My new roadmap for Japanese - ForeKred

My apologies for the length of this post; I added to it over several days. I welcome any discussion about anything I mention here. (I would’ve liked to summarize my thoughts here more concisely, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re still working through your thoughts.)
disclaimer: Everyone has different ways of learning. Some of this is sharing my thoughts and some of this is just trying to convince myself.

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My new roadmap for Japanese

Starting from this feeling…

Reading Your First Novel


…I wanted to put down some thoughts on the current status of my journey, but also thoughts on learning a language in general.

My background:

  • studied Japanese for years (with classes and self-study = 10+ yrs. I’m slow)
  • JLPT: passed N3 in 2019, took N2 in Dec 2022 (but I probably failed it)
  • watched plenty of anime and J-dramas w/ english subs
  • read plenty of manga (not fully understanding, of course)
  • visited Japan several times
  • also, probably relevant here, I’m not an avid reader in any language

After taking the JLPT N2, I decided that I needed to revisit my study habits. I’ve done plenty of SRS vocab and SRS grammar, and I’ve read plenty of manga, and I can hold a conversation (albeit a little haltingly). But after taking the N2, I felt that I was underprepared for the test. I read several blog posts on what other people have done, and it seems that improving your reading skill is really key to reaching the next level (N2/N1 level). (Some annoying people say they passed the N2/N1 without studying, or passed with only 6 months of study, but if you read their stories carefully, they’re usually living in Japan and reading a whole bunch of books. So they actually did a lot of studying, just not in a strict traditional sense.)

youtuber passing N1 without 'studying'

This guy is one example of someone who (probably) passed N1 without “studying” but with lots of exposure by 1) living in Japan and 2) reading a lot. (“Studying” is in quotes because he did a lot of activities that took the place of traditional study.)
This also influenced my idea that studying for N2/N1 requires a different approach.
What the JLPT N1 was REALLY Like - YouTube

So, I started thinking more about how reading fits into the “study plan”. One conclusion that I have is that the way to study for N2/N1 is different than for N5/N4/N3 (as it probably should be).

the value of reading a book over studying a book

This blog made me think more about reading to get the gist, rather than reading to understand perfectly.
How to start reading books in Japanese – Inside That Japanese Book

For me, all the SRS apps have been a godsend for boosting my Japanese understanding. Before that, I’d been sorta stuck in an upper-beginner-level understanding of Japanese. Having the SRS apps for vocab, and later grammar, really boosted my understanding of everything. (I should also say that SRS works really well for me but maybe it doesn’t work well for everyone.) Soon after increasing my SRS vocab list to about 3,000 words, I took the N3 and I passed – not easily, but I passed.

Of course, on the heels of that success, I somewhat naively thought that if I continue on that trajectory, that I could pass the N2 without too much trouble. dun-dun-dunnnnn…
It didn’t go so well.
The higher you go, the vocab and grammar become more and more nuanced, and it becomes harder and harder to simply memorize the differences. (But that didn’t stop me from trying!)

But here’s where, in thinking about what to study and where to focus, I think I realized some things.
–There’s tons of advice out there on how to study, but it’s really mostly geared towards beginners and starting your language journey. The things to focus on when you’re a beginner are different than when you’re intermediate or advanced.
– Charts like this [below] give the wrong impression of the phases of studying a language. They make it seem like the study techniques at the beginning are the same as at the end. It doesn’t just keep stacking up forever.

charts: hours to fluency


image

CEFR and Guided Learning Hours
How long does it take to learn another language? (Part 4) – Self-Study English
Hours Needed to Pass JLPT - Interesting Comparisons between Levels
https://learnjapanesedaily.com/how-long-to-learn-japanese.html

I’ll give credit to wasabi-jpn for at least including this part: From B2 to C1 level, it’s a period of transition from “learn Japanese” to “learn something in Japanese.”
https://www.wasabi-jpn.com/how-to-learn-japanese/learning-flow-how-to-learn-japanese-from-scratch/#4

– I’ve come to the conclusion that, while these pictures are good for setting expectations of just how much work is ahead of you, things like studying vocab/grammar/kanji are just tools for the end goal of reading. You’re not studying vocab just to be able to recognize random words in a book – you’re studying it so that you can read a story (or a news article, or blog, etc). Having knowledge of vocab, grammar, and kanji just makes that next step of reading stories a little less painful (but it doesn’t totally eliminate the pain!).
– As far as the focus of study, I think these kind of charts should be modified like this…

my chart: steps to fluency

(I probably spent too much time making this look pretty)

The idea is:
– At the beginning, you learn tools for reading, but then you transition to learning through reading.
– Things like graded readers are there to help bridge the gap between zero understanding and understanding native material.
– Shaded gradients to indicate that there’s a blend and it’s not a sudden switch from one to the other.
– If you really had to, you could skip the lists and learn everything through simply reading++. Think about it – people could learn second languages even a hundred years ago – it was just more painful. (++ Everything for reading through reading, and everything for talking through talking.)
– I think there’s a parallel with conversation – that you can learn tools for conversation, but all those tools are just to help you have a conversation.

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Btw, the feeling in that sketch at the top is from me trying to jump from children’s manga and graded readers to a full-on light novel (時をかける少女) – I made it halfway through, trying to learn and understand every sentence, going at a pace of 2-4 pages per day. But after getting about halfway through, I just burned out and stopped. (This was in Fall 2022.)

Now, one trick that was actually useful to me was to include re-reading pages as part of my daily reading. I would start by reading 2 pages a day, and the next day, I would re-read the previous day’s 2 pages plus 2 new pages. This was surprisingly helpful, because the first day I would struggle through the text, but then the next day I would already understand the ideas and words and be able to read straight through those 2 pages, and then I could have a “success” each day before moving on to the new material – instead of slogging through only new material every day. (I got this idea from the internet, but I don’t remember where.) Of course, the problem that I ran into was that I chose a book where there were sometimes 5-10 new words per page. Really slows down the process. This year, I want step up in reading difficulty more gradually (using learnnatively’s handy-dandy level indicators). I’ve read in other people’s posts that learning 10-100 words per book is a good amount to learn, and that sounds much more doable. (I picked up about 300 words in the first half of 時をかける少女. :hot_face:)

I probably also need to work on putting aside the perfectionist mindset.

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Why do we have so much advice surrounding tools?

In today’s world, everything is quantified, standardized, and gamified to the point that we’re all used to having numbered goals in our daily lives. And having these numbers are a convenient way to see and measure progress. But the world wasn’t always that way – and people still learned new languages even hundreds of years ago. How is that possible, right? (being facetious, of course) Well, our learning hardware (our brains) hasn’t changed in the last 100 years, so if we wanted to, we could learn languages through only the methods of reading a lot and speaking a lot. And some people have built a lot of excitement around these “new” methods, such as AJATT and MIA and several youtubers, but really, it’s just the old-school methods with a modern spin to it. When you think of it this way, then things like studying vocabulary lists and grammar lists are really just tools to help you accomplish the big picture goals of reading and conversation. I think everyone gets caught up (me included) in trying to quantify and gamify everything so much, that when faced with the situation where there isn’t a clear status marker or checkpoint, it becomes really frustrating. I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion that no matter how much I study, reading books and having conversations will inevitably be frustrating, and there’s no way around it, but with more practice and time, it gets easier.

Another way to think about it, how many words will you keep memorizing before you’re comfortable enough to stop memorizing? Obviously, you don’t want to keep SRS’ing every single word even when you’re at the N1+ level with a PhD from Tokyo University. At some point, you have to have faith that you will learn words as they come, and if you don’t remember a particular word, then it wasn’t really important.

Now, that said, I think when starting out as a beginner, memorizing words is a great shortcut to gaining understanding fast. You could just learn words as you come across them like a toddler, but that would take forever! Why spend that time when you can SRS your way to large vocabulary in much less time? Personally, I found that SRS vocab was very useful for the first 2,000~3,000 words of the Core 6k words (on the iKnow app). And then ~3,000 thru ~5,000 gradually became less and less immediately useful.

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Other Thoughts

  • I tried using koohi.com before to study words ahead of, or at least in parallel to, reading books, but, even though I learned a lot of words, I found that it was taking too long to actually read the material.

  • I debated in my head what’s the best way to approach reading. I get the idea of extrinsic reading – to read for the sake of reading without worrying about the details – but the perfectionist in me has a hard time letting all those details pass by without digging into it. → Maybe a trick of reading is to create word lists but not feel obligated to study them with the books – with the assumption that I’ll re-read the same book in the future after studying the words and therefore it’s the 2nd time reading that there’ll be a payoff. There’ll be a “get the gist” payoff during the 1st time, and there’ll be a “I understood the nuances” payoff during the 2nd reading. (The key being that I will read books knowing that I will probably re-read those books more than once – at least for study purposes.)

  • I think the hidden message in the fanaticism of tools is that reading a native book or talking to a native speaker is scary. :anguished: :fearful: :cold_sweat: :sob:
    …But, of course, it’s doing the hard stuff in life that has the biggest payoff. :triumph: :trophy: :sunglasses:

  • Maybe another feeling that I’m fighting, with trying to read extensively, is the feeling that “I should be able to read Japanese by now!”. That’s a hard feeling to overcome considering how many years I’ve been exposed to Japanese, but I think (I hope) that by gradually stepping up difficulty level of reading that I’ll be able to overcome that feeling.

  • “I want to learn a language” and “I want to be fluent” are really too nebulous to be meaningful long-term goals. Everyone learning a language should have a more solid goal to anchor yourself to. Of course, part of the journey of learning a language is realizing what is actually your goal. It could be to read books, to talk to strangers, to live abroad, to enter university, etc, but something that is clear and obvious to anyone. And your goals can shift over time, but a goal is important to help you filter what’s important versus what’s nice to have. (My goals are basically to be able to read native books and to talk to my friends.)

  • Even though there’s a lot of good ideas within the sea of advice out there, sometimes it’s hard to tell which idea will work for you until you try it. I think that’s also why I keep thinking about what are the general guidelines for learning a language. It can’t be a checklist of things to do reach fluency. Many people give advice that sounds like “just do these 5 things…” (which I suppose is partly an effect of the incentive to make clickbait on the internet). So then, for me, I like my new idea of thinking of learning Japanese as just a few buckets, Reading Japanese and Speaking Japanese, and then all the tips, tricks, and tools fall in those general buckets. And if a particular tool is not working for you anymore, then move on and pick up another tool.
    sampling of internet advice:
    Intermediate Japanese Plateau: How to Conquer
    Learn Advanced Japanese: 10 Tips to Power Through Plateaus | FluentU Japanese
    NihongoShark

  • For whatever reason, seeing graphs of my progress is a super-motivator for me, so thank you learnnatively @brandon for adding those features! (I started making my own spreadsheet last year but your graphs are nicer than mine!)

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My Simplified Conclusions

  • If you want to read Japanese, practice reading Japanese.
  • If you want to speak Japanese, practice speaking Japanese.

– Everything else is just there to help make the transition easier.
– Knowing lots of vocabulary helps, but it’s not the end goal. Knowing lots of kanji helps, but it’s not the end goal. Knowing lots of grammar points helps, but it’s not the end goal. Reading is the end goal.
– Similarly, anime, podcasts, shadowing, music, radio, and TV help, but it’s not the end goal. Conversation is the end goal.

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New Habits/Goals for 2023

  • Read 20min everyday, no matter what – If you don’t want to read your novel, it’s okay – read a graded reader or a blog post or a food label, but read something.
    Build vocab lists as you go, but don’t feel the need to know every word by end of the first reading.
    Try to progress through the learnnatively level indicators.
  • Talk every week, no matter what – If you don’t talk with someone, at least do shadowing, but practice talking. (still refining this goal)

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Thank you for reading along.
=== おわり ===

7 Likes

Well, as someone who try to study for the N1 and failed, then said screw it and just read whatever I wanted for 6 months and then passed (with a good margin), I do agree that that method works.
(Still, the proper studying done before did make reading way more comfortable, so, indirectly…)

I did SRS my way through the N2, though (well, I read manga on the side as well).

That’s not a light novel, by the way, it’s a children book. I think that it makes it harder in some ways.

According to stats I got from myself, I stopped adding words to anki/SRS stuff around the 13k mark. (Not that I knew or even know now all those words).

I feel called :rofl:

Oof, that’s a hard relate.
It was so hard reading books after passing the N2 that I just gave up on that until days before my first attempt of the N1. It was such a surprise to realize that I could just read.
Which means that it would have been much more efficient to start earlier that that but… oh well.

That being said

Starting to read when it was easy to read was pretty nice, to be honest. (People should do whatever they want, that’s just how it felt for me).

Sounds good! Good luck!

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Rather than thinking in years, thinking in hours makes more sense, imo. Someone who studies hard for 6 months at 6 hours a day, will have ~1000 hours at the end of those 6 months.
Someone doing 2 hours a week over 10 years, will also have ~ 1000 hours.

Personally, I disagree with this. Speaking skills always lack behind our passive skills (reading/listening), but it doesn’t mean that one does not effect the other. Reading (or extensive listening) provides you with so much vocabulary and natural instinct for grammar usage and conocations, that I don’t see anyone becoming truly fluent without it. :face_holding_back_tears:

I do agree, however, that you also need to get your brain and mouth used to actually forming Japanese words/sentences. :skull:
(My personal experience with English was that I almost never had the chance to talk English outside of school (and I could barely string together 2 words), but I was reading and listening and writing… and at some point I needed to speak English and I suddenly could.)

Kanji without context are useless, imo. I had to learn all joyo kanji for university. I could give you at least 2 readings and 1 meaning for the majority of those kanji, but if I encountered them in the wild, oftentimes I would not be able to even guess at the meaning. I very strongly believe that kanji are best studied via vocabulary. (again, a reason why reading is so powerful) :+1:t2:

Good luck for 2023, your goals seem very doable. :smiling_face:

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I always love reading posts like this, as you can learn new methods that work for someone else that might also apply to improve your workflow.


This was a problem that I also faced. The perfectionist in me wanted me to know every single word and every single connotation in each phrase and each word. This made the process of reading so painfully slow that, in my opinion, started very late taking reading seriously.

I’d pick a book, and stay more than 10 minutes in a page, and that would be a crushing feeling that would prevent me to progress.

To certain extent, I’m experiencing this again with 本好きの下剋上~司書になるためには手段を選んでいられません~第一部「兵士の娘1」 | L31 , but now it’s not because that I have to know every single word and meaning, but more because of the increased level of what I used to read and the added difficulty of a lot of Kanji not having furigana. I really need to step my Kanji game fast.

This is how I've been crawling at 本好き 1 (Graph)

The speed has gone up recently, but it’s probably the fact that I’m getting used to the setting and that maybe those parts of the book are easier to comprehend.

Still looking at the start time, the remaining of the book and what I had in mind when I went in schedule/speed wise, is being quite crushing in my morale, but I’m still trying to slowly take chips at it.

This is very true. A lot of “experts” sell you their ultimate method, some of them sound insane, like the one you referenced passing N1 without studying, and to be honest I’m sick of such extreme expositions.

Most of the times these methods are presented as that they should work for everyone and that it’s the ultimate way of studying X language, not taking in mind that it might not work for everyone for a variety of reasons (for example location context, not being in Japan to be immersed).

I think is very important to try a variety of different methods and get a hold of what works and doesn’t work for you. I think also is very important to evaluate yourself with what you have been doing and see what areas need improvement or change. This is why I keep an extensive track of the tasks I do in the Japanese learning department, and I also track part of the results.

If anyone is curious, I go over way too extensively in the bunpro forums in a post similar to this. I had in mind posting it here too, but in the end I never went through it.

I’ve been doing this since a bit earlier than the start of 2023!
I have found that for me, the 20 minutes barrier is where, once I pass it, I feel comfortable to keep reading if I have the time. Sometimes though, you get burned if you keep going at the same book, so in the 23 days I’ve been going so far, I have had 2-3 days of misc reading.

I have tried going with two different books at the same time, but my brain is not ready for that. Is not something I have done previously in any language, so I don’t see how I though for one second I’d be able to pull that with Japanese.


Keep going at it! And if you feel like, keep sharing your progress / methods!

Posting a new post/update makes you reflect on what you have done until now, and what can you do to improve it, and as I said earlier in this TL;DR reply, I think it’s a very good investment of time.


I would have loved to pick up the books when they were already easy to read for me, but it felt like I’d never do it, because in my perfectionist mind, I’d have never been good enough.

But yes, people should do whatever they want and works for them. I still do recommend trying to start as early as possible, specially if consuming Japanese media is one of your end goals.

While this is an approach I take, as I record the time I invest every day, I think it’s also important to notice that at certain limit (varies by person) you stop being productive.

For example, when I add the tasks in my daily tracker, I could inflate the numbers easily, by saying “I’ve binged a whole season of anime without subs”. But would this be real even if I had put 10 hours on one day?. At some point you stop taking in new information/learning, and I think this applies with everything (watching, reading, writing…).

I think it’s important to track in actual time, but also I think it’s valid to think in calendar days.

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Ah, but the trick is that it took me 5 (?ish) years between N2 and that point. Going your way seems way faster (but in my perfectionist mind, that was not something I should trying before learning an arbitrary extra number of words).

Speaking of which, I guess it’s worth mentioning that I was using J-J cards (so I guess that it was some reading) for that period.

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I’m hear you. And that’s partly why I’m trying out just stepping my way up through levels – I’m hoping that will help make it “easy”. (But at the same time knowing that there will be some “hard” that comes along the way.)

:rofl:

Well, that’s noteworthy! Did you switch after N2 from J-E to J-J cards?

Interesting statement. Could you help me? How are you defining “children’s book”, “light novel”, and “novel”? (Maybe you’re thinking of 魔女の宅急便 ?)

I tend to think of them like this:
– children’s book = half pictures, half text, lots of furigana
– novel = no pictures, very little furigana
– light novel = a contrast to “novel”, a few pictures, might have furigana
(I think of 時をかける少女 as lighter than “novel”.)

According to different sources…

Side – one children’s book/manga I find really frustrating to try to understand every word is Doraemon – so much slang!

Well, sure, but at the same time, nobody plans to achieve 1000 hours by studying 30min/day for 40 years – the point is that thinking in hours make sense if the end goal is realized in a few months to a few years. While you’re young, it’s easy to dedicate 6 hours a day to studying. But if, in those 10+ years, you graduated high school, college, and grad school, started working full time, made japanese friends, made japanese enemies, and moved for work a couple times (you know, life)… it’s hard to think about counting hours. :man_shrugging:

Totally agree. That’s why I said it helps but it’s not a goal by itself (ie. it’s not useful without context). (btw, sorry you had to memorize all those joyo kanji!)

Technically two years later. I felt like I was making absolutely no improvement anymore, and my retention with cards was just garbage too.
So I googled around a bit and found the (now defunct) Jalup website, which advised to use J-J card as early as possible and also gave advice on how to make them.
That really boosted my progress, but that feeling also prevented me from trying other things since, well, it feels good so why stop?

1 Like

I’m going (like everyone in Japan) by publisher.

According to Wikipedia (the Japanese version at least), 時をかける少女 was published in “中学三年コース”. Literally “course for 3 year middle-school students”, because it was written as a complement for class. Since the target audience are children, it makes it a children book.

Light novels are light novels not because of their content or style, but because they are published under a light novel label (which, again, is not the case for 時をかける少女).
That being said, I sometimes submit requests for books saying that a novel is a light novel since, despite what the label says, the content is way closer to an actual light novel (especially ライト文芸 stuff; they even put the ライト in there!)

Edit: okay, children book is not the correct term (it felt strange anyway, since I would not describe teenagers around ~15 as “children”), it’s called “young adult fiction” according to wikipedia.

Edit2: Oh, also I just went and checked, children books covers the 0 to 10 age range (sometimes 12 for some publishers). I.e. up until the end of primary school. Beyond that lies the range of “young adult fiction”.

4 Likes

Yup. I think we’re in a agreement. :+1:

Cool. I wasn’t too far off in thinking of “light novel” as geared for middle- and high-school. :slight_smile:

2 pages per 10 min? Ouch.

yes, and yes. :+1:

My thought is to go with one book that you’re really into, and another book that’s just mental candy. So, most days you make progress on the harder one, but on the days that you’re too tired for it, you can still make “progress” with the easy one. (At least, that’s my strategy so far. :slight_smile: )

:+1::+1: .

That’s… true for a majority of light novels, I guess, but not all. Some even contain explicit depictions of sexual acts (and I don’t think those would be targeted towards actual minors, but what do I know).

The category I was talking about is called ジュブナイル(juvenile) 小説 in Japan (or Young Adult)

6 Likes

I get what you mean. I was just saying that if you start comparing yourself to someone else, comparing in hours is less… frustrating? Even if I compare myself to just my younger self, my younger self did not necessarily learn faster, but I literally had more time and energy to devote to studying.
So when I hear someone say stuff like “I became fluent in just a year”, I need details. :rofl:

hehe, thanks. ngl, it was kinda satisfying to know I could do it, but it sure wasn’t fun. There were literal weekends where I brute forced them into my brain and after a break of ~10 years, the only ones I still remembered were those that I had learned through vocabulary/reading. :face_holding_back_tears:

In English, book people usually also distinguish Middle Grade [i.e. grade 4 and older], which - I would argue - is pretty much the best literature age for beginners. The stories can be quite interesting but the language is not yet completely adult, though it’s also not as simplified as children’s lit.
In Japanese that’s probably 小学上級 or 中学 (which is why I always recommend checking out 青鳥文庫, つばさ文庫, 小学館ジュニア文庫, et al.)

The way natively uses the term “novel” just means “fiction geared towards adults”, imo - which is not really the correct definition. Something can be for kids but also a novel. Also, since the people requesting the entries also define the category, things are a bit wonky. (e.g. One of the essay books on my list is categorized as Manga. I would have put it under other, because it’s a manga essay, so about half the pages are essays that are illustrated with manga. :woman_shrugging:t2:)

Also, btw. re JLPT levels. I am not N2. I would probably pass N3 if I tried, but definitely not N2 but here I am happily reading away. Don’t let your JLPT level determine whether or not you are ready to read. :green_heart:

5 Likes

Reading books in that category is pretty much how I learned English myself, beyond the basics I learned (poorly) from school, so, that tracks.

I definitely disagree on that. There’s obviously no distinction between YA novels and “regular” novels.
To be honest, the distinction can be quite hard to grasp. For instance, my local library had one edition of 村上海賊の娘 一 | L41 in the YA section (the 文庫 one) and another in the “regular” section (the 単行本 one). They are not even consistent.
(Well, again, I think they are consistent in terms of labels, but the publisher aren’t consistent in assigning those :p)

For me, it was the other way around. Can’t read? I probably just need one more level.

4 Likes

I’m with Biblio on this one, I started reading really early (about 1 year of studying, maybe approaching an n4 level) and it was incredibly slow but really helpful. I was going at a pace of 3-5 pages in an hour on a children’s book I already knew in English, using Jisho to look up tons of words, and still didn’t have 100% comprehension. But it helped me see the words I did know in context really early on. (It took me 3 months to finish this one book, so it was a long project alongside my other studying.)

So while lots of people do well without reading until later, I wanted to offer my experience for contrast. I think the takeaway is that studying consistently, in whatever way works for you, is what’s important (but also books are fun)

7 Likes

The way I used koohi (or back then it was the previous version floflo) was to only learn frequency 3 or 4 words. Then look up the rest while reading if I felt like it was important for understanding. This way I didn’t have to slog through thousands of unique words. Nowadays I can learn all words contained in a book if it’s not too difficult, but for example fantasy books unknown freq. 1 words are still in the thousands. I don’t think it’s worth chugging through those.

I found koohi the most single biggest tool that enabled me to start reading books with relative ease and make progress.

I don’t think it’s that clear-cut. Reader average age has been rising and I’m sure the publishers know that. I found some stats that has some history also. For example, the average Bookwalker light novel reader in 2015 was 31.8 :person_shrugging:.

There was also another tweet that I can’t find now that placed many of the various magazines subscriber ages well over 20.

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Same with YA in the English-speaking world. YA is now sometimes already too adult for teens, because the publishers have “aged” the stories alongside the readers. :upside_down_face:

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Nice stats! It’s kinda funny that after 10 years, the readership is basically 10 years older :joy: People who grew up with light novel never stopped, I guess.
(Also, unrelated, but it was funny that the article put 住野よる in the ライト文芸 group, even though it’s fair).

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