Apologies in advance: TL:DR: this is a reading journey blog.
First off, a bit of background.
Since joining Natively less than a month ago, I’ve actually read more in that time than throughout the last 2 years of my active and continuous study of Japanese. I’m a slow learner but I used a lot of the first year trying to find the best textbooks for me to learn from while self studying as well as getting to understand how I actually learn best. I started with Japanese from Zero, got to book three and got stuck. I just couldn’t get my head around the grammar being taught. I then picked up Genki nearer the end of my first year as it’s one of the best resources suggested for learning from, got half way through and got stuck again with the grammar.
Early my second year I switched to Minna no Nihongo and found the grammar to be easier to understand because I wasn’t learning it in English, I was understanding it in Japanese. It was slow to start but the immersion was helping me immensely both with grammar understanding and with my reading speed. Now I’m a lot more in-tune with myself, so I know that immersion works best for me and I learn better from context than from complex grammar explanations.
Now the reason for this post;
I want to write a record of my thoughts and experiences of my journey from textbook sentences into native level reading and the challenges I’ve come across on the way. The last year I’ve read news posts from NHK easy news, stuck to the very short 1 & 2 page short stories in Short stories for beginners
and completed all 9 of the Minna no Nihongo 初級 set. I’ve also reviewed each book at least once a few months after completing it to see if I’ve improved on my understanding as well as pick up more of the vocabulary I’ve forgotten as I’m not using anki or anything to learn the vocabulary, just context (and Wanikani for the kanji because it’s working).
So, onto the real stuff:
Since joining Natively I started trying out the free graded readers to test my Vocabulary knowledge and understanding of the basic grammar. Most I was able to read or understand from context (a few really low level ones I had to look up many words - Rock Paper Scissors, I’m looking at you) but even the high level ones I found were simple enough for me to understand the gist of without much looking up of words and most of the look ups were to understand how to pronounce the kanji, not what the word actually meant. Real confidence booster that. I also noticed kanji I knew more often than I thought.
Across the last 3 weeks on 4-5 separate days I read all of the free graded readers and found my reading speed vastly improved when I understood but suffered if I didn’t understand the grammar, even if I understood the words. I then started on the e-book graded readers of my own (picking up a few more from recommendations on the main site) and the Olly Richards “in 30 days” series. 4/5 of those I’ve read though I have been reading more than one chapter a day (Oops) just because I enjoyed the story (the answer look ups are all out of sequence in the e-book and rather frustrating to match up). I stopped the Keigo one because I was struggling with the higher level from the mid way point and not enjoying it, I’ll go back to it at a later date. I also re-read ミラーさん book 1 and then read book 2 across a few days without looking anything up and found I understood most of it or could pick it up from context which was an awesome feeling.
My goal for the remainder of this year
is to read through the rest of my e-book graded readers and start the Read Real Japanese series again, I stopped it because I wasn’t understanding it but I still use the audio to listen to. After that, I’d like to transition onto native level content, starting with キノの旅 and ズー by 乙一 before tackling some longer short stories.
I’ve decided to use a stepping stone type approach but use the shorter but more challenging content for intensive reading while using longer and easier content for extensive reading. Hopefully the mix of both will help me to get to a stage where by the end of next year, I’ll be comfortably reading much higher native level content and be able to understand more without having to look most of it up.
My intent for this post
is to use it to document the books I read from now along with my thoughts and experiences for the journey. Hopefully my experiences will help others and I’ll also be able to post a little review of each book I read incase anyone who reads this wants to know more about the books.
For anyone that’s stuck with me this long, thank you for reading
And good luck with your own language learning journey.
Edits: spelling corrections and fixing hidden content.
Thanks That’s a good shout on the title, will get that updated.
I really want to be reading the more difficult stuff but I’m just not ready yet so these small victories are a massive motivation boost knowing that hopefully sooner that I think, I’ll be ready to start tackling more difficult stuff. Certainly didn’t think I’d be ready even for some of the more difficult graded readers when I read them.
I know I only wrote this a few days ago but just wanted to write an update after starting to read my first Manga - ナルト 卷ノ一.
Completed chapter 1 of 7 (56 pages - approx 3 hours total split into two sessions)
I tried reading this near the beginning of original lock down 2020 and found I understood very little of it (a word or two here and there) even though I’d previously read the English version of it and using a dictionary didn’t help.
After reading the first chapter, there are still sections I’ve taken a guess at then checked in the English version of it to see if I’ve understood it but most of it I’ve understood the gist of and some sections I’ve understood everything or almost everything either from knowledge or from context with very few look ups of words.
Pretty proud of myself for this even though it might be a small step in the sea of Fluency.
Finished ナルト 卷ノ一. I’ve read a chapter a day since I completed chapter 1 (approx 56pages), approximately 20-25 pages for each chapter depending on which chapter. There’s only 7 in this volume.
Although I understood/ got the gist of a lot of the first chapter and most of the second and third chapters through knowledge and context, I found the subsequent chapters to be difficult to understand because of my vocabulary and grammar level. Best laugh is the ninja vocabulary that I’ve not studied was all very well understood, it was everything else I struggled with.
I’ll revisit this at a later date possibly for intensive reading before starting the second volume as I was reading this extensively both to check my level and my general understanding without looking up the vocabulary/ grammar I didn’t know. It gives me a bench mark so I can check my progress when I read it for a third time further down the line.
Over all thoughts:
I like Naruto, I’ve watched several episodes of the anime years back (episodes 1-17 iirc) when I got a few volumes of the Manga in English (volumes 1-9). It was the first anime series other than Pokémon and Digimon that I watched, and the first anime I ever watched in Japanese (didn’t like the English dub voice overs so watched the subbed version).
It’s one I’ll continue to read though most likely at a slow pace since the full set for me is about £300+ not including delivery, so I’ll probably either hold off and buy the set as one early next year or slowly build up the collection if I can’t get a full set in decent condition at a semi decent price.
I’ll most likely re-read this using intensive reading in a few months once the second book arrives as I’ve more graded readers to get through first.
I found an article a while back about Learning to read in Japanese to help you get from graded readers to reading native level content. There’s a good variety of genres included in the content advised and even suggestions for online/ digital as well as physical. I do prefer a physical book but sometimes digital is quicker especially for helping with grammar and vocab look ups.
Step 1: graded readers and easy NHK
was to start with graded readers or easy NHK news articles. So I decided to tackle both which I’ve pretty much done for the last 6-8 months by using either the short story books I have or reading NHK easy news articles, but even in that time, I hadn’t actually read much outside of the reading articles in my textbook. I could still understand most of the stuff I was reading but something still felt like it was missing.
What I changed recently
Over the last 3-4 weeks I’ve really ramped up my reading, at one point I went through all of the free graded readers across about 3-4 separate days and then progressed back onto the short story books and guided reader books (similar to graded readers but they have grammar explanations for any new grammar points that they haven’t covered already and don’t stick to the JLPT levels for grammar used). I found the guided reader books way more helpful than the short stories that just have a vocab list in them as the grammar was explained in context along side the vocab so made more sense to me.
My next books to read before starting step 2
I’ve decided that I’m going to change things up again and switch onto longer or more difficult stories like this, this, this and this before I try to tackle the Read real Japanese books (this one and this one) again (which is step 2 of the article above) and hopefully my understanding for how best to tackle these will have improved.
I’ve certainly improved in understanding my own process and what works best for me, but also figured out half my issue with reading in Japanese outside my comfort zone is lack of confidence in myself and my ability to improve if I just put in the time and effort like I have done for the rest of my journey so far. I may be slow compared to where I want to be and I may not be as fluent as I’d like but I’m still improving and I’m a lot further along compared to where I was a year or two ago (or even longer since I’ve been studying on and off for several years).
They’re easy enough to use, both having an essential words vocabulary list after the stories, a list of names in the first chapter or just before, and questions after each chapter to test your comprehension. They differ in that Spoken Japanese made simple is one story split into 30 chapters that are relatively short (a page to 2 pages per chapter) and should be read one chapter per day whereas Japanese short stories contains 8 short stories, each split into 3-4 chapters of approx 4-7 pages per chapter and this one also includes a short summary in Japanese after each chapter to make sure you get the gist of it.
Which type I prefer and why
So far, although I’ve only completed 3 of the stories, I enjoy the longer chapters better than the short 1-2 page chapters. When reading these, I’ve read the chapter extensively first to test how much I can glean just from that, then switched to intensive reading if I’ve not understood much or not enough from it. The first chapter tends to be most difficult so I re-read it in full using intensive reading, then I find the next chapters get to the stage I only need to read parts of them intensively to check my understanding.
With the longer chapters I feel that even if the first chapter is a struggle for the grammar and vocabulary I don’t know, it gives me a solid ground to start from when reading the other chapters of that story. I also get a greater sense of achievement from completing a short story of 15 or so pages than from completing the “in 30 days” series stories.
I’m hoping that this insight, into how the longer chapters and intensively reading the first chapter has helped me so far, will transfer across when I switch to reading light novels and longer books. I’m hoping that if I spend some time intensively reading the first few chapters of those kinds of books then switch to extensive reading, it’ll give me a better start and greater understanding overall.
It’s been a while since my last post and due to unforeseen circumstances, I’ve been unable to study properly or read since shortly after the last post. I’ve kept up with my wanikani reviews but failed most of them, though I have been burning a lot of older vocabulary and Kanji through recognition. I’ll be out the game for a few more days but hoping to get back on track soon.
The first 18 light novels of キノの旅 arrived yesterday. So syked to start those (which are the next step after the Read Real Japanese series). The 19th book is on the way and then in a few months I’ll order the remaining 4 I’m missing to complete the set. My intention with those is to work through the first book or few intensively then to read the rest extensively once I’ve got a feel for them.
Need to get myself back into a rhythm with the short stories first and get those completed then work on the Read Real Japanese series before I start キノの旅 though.
It’s been a little over a week since my last update.
What I’ve done this last week
So far I’ve re-done 3 chapters of Minna no Nihongo (chapters 26, 27 and 28) which I don’t remember much of so might need to go through them again, I’ve completed 2 chapters of a short story book which I was hoping to get a little more done but haven’t, and I also reset my Wanikani level to 0 (I was failing every review so decided enough was enough and I’d restart completely with a different tactic to see if it helps me better this time, we’ll see how that goes).
Reasons for my hiatus
My studying took a nose dive due to health concerns over the last few weeks (I’ve just recently been diagnosed with asthma since my last update and I’ve been coming to terms with that) as well as having a few additional things to sort through over the last 3 weeks as well.
What I’m doing now and next steps
I’m working through the short story book above then I’m still going to be working through the other short story books advised previously before starting on the Read Real Japanese series. Since I’ve now got 18 of 22 Kino’s Journey light novels, I’ll be buying the last 4 of them soon as those will be the next step after the Read Real Japanese series.
Slowly but surely I’m still working my way through things and I haven’t given up on my plan. It just might take a bit longer than originally intended to get to where I want to be. Better late than never
Reached level 3 on Wanikani again. Decided this time to guru all items for one level before starting the next. So first I guru all radicals, then guru all Kanji then guru all vocabulary before moving to the radicals of the next level.
I’ve read another chapter of the short story book I’m working through right now and I’ve also started listening to the audio files for Read Real Japanese: fiction (the audio is super fast to me but actually normal speed speech).
To finish the short story book then re-do the grammar for those three chapters of Minna no Nihongo before trying to get back into studying properly. Once the short story book is completed (hopefully by the end of October at the latest), I’ll start on the next one from the list.
I think it’ll be closer to February before I can start on キノの旅 at this rate as I’ve got several short story books to complete first. I’ll be ordering the last few キノの旅 light novels as of next month so I’ve the full set before I start on them. I’m hoping this is me starting to get back on track after my hiatus.
Since the last update, not much has changed. I’ve been keeping up with my new plan for Wanikani and I’ve been continuing to try to read a chapter every day (or as much as I can of one) of Intermediate Short stories in Japanese by Olly Richards. There have been a few days where instead of this I’ve read one of the new tadoku free books that have been released since I previously completed them or I’ve read something online instead. I’ve not done more of MNN textbook yet but thinking it may be best for me to go over the 3 chapters I have done already before continuing.
I’ll continue working through Wanikani as I have been doing as it seems to be helping and I’ll continue working through Intermediate Short stories in Japanese by Olly Richards trying to complete a chapter a day if possible. There are only 3 stories with 3 chapters each left to read so I’ll have that completed in little over a week tops. Once that’s completed I’ll make a start on the next book on my list: Intermediate Japanese short stories by Lingo Mastery. Again, I’ll be trying to complete one chapter per day. This one has longer chapters but each chapter is one story. There are only 10 chapters so it’ll be done in just over a week as well.
My MNN progress has been pushed back quite a bit, now looking at beginning of April for completion whereas before it was expected around the end of the year, beginning of next year. Hopefully that will give me enough time to get the next set and if not, I’ve still got Genki and Integrated approach to Japanese to work through though the immersion from MNN has been working best for me learning through.
I still want to start キノの旅, and February should be enough time to get my head around the other books listed above before starting it. Last 4 light novels of the series are on the way and I’ll work through the whole series as well as ず- 1 & 2 in between once I’ve read RRJ. That should give me a decent core to work from before moving onto step 4 of Learn Japanese by reading and moving onto more difficult native level short stories.
I’ve not read much in the last 10 days. Tried to read something most days but not always able to. I’ve attempted to read short chapters at a time but found some days even that is too much to fit in. I’ve noticed I’m kind of starting to go off the short story book I’m reading but unsure if that’s due to the stories not grabbing my attention, or if it’s due to the vocabulary being too difficult with too many words I don’t know. Still working my way through Short stories in Japanese by Olly Richards. I’ve got 2 stories left, 3 chapters each, and I’ve got 2 and a as half pages of the last chapter of the third last story to finish.
Thoughts on what’s next:
Although I’m not really enjoying the current short story, I’m determined to finish it and complete the other two in the book before moving onto the next book. Haven’t yet decided if I’m going for the Penguin parallel text, the Short stories for Language learners or Reading Japanese with a smile next. After those it’ll be on to Read Real Japanese series. I’m hoping I can start those before the end of the year but not sure that’ll happen. I’m still moving in the right direction though.
I’ve not yet got back into MNN textbook but hoping to start that again tomorrow. Decided I want that completed then I’ll redo the exercises again to check my progress just like with the first one. After I’m where I want to be regarding MNN, I’ll go through Genki and then progress on to the next set of textbooks using them to supplement my reading as well as give alternative perspectives on the grammar and new exercises for trying to cement the vocab and grammar into my head through meaning as well as usage.
I’m still doing my Wanikani in the new method I’ve found quite useful so far. We’ll see how that progresses as time goes on.
I’m hoping to post an update approximately once a fortnight, or once a week if I feel I’m getting a lot done in that time. I may also use this for reviews of certain books or may start a separate page once I start reading properly.
After finishing the intermediate Japanese short stories book, the next step is to read through Japanese short stories for language learners which, from what I could see, has some more traditional stories in it. There’s another book after that before I start reading Read Real Japanese series.
I’ll continue working through these over the next few weeks or so and hopefully add my textbook studying back in once my reading has settled back into a routine. I can still read while on breaks at work so even if time at home is spent studying from textbooks, I’ll still get some reading in on a daily basis.
Thoughts so far:
I’ve noticed while reading that some of the stories in the same book are super simple and I can understand them without any issues, some I understand vaguely but need to look up a few key words (though I can understand the gist of the story without them) and others I barely understand at all even though they are all roughly the same level. I’m hoping that as time goes on I’ll understand more and more as I’m reading without having to stop and look things up as much. That’s the plan anyway.
I’ve focused more on reading over the last few months so I think after the new year, I’ll dial back a little on reading unless it’s while listening to the audio book at the same time, just so I can bring my listening skills back up to scratch. Also hoping that at some point next year, I can look at getting a native Japanese tutor to practice speaking with so I can improve my speaking skills, and I may look at asking them for help improving my writing skills too.
For the last two weeks I’ve focussed on trying to read every day if I can. The last 3 days I’ve also been focusing on trying to get back into my studying though I know that once I get to the end of the textbook, I’ll more than likely have to re-read the grammar at least another once or twice before I move onto the next steps.
My main focus at the moment is trying to get back into studying a chapter of MNN a week, which includes the listening, reading and writing exercise books for that weeks chapter as well as reading every day.
I’ve got this book to finish which I should be able to finish by tomorrow since I’ve only a few pages left in it then I’ve 5 other books which I would really like to finish this side of Christmas (but that’s unlikely to happen if I’m studying more and reading about the same as I am now, alongside all the stuff in the run up to the holidays).
After that, I’ll be making a start on my first native Japanese light novel series キノの旅 which I’m really looking forward to reading. Still waiting on the last 3 books to arrive but got the rest of them so can definitely make a start once I’m ready. I know it will be a struggle to start with and I’ll be spending more time looking stuff up than reading but hoping that as I progress through them, I’ll get better at reading those and looking up less grammar and vocabulary as I read. I know that after reading those, my next book will be difficult still but at least this should give me enough of a boost that I’ll be able to progress.
Hopefully by this time next year I’ll be well on my way to reading native level content and have completed my current text books enough to have most of the grammar and vocabulary from what I’ve read become second nature, similar to what’s happened so far with the grammar and vocabulary from the first set of MNN textbooks.
I’ve been reading through Japanese folktales for language learners over the last week. I’ve found most of the stories to be a bit above my current level so I’m able to understand full sentences in some parts, parts of sentences in those I don’t fully understand and words or kanji in the parts I barely understand. I’m finding the same kanji or phrases popping up every so often , which I never noticed with the other book. So far I’ve read 14/22 and most have only been a few pages long. Some have larger vocabulary lists afterwards which I’ve read through but think this is another book I’ll put on my review list. I’ve also been continuing with MNN set of which I’ll review again in it’s entirety once I’ve completed it.
I should have this book finished by the end of the week as I’m reading 2-3 of the short stories per day atm. Once this is finished there’s Reading Japanese with a smile and the penguin parallel text to read as well as the bonus Story from Olly Richards short stories in Japanese before I move on to the Read Real Japanese series of books.
I’m hoping that once I’ve done what I need to and have completed the books on the list, that I’ll be able to make a start on the キノの旅 series since the last of them arrived a few days ago.
I enjoy reading folktales, myths and legends and already knew a few of the stories from the 22 contained in the book. They got progressively more difficult as I went through them and I found that I understood a little less of each story without looking stuff up so think I may try going through them again further down the line. One thing I did like was the questions and the vocabulary/ grammar lists because I find that the questions help me to know I’ve understood the story even if I haven’t read the English version of it (I was skipping most of the English versions unless I was stuck or wanted to check if I understood correctly, then I’d read the sentences I needed to understand before heading back to the Japanese version.
The vocabulary/ grammar lists are helpful for picking out certain grammar or vocabulary as it is meant to be read in the context of that particular story.
I liked the fading out of the furigana as it helped me to lean on it less and less as time went on and it also let me see what kanji I knew already or had learned from reading the previous stories.
Although this book had discussion questions in it, I don’t yet feel confident enough to write up my thoughts in Japanese and don’t currently have anyone I can discuss it with who may have read the book but will maybe use them at a later date on my Journaly page I use for writing practice.
Having finished this book and having looked at the Penguin parallel text and Reading Japanese with a smile, I’ve actually decided to instead switch to Read Real Japanese Fiction since this seems to be the lowest natively level of the 3 and it won’t require me to use a dictionary or app to find the readings of the kanji since they are always shown the first time in each story with furigana. First though, I’ve the bonus e-book story from Olly Richard’s Short stories in Japanese to read before I start the Read Real Japanese fiction.
Thought’s on my reading progress and what comes after:
I’ve noticed that my reading level is getting better and quicker but I’m translating only when I don’t understand what I’ve read. Otherwise I’m understanding it directly from the Japanese instead of translating and then understanding. I’m hoping that means that I’m internalizing the grammar and vocabulary but we’ll see how that continues.
I’ve also noticed that where previously I was enjoying the textbook exercises better than reading actual graded readers (possibly due to the graded readers being simple grammar but with vocabulary I didn’t know and the textbook exercises being more complex using only grammar and vocabulary I should know), now I’m enjoying reading the guided short stories more than the textbook exercises. I feel like I’m also picking up more grammar and vocabulary by reading than I am now from the textbook. I’m wondering if as I reach the end of usefulness for the textbooks I’ve been using, if I’ll find a higher level textbook still of use or if I’ll get more use out of just reading and using the resources I have to figure out what the grammar and vocabulary means.
Congrats! I’ve seen you flying through the book in my update feed; checking it out, it seems like you’re the first person to mark it as read on Natively? Pretty impressive, considering how popular graded readers are! I hope you leave a review/your thoughts on the page; I’m sure others would love to hear them!
So I hadn’t heard of Journaly before, and I did some research. This site looks really cool! Is it set up similarly to Lang-8, if you were ever on that site? I’ve been looking for a good place to work on my writing skills; would you recommend Journaly?
Thanks I think I’m the first person to grade it because it has only recently been released in paperback (released in October this year but I’ve had it on pre-order since last year) and was previously e-book format only so maybe people weren’t aware of it before. I do prefer these types to the normal graded readers as they tend to join parallel text with grammar pattern/ vocabulary explanations after each story and I’ve found that helps me quite a bit.
I will be writing a review of it just haven’t reached that point yet.
For Journaly, I can’t compare it to Lang-8 as I’ve not been on Lang-8 at all but it does seem like a similar thing. I found it because I follow Robin MacPherson (the creator) on YouTube and instagram for his language learning tips so was aware of it when it was still in the beta stage.
Recommending it is difficult because it depends on what you’re looking for. For some people who want to use it to write regularly regardless of feedback, or who want to use it to take part in his multilingual book clubs, or who want to write in multiple languages I’d say go for it as it lets you see your progress and lets you have articles in however many languages you want to and it’s free to use though you can pay for access to additional benefits.
For those looking for it to replace a tutor or mentor checking their work, I wouldn’t recommend it as responses and feedback are dependent upon a native or near native level learner coming across your posts and correcting them. It’ll also depend on the topics of your post, whether they are popular topics likely to get more readers or if they are not popular and likely to get missed. I’ve had varying levels of success in getting feedback on different articles I’ve posted and Japanese seems to be one of those with less feedbacks on it in general. Some of my posts have no feedback at all but that could be because they made sense and needed no correction or could be that no-one has read them because they are a less popular topic.
If however you’re looking for a good community with mostly friendly people (there’s always one person who comes across a little brash) then I would wholeheartedly recommend it as the people I’ve interacted with on it all tend to be friendly and supportive in nature similar to the community here.
If you’re not sure, there’s no harm in joining up for free, writing a few posts or so across a few weeks and gauging for yourself if it’s what youre looking for.
My use of it has been intermittent due to my feedback being intermittent but once I’m ready to write more regularly and have a tutor for my writing feedback, I’ll be using it more often.
Since it looks like the answer is it’s not like lang-8 (I also used it a long time ago) I think what you’re actually looking for is LangCorrect in which you correct others and get your own writing corrected. I’ve never had issues getting Japanese entries corrected when I post on there.
I’ve never used LangCorrect before, thanks for linking it. I’ll check it out as I do feel I need a lot more experience with writing as so far I’ve only written short sentences on my own outside of textbook sentences and it would be good to get things corrected more often.
Also, feel free to comment etc in here. Although I’m using it as a log for my own record, comments, hints, tips and links from others can be helpful too.