A reader's dilemma

Hi everyone! I’ve been reading native materials for a while now and seen many way of approaching reading in (not only) Japanese, but still I have a dilemma (disclaimer that may be useful: I’m an N4 slowly moving to N3, no rush no race).

Let me explain - and ask.

When I read a book/manga/article I tend to go with the flow, meaning that if I understand what I read, I don’t look up for everything - grammar, particles, kanji. However, I’ve been noticing that some concepts/vocab don’t stick to my mind - i.e. I have to look again for the meaning if I cannot really grasp it from the context, so once in a while I turn toward a more in depth reading spirit, and here goes the question.

Many people tend to highlight words that don’t know and review them later - using Anki or the good-old rewrite on a piece of paper method, or any other kind of method they figured out - but, honestly, I’m that kind of person that cannot put a drop of ink on a novel/manga without regretting it forever.

So, it has been months since I was wondering… how do you all approach reading and new vocabulary and grammar? Do you write them somewhere? Do you - lucky ones - highlight parts that you dunno and review them later? How do you review vocabulary, through Anki or some other SRS system? And for grammar?

To be honest, before WK I wasn’t a true believer in SRS, especially single word flashcards, but I’ve discovered that since starting using WK my reading skills has skyrocketed, so using something like Anki may be the right path for what concern vocabulary. For grammar, I think that studying it step by step is the only way and I don’t write anything for grammar - just studying a chp a day it’s enough and then I try to incorporate it in my writing/speaking practice.

That’s all! Hoping to make sense to you’ll ٩(◕‿◕。)۶


You’ll likely get as many different answers as people who reply, so keep in mind that you may have to try some different approaches to see what works for you.

I prefer digital media, so my physical book reading is limited to only what’s not available digitally (such as よつばと!). And, like you, I’d never put a mark on a page of a physical manga or book I own. However, due how I read the digital manga I buy, doing digital mark-up is too cumbersome to bother with.

When I’m doing “extensive reading” (few look-ups), if there’s a vocabulary word that comes up a lot that I’m uncertain of, or a word that is preventing me from continuing, I’ll look it up at that time. I typically don’t bother creating an SRS card, unless it’s a “1T” sentence, where I know everything in the whole sentence except for this one target word.

If it’s a word you’d like to ensure you remember, one route is to write down a list of these words as you read. Then after you finish reading, create SRS cards using sentences from Tatoeba, which is useful for easy sentences if the sentence from the book/manga includes other unknown words.

One important thing with vocabulary is getting exposure to words and their meanings, so that they will stand out when you see them while reading. It’s sort of like when you learn a new word from WaniKani, then a few days later you see it in a manga. Going this route means targeting common words to learn through SRS, on the expectation that you’ll encounter them when reading. This would be use a word frequency list as a site like Tatoeba for a sample sentence to make an SRS card from.

At my vocabulary level, I’m at a point where the next step for me is to consume material that has digital text (in other words, something other than digital manga which is images), build/use a list of words I know, and utilize word frequency lists. This will allow me to use tools to easily locate 1T sentences (where I know everything except for a single word), but only for high frequency words I don’t know, and to quickly create Anki cards for them.

When it comes to actually making SRS cards, I’m leaning toward having cards with the word on the front, and if it’s not something something “concrete” (like the noun “tree” or adjective “blue”), also include a sentence containing that word on the front of the card.

Sample Card Front


Sample Card Back

For grammar, I don’t bother with SRS. I look up what I don’t know when I need to know it. Some things I end up looking up multiple times, but I slowly get used to the grammar used in different contexts, and because of the I can better understand the grammar explanations on subsequent look-ups.


I’m solidly rooted in the Anki camp :slight_smile:

When reading something, I put unknown words that I would like to study into my deck straight away, so there is no need for me to write in a book. To save time, I usually only fill in the Japanese word (plus a tag that tells me where I encountered that word, but that’s of course my personal way of organizing my deck). Later I go back to the cards and add the English meaning plus other information I like to keep track of (mainly JLPT level and whether it’s marked as common on Jisho or not). I add many more words than I can learn in a single day (also I’m a slow learner so I don’t take on a large amount of new words per day), and so I often reorder them according to my needs (e.g. prioritize those that my language partner used, or prioritize those that I found in the book I’m currently reading, or prioritize those that match the JLPT level I’m currently preparing for, or a mixture of these). This way, I can control which words I will tackle next.
Sometimes words sit in my deck for a long time without being learned, and that’s okay for me. Whenever I come across them again, I will add another tag and the more tags I have on a given word, the more I will eventually prioritize it.
Hope this makes sense somehow :sweat_smile: Good luck with your learning journey!


You may want to consider using erasable markers! That way you can always highlight words/sections with the peace of mind of knowing that, if anything, you can undo it. :slight_smile: I once was like that too, but eventually I overcame this issue (when it comes to a reading material related to learning, I feel the highlighting is justified… And in a way, the highlighted text can look pretty aesthetic in the end! lol).

I did not know this website, it looks interesting. Thanks for the recommendation. :v: Will try to use it every now and then too.


Personally, I try to do more extensive than intensive reading.
In other words, I think it’s better to read more books than to read one book and keep SRS’ing it to perfection.

But different people are different, so I think you yourself should find the balance that is good for you.

In any case, best of luck to you!


Same. So much same. I have books from a decade ago that I wrote in (back when I was still trying that out) and I regret it to this day. I’m going to suggest something super old school (that I’ve found works really well for me): post its. Since they come in various sizes and colors, they’re very easy to customize for your various needs with respect to vocabulary/grammar/notes; and the adhesive is weak enough (unless you use the super strong kind) that it doesn’t leave any marks on the pages. Of course, depending on how frequently you go back to a note, and how frequently you remove it from the page, it’ll stop being sticky, but they’re easily replaceable.

You can also do the same thing with just pieces of paper stuck between pages without taping it down (though you’ll have to be careful when opening the book). The only real downside to these methods is that if there’s a ton of new material through the book, you can easily increase the volume of the book noticeably, and this (at least for me) defeats the purpose of not writing in the book in the first place. So I tend to have a separate place that I keep track of vocab and I mark grammar through post it notes.

How I track vocab changes, but my three main ways are Takoboto, spreadsheets, and a notebook. Takoboto stores a history of everything you look up, so it’s easy to export a file and add those words to Anki/any other SRS or flashcard mechanism you’re using. For spreadsheets, I have a large spreadsheet with different pages each corresponding to a series/book I’m reading, and I track each new unknown word (with definition, kana, and volume and page number where I encountered it). If I encounter a word 2-3 times in different contexts, and at least x number of pages apart (depending on the medium), I’ll make a note of it and add it for active study. With respect to just using a notebook, I just write down the kanji, kana, and definition of each word I look up.

I think Takoboto is the least time consuming method, but I hate typing in kana on my phone, so I use it the least. It’s probably the most direct look-up-to-vocab-deck method though. On the opposite end, spreadsheets are the most time consuming since I have to look everything up and write it down and track it very specifically. I’m finding writing vocab down by hand to be the most practical for me right now. It does result in duplicates and means I’m not making new vocab decks very easily, but since I’m more focused on sheer volume of reading content, I’ve found that I’m getting a lot more consistent exposure to many different words and I’m satisfied at the pace I’m picking things up for now. I’ll occasionally reread a book to see how much easier it is, but that’s not the focus right now.

While I’m a true believer in the SRS system, I’m also very aware of how easy it is to get burnt out by having too many things to review, and this is a situation I frequently encounter when having multiple vocab decks. So this read-as-much-as-I-have-time-for way is working really well.


I like reading physical books and I do mark all the words I don’t know with a pencil (wouldn’t use a pen though). I like to have a quick overview of what I was struggling with when reading that book. And I also want to be able to look up those words/expressions

I usually read a chapter while highlighting unknown things and then I go over them with a dictionary afterwards. I use a dictionary app Takoboto and add the words to a word list, one per book/series. It’s possible to export the word lists to a text file. I was thinking of creating flash cards based on it but I haven’t tried it yet.

So far I just remember the words/expressions I encounter often.


What game is this?

I’m not 100% sure but looks like Chrono Trigger. (I’m 99.9% sure :wink: )


did you create this card with tatoeba? including a screenshot of the game?

As d-hermit says, it’s Chrono Trigger. One of the best games the SNES has to offer.

Not this one. This one I created using Migaku tools while watching a Japanese streamer’s playthrough of the game.


For now I’m not super bothered with grammar as I’m trying to get reading practice in. I’ll look up vocab after reading or maybe a quick in between search. I use takoboto on my phone for that.

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I am not the Japanese avid reader I want to become one day… That said, grammar has always (from WK level 01 until now) been a higher hurdle than vocabulary. My suggestions are:

  1. Buy 日本語文型辞典 英語版 ―A Handbook of Japanese Grammar Patterns for Teachers and Learners Paperback – January 1, 2015. It has great explanations, terrific context sentences, and unlike the Dictionary of Jap. Grammar, it consists of a single volume.
  2. After reading the grammar point in 本語文型辞典 英語版 either use Genki workbook or Tobira’s grammar workbook to practice the grammar point. The exercises in which you must create your own sentences using the grammar point are (at least for me) what really help the grammar point to stick.

My solution for this problem is the word lists feature on the android app Takoboto.

With just a couple of extra taps, I can add a word to as many word lists as I want, and that data is exportable, so I can put words I want to actively study into a list to import into Anki later, or just mark that I saw it in a particular source so when I look it up again I know I did once before.

I find this totally eases that “I’m looking this up but is it going to stick?” anxiety, because all the words I’ve looked up are all in one place, arranged roughly by source, and I know they can go into Anki when I want them to.

One of the main benefits to me is this works just as well for print as digital material, since I’m also not really a highlighter!

(pitched this elsewhere recently so sorry to anyone if I sound like a broken record!)

Does it help that you can type in romaji, or is that what you meant?
(not so fun to type on your phone that way either, admittedly!)


There’s a lot of good ideas here :slight_smile: I personally make Anki flashcards that are just the sentence phrase I want to remember. By rereading the card, I can temember grammar and vocab in context. I’ll usually put an explanation on the back.

I only do this if I got particularly excited about a phrase though. I was playing a visual novel a few weeks ago and came across 「最悪の根元」- “the root of all evil”. So funny because it was a slice-of-life high school romance. I wanted to remember forever lol

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Another option for marking things in physical books are book darts. They’re just folded bits of arrow shaped metal so they slide over the edge of a page. It’s a nice temporary way to mark something without having to worry about damaging the book. When you don’t need it anymore you can take it off and reuse it elsewhere.


Don’t think it’s an option if I need to highlight at least a few things on every page.

But something like transparent highlight stickers could work.

Something like this (I haven’t tried them)


That’s definitely what I am experiencing now, but sometimes I got the feeling that I will forget that word, even after looking it up, and I’ll have to repeat the process many times. In the short run, I guess I feel the need of a more efficient method that will allow me to retain words better and faster.

You could fit multiple of them on a page, though I admit they can only really point to a line, not a specific word. You could also attach a note with them if you needed more details. I was just suggesting them as an option that wouldn’t have any worries about adhesives causing damage to the page.


I agree with this

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