering skimming is good enough 90% of the time. Not everyone is a good skimmer, though. The amount of times I had colleagues ask me how I knew something and me saying “It was written in that e-mail everyone got.” is astounding.
Also, if you’re trying to live in Japan then skimming is a vital second-language skill to pick up. There is so much text you’ll encounter and need to understand enough to identify whether it’s something you need to care about and pull the key points from, and the world doesn’t usually stand still long enough for you to treat each one of these as a half-hour reading comprehension exercise. This is why the JLPT includes a question which is this sort of information-retrieval task. Eventually your reading speed and ability catches up enough that you can rely a bit less heavily on skimming.
I think my reading speed tends to pick up as I get more familiar with a writer’s style. Some authors are also more immediately accessible - Keigo Higashino is an excellent choice for breaking into novels in my opinion! I braved my longest Japanese novel (500+ pages) because it was by him, so I knew I would definitely finish it it definitely helps that he has a very pacy writing style, but also his vocab and grammar is accessible and I could read pages without lookups. Lookups always slow me down hugely so unless a word is blocking my comprehension I have a tendency to guess it and move on
I don’t think that’s really a problem. I subvocalize and found myself reading faster than the audiobook, which is why I don’t really read and listen at the same time anymore. I think subvocalizing is fine in books, where you want to engage with the story, but skimming is great for information collection.
But then if you only read easier books where you don’t see those harder kanji and grammar, you won’t get faster reading those specific things . So it’s important to read difficult stuff as well. Like I think there is this delay for some harder words, where I know the reading/meaning, but it just takes longer to retrieve as a rarer word. You just have to see those specific words more, I feel.
I think easier content is great for finding that headspace and comfort in the language, so that when you read difficuld stuff, you can only focus on that.
Yes, but I was talking about setting a benchmark. I am a fast reader in English and German, but if you put a physics textbook (etc.) in front of me, my reading speed will be very slow. I would not use that as a benchmark.
If you want a benchmark, you need to use material that you can very comfortably read (both from grammar/vocab/kanji used and size of font/spacing).
Depending on the text difficulty, my speed ranges between 5k and 15k per hour. This actually helps gauging if something is within my level or if I am stretching myself too far.
Though I would argue even this is not an issue of difficulty, more so that the goal and type of book is so different. You are not trying to learn or memorize when reading novels. On a side note, that’s why I don’t like those reading speed tests, where they make you memorize details. That doesn’t feel very practical or applicable (at least for reading for pleasure).
Yeah I guess measuring is hard . I feel like the what slows us learnerns down the most for a long time is just seeing those unknown words/kanji…
I’ve actually been having a far easier time with 本好き than I would have imagined in terms of language comprehension, been finding I only need to look up a few words every page, and since I’m reading digitally I can use yomichan for that. I’ve also been able to follow along at 0.8x consistently, and I don’t feel as though I have to rush to read it. If i had to place a guess as to why, I think it’s that I am not used to parsing Japanese in “chunks” of words like I would in English, and so my eyes are trying to make many small jumps along the text instead of the much larger and less frequent jumps that native readers would make in their L1.
I’m sure there’s a few 角川文庫 type books I wouldn’t be bored to death with, but in general I don’t like the idea of sacrificing compelling content for readability. I’m more interested in finding ways to do targeted practice to improve reading speed in general than trying to diagnose my specific issue.
This makes me think of how I read jp<>jp definitions and also search results when I’m googling in Japanese. My reading speed there is so fast because my eyes are just bouncing to get the gist. I couldn’t / wouldn’t read most books like that though as it’s simply not enjoyable and I’d lose too much.
I may have done it in sections of books I found painfully boring though
My own experiences with reading, I have re-read a few of the books I have which might be classed as graded readers since it is textbook Japanese but it’s the ミラーさん novels which are in full Japanese without any English. I have read the red one about 7 or 8 times by now and the blue one around 3 so far.
I did find that on repeated readings of these, I improved speed and understanding of what I’d read without having to look things up. I have also found that if I read through a chapter first looking up what I don’t know then going back over it I do tend to have improved speed and understanding the second time around.
I did try this with キノの旅 book 1 and Zoo book 1 (by 乙一) for the first chapter or so and found that it did help me get into the swing of things and understand the author’s writing style as well as picking up the sort of vocabulary needed for that particular chapter which also helped with improving reading speed. As far as I can tell for myself though, I do need to be enjoying or at least invested in the story or my speed slows down to a snail’s pace regardless.
I don’t think there’s a quick way to do it though, I think it is just read more and increase your understanding and vocabulary level for the things you want to read