These are subtle beliefs and mental hangups that I’ve noticed both in my past self and in many learners I’ve tutored or just talked to about reading Japanese. Since reading a lot of native material (manga, novels, web articles etc) in Japanese is probably the quickest, most effective, and fun way to gain an intuitive, natural, and lively understanding of the language while building a large vocabulary, it’s genuinely a shame to allow these kind of mental hangups to keep you from doing it as much as you can! so I wanted to bring some of these to light and offer some advice on overcoming them! Feel free to discuss if you resonate, or share some of your own!
1. “ I should understand everything the first time I read it! If I can’t, I feel like I’m failing”
Maybe this is some leftover feeling from how most of us were schooled, but I’ve noticed in many people learning Japanese this subtle fear of reading, because they know that they will see many words that they don’t know and that makes them uncomfortable. Remember, seeing words that you don’t know while reading is a GOOD thing!! it’s an opportunity for more of this language to reveal itself to you, so you can learn more of it! Approach it from that perspective, and encountering you words will even become FUN. Like a new discovery. I like to see a new word that I encounter in a manga or 小説 and look up in my dictionary like catching a new Pokémon
2. “ It’s bad to go back and reread things multiple times”
Sometimes when reading a phrase, sentence, or paragraph, it simply does not make sense the first run through. Intuitively putting together the chunks of a sentence to form cohesive meaning is also a process of reading that requires repeated practice, it makes complete sense that your brain will sometimes not get it on the first try! Heck the same thing even happened in your native language when you read something on a new topic! it’s natural, and a comprehension win is still a win even if it didn’t CLICK till the second or third read-through! also sometimes all it requires it’s a short pause after each chunk of words to smooth the understanding process!
3. “It’s bad for me to read slowly, I need to read as fast as I can”
Depending on your current level and what you’re reading, sometimes it’s simply impossible to understand the story well while attempting to read quickly. your brain just doesn’t have those connections strong enough yet to be able to do that. Optimal comprehension is usually much more important than speed when it comes to actual stories. So focus on understanding and enjoying the story as much as you can, and decide that you will be comfortable with whatever speed you end up reading at, knowing that it’ll naturally get faster the more you practice reading!!! You can’t rush the process
There are times when I’m just too tired and I. Just. Don’t. Get. It. That’s when I switch to another book I’m reading and come back later. Keeps me having fun and very importantly (I think), it keeps me reading.
And to OP: yes, excellent post. I think this could be pinned up for more to see (@mods). Because it basically encourages you to explore with what you got already, not hold still and hope understanding magically appears out of thin air.
i read excruciatingly slowly, for now. but that’s okay, because i’m having fun
but i’m reading rather above my level, so it’s entirely to be expected that i have to look up a lot of kanji and vocabulary. and sometimes my understanding of a sentence will be way off, and only make sense when it’s put together with the context of the story. and sometimes it takes ages to put together the pieces of a sentence in a fashion which makes sense.
what makes it work is that i’m reading something which i want to read. the story is fun, and i care for the characters. otherwise it’d be boring, and i wouldn’t be reading… ^^
This is actually what makes me enjoy reading Japanese more than Chinese - Japanese often has a block of hiragana/katakana to space out the kanji while Chinese just looks like a wall of nightmare.
Regarding the topic: I had a reading blocker saying “Oh, I’m only familiar with 10-20% of kanji from WK, so I’ll only understand 10-20% of the text”. In reality though, coupled with the magic of Contextual Thinking™, I was able to understand up to 70-80% of the text, and almost 100% by using rikaikun or google translate. The most common kanji will repeat a lot - especially within the same context - and it’s much, much fewer than the classic 2000 number thrown around.
I agree, as a Chinese speaker, that this is one of the nicer features of Japanese. However, the thing is that Chinese actually has characters or short phrases that act as particles too, so you can use those to split sentences up quite easily. What’s more complicated is dealing with sentences in which there are multiple ways of grouping characters, meaning you really need to know what makes sense and what doesn’t in order to figure it out. The main helpful rule is that hanzi tend to come in pairs, so you’re usually fairly safe if you pair them up and parse them.
My main challenge when reading Japanese is anticipating the amount of effort it’s going to take: ‘Oh no, I’m sure there’s going to be some strange word I don’t know or some funky 30-character relative clause that’s going to throw me off.’ Plus, unlike Chinese sentence structure, which is much closer to what we have in English, Japanese sentence structure took me some time to get used to. However, provided I’m interested in what’s being said in the Japanese, pushing through that feeling of dread or the desire to procrastinate often turns out to be rewarding.
sounds silly but literally set a timer for like 5 minutes and just open the book and look at the wall of text. don’t even try to read it yet, just look at the text while taking deep breaths. this will condition you to be relaxed while looking at lots of japanese. that’ll take off a LOT of the pressure and anxiety once you actually start reading!!!
it’s a general psychological treatment that works for various things and situations!!! i learned about it in my psychology classes (that was my major in college) so i experimented with applying it to japanese and it worked wonders for me!
Yeah this is exactly how it feels. I’ll be doing Japanese for 3 more years before going back to mandarin but right now it’s like Hanzi is harder to read but easier to understand and Japanese is the exact opposite.