After finishing HJ, should I start reading from the absolute beginner book club?

Not sure if this belongs here or in reading, so apologies if I put this in the wrong spot. I just saw that the reading section seemed to be mostly book discussions, so I figured this might fit better here.

I’ve been learning Japanese for about a year now, and my pace has been fairly slow due to real life and accidentally resetting Anki’s SRS halfway through. I recently finished going through Human Japanese and have started on the sequel app, which probably puts me nearish to N5 but perhaps not the whole way there.

I’ve lurked a lot on a learning Japanese subreddit and sometimes on here, and I’ve seen a lot of people say that you should start reading around N4 level. However, there’s an absolute beginner book club on Wanikani that says it’s for people around an N5 level, which made me super interested since I’m pretty impatient to start getting into immersion. But looking at the books for it is intimidating and makes me wonder if I should wait until I finish Human Japanese Intermediate first, which I think takes you to around N4. I might be impatient, but I also don’t want to be having to look up every single word in every sentence I read.

So far, I’ve checked out Dragon Ball SD, kitty/doggy detectives, Yotsubato, and Chi’s Sweet Home, as well as a Studio Ghibli graphic novel (it doesn’t have a book club but I’ve seen Studio Ghibli novels recommended for new learners). Yotsubato or Chi’s Sweet Home seemed the easiest, but they also had a ton of unfamiliar words and grammar, and the stuff I did know I didn’t recognize because it was turned into baby talk. It doesn’t help I’ve only recently begun learning plain form verbs, since I started on the polite form.

So should I give up for now and wait until I’m at a higher level for both grammar and Wanikani before I start reading beyond graded readers? Are there any interesting graded readers out there available digitally besides Tadoku’s free ones and White Rabbit Press? Is Chi’s Sweet Home the best manga/book for beginners, or is there a better one? Some people say it’s easier than Yotsubato while others say Yotsubato is easier, so I’m not sure. Should I just “yolo” and take the plunge even if I can’t understand most of it? I do have kitsun.io so should I try to make, for example, a Chi’s Sweet Home deck on there and use that to help myself along? Or should I not worry about a deck and just try to read with the help of the vocabulary lists in the book clubs?

I guess that’s one of the downsides to lurking. I’ve come across all sorts of conflicting advice online, so I’m not really sure anymore of the best thing to do in my personal situation.

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My opinion is that you should yolo and give it a try. If you can’t understand anything then come back to it later. People have different opinions on what is ‘easiest’ for a beginner so just pick something that appeals to you. I recommend looking up words as you go and adding them to some kind of SRS. Reread the relevant pages as you are learning the words.

Edit: just remembered that my teacher said you should start immersion once you know about a thousand Japanese words. Manga are a difficult place to start though, since they are very casual and will shorten grammar to save space. If manga appeals to you, then of course start there. But don’t feel like it’s your only option.

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Honestly, you’re going to get conflicting advice here too simply for the fact that it’s largely dependent on your personal tolerance for what you can’t understand. Probably the best way to go about it is to try and find the balance that works for you. Some people can enjoy reading and just skipping past what they don’t understand yet. Others lose motivation when they’re frequently encountering things they don’t understand. Can you still enjoy reading a book if you often have to stop to look up a lot of words?

No matter what level of grammar you’re at you’re still probably going to need to look up words. No vocabulary list is going to cover everything you encounter in a book. Only lots of immersion will build that kind of vocabulary.

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I’m always an advocate of “yolo” :grimacing: I started reading less than halfway through N4 material because like you, I’m impatient to immerse. I did have to look up tons, but the things I looked up I put into Kitsun and I remember them better compared to out-of-context SRS like WK does. Give it a try! For me no immersion is wasted time, you’ll always learn something new even if it doesn’t work out so well. :slight_smile:

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My experience is that learning grammar while reading native material works best for me.

Early on (when I was a mix of most of N5 and some of N4), I’d read a line from manga, look up all the words I didn’t know, then see whether I understood the sentence, or if it used some grammar I didn’t know.

Although it doesn’t understand grammar, typing a sentence into ichi.moe would often help me figure some of what I needed to read up on.

Sometimes I’d end up looking up grammar I’d read up on before and then forgot. But over time you see the most common grammar come up again and again, and it becomes more familiar.

Can’t hurt to give it a try. You can always check the book clubs (if you try a previous book club pick) to see if any question you have has already been asked and answered, or you can ask and still get a response.

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@tankwidow
That’s good advice. I’ve been using a spreadsheet to keep track of the words I’ve learned through HJ and Wanikani, so I know I know at least a thousand words, but whenever I crack open a book or glance through NHK Easy, it feels more like I only know a hundred words. It just really doesn’t feel like I know much at all, and it doesn’t help knowing I really don’t know that much. A thousand is nothing compared to the at least ten thousand I want to be at someday. And yeah, I actually prefer novels to manga even in my native language, and I was just looking at the manga because they seemed easier than the kitty/doggy detectives’ books, but I might be wrong on that, especially given what you said about their shortening of grammar. That sounds pretty frustrating. I did see some non-manga books on the absolute beginner club besides the detectives, but they seemed more like educational material than anything else, and I was more looking for fiction over nonfiction. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, and if they’re the easiest, then I’ll probably go with those. :slight_smile:

@Rihn
You’re right, it probably mainly is dependent on personal tolerance, so I’ll just have to see how I feel about it once I give it an actual shot (I’ve skimmed through a few pages of each but I haven’t actually really tried to read beyond those few pages). If it’s too annoying to look stuff up all the time, I’ll probably wait till N4 like I was originally planning before I saw the book club existed. You make a good point about having to look up words no matter what though. I guess I more just want to wait till I don’t really have to look up that many. Like, where I can figure out the unknown words via context. That’s where I am in the graded readers I finished reading atm.

@magsl
Ayyy another impatient person! Yeah, tbh it’s been so hard for me to just learn and nothing else because I didn’t learn Japanese because I like learning languages (though I must admit it’s pretty fun) but because I wanted to be able to play games and read in Japanese. But I also know I’m not good enough to really do that yet. I might try the kitsun method like you said. I’ve heard people say immersion is hard at first but gets easier when you put the words from the material into an SRS deck.

@ChristopherFritz
Oh yeah! I forgot about ichi.moe! I’d used it very early on in my studies when I tried to play Kirby in Japanese (and gave up because even Kirby’s sparse text was too difficult for me back then). I always feel so intimidated when I come across unfamiliar grammar points, because I’m worried that in looking them up I’ll get them wrong and mess up my learning somehow, but I should probably stop thinking like that. Your method sounds pretty solid, so I’ll probably try to do that and see how I feel about it, maybe combine it with adding words to an SRS like magsl said. The worst that can happen is I give up and just end up waiting till N4 or so like I originally planned.

Thanks for the replies, everybody! To be honest, I was actually leaning toward giving up for now and starting to read once I reached N4, but the answers here have changed my mind. I think I will at least give reading a shot for a bit and see how I feel about it. I’m not sure which book or manga to start with, but I’ll probably just take a closer look at the previews on bookwalker and see which one looks the easiest. If any of you have any advice on which one is the easiest, I’m all ears!

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So long as you’re learning from reliable sources, that shouldn’t be an issue. You should be able to figure out easily enough if what you’re learning doesn’t actually match up with what you’re looking up.

When I first started using Anki for learning words, one thing I didn’t like was the feature where it auto-suspends leeches. Thus, I’d like to mention that if you use Anki, and you’re adding a lot of words, and if you keep failing some words to the point that Anki auto-suspends them, let it! Otherwise you’ll do like I did (after disabling that feature) where I was reviewing the same words over and over for a year and still not recognizing them at all. (Sort of like I do in WaniKani…)

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Oh one more thing I’d like to recommend - Japanese.io or Kitsun’s Reader. They basically parse famous texts for easier reading, each word a click away and will give you a dictionary entry. Japanese.io even takes it a step further by adding the conjugation (if it’s a verb). Standard features are free, and they also have longer works. I read my Kokoro there if I’m being lazy in parsing.

Kitsun’s Reader is just folktales right now - I don’t really enjoy those in English so I doubt I’ll enjoy them in Japanese - but worth a try if you already have Kitsun.

None of these parsers are perfect, of course, so if something doesn’t make sense to me I make sure to consult a second resource.

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I love HJ and have used the two HJ apps but the last chapters of Genki 1 and most of Genki 2 have been crucial for me to really understand grammar. For reading, I suggest to pick anything you love and care about and not something that may be at your level… Don’t worry about not being able to read more than one or two sentences. Getting stuck is OK. It is a rewarding experience to learn new grammar poinst and then go back to the book/manga you were trying to read and finally be able to understand more. Try reading and grammar study in parallel. Despite the fact that I really love HJ, I don’t think it prepares one for reading native content. HJ is very good for giving a general idea of the structure of Japanese and for motivating one to study Japanese. Genki 2 (if you do all of its exercises) and some dictionary of Japanese grammar will make a huge difference in your ability to read. But I’m not such a good reader because if I don’t understand some sentence, I can’t push myself to keep reading. So my emphasis in grammar is a bit biased.

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That sir, was a poetic answer

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Here are my opinion and current plans as someone who’s a bit ahead of you in the HJ journey but not as experienced as sergio (so take the plans with a grain of salt since I obviously can’t see the whole picture).

I’m personally almost done with HJ Intermediate and have started with the free graded readers ( https://tadoku.org/japanese/en/free-books-en/ and https://tadoku.org/japanese/en/other-grs-en/) instead of a book club. Right now, at grade 2, I notice that my grammar comphrension (which I also integrated with some Cure Dolly/Tofugu and a couple of extra sources from time to time – something I would recommend) is ahead of Grade 2, while my vocabulary is still struggling to catch up. Rather than grammar, I think my biggest issue at the moment when it comes to material targeted at my ‘current level’ is lack of vocabulary. Though that will depend on your own personal tolerance for looking up new words. I have a far higher tolerance for half-understood grammar (inexistent at Grade 2) and prefer a lighter +1 approach when it comes to vocabulary.

So right now my suggestion (thinking back to what I’ve done and wish I had done) would be to start with a handful of grade 0 stories just to get quickly used to reading outside of HJ’s curated environment, quickly move on to grade 1 and start with 2 once done with those, while also focusing a lot on expanding your vocab. This should help getting you used to the lack of spaces, vertical text and improve your reading speed to a less uncomfortable level, while also reinforcing some of the very basics (which may seem boring, but there’s a lot to be said for getting those down to an instinctual level and freeing mental space for more challenging constructions, in my experience with other foreign languages). Move on to 3 if your tolerance for new vocab and the unknown is higher.

After being done with HJ2 next week I plan to spend a month or so revising all of HJ and HJ2 and move on to grade 3/4 and Satori Reader + attempting the beginner club and skipping the absolute beginner one. ^^

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You will literally always feel this way. The only way to get through this feeling is to start. Most of what you need to know to get through this stage will come from practicing reading. No matter how many words or grammar points you learn from books and apps, there’s always going to be a huge jump to native material in context.

The book clubs are great, so trying it out is a good start. But I’d highly recommend reading daily separate from them. I love the White Rabbit graded reader stories. I can’t remember how hard they were for me when I started, but I’ve read them dozens of times and keep picking up new things I didn’t notice. They are well worth the investment and a better place to start than an “easy novel.” I think the app even has one of them for free, so you can see if Level 1 is too hard (there’s a Level 0).

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Since you’ve just finished Human Japanese, I can highly recommend their other product, Satori Reader. I’ve run into exactly the same problems you’ve had with Chi and Yotsuba (informal grammar, baby talk) and I’ve had some success with the graded readers. I just started Satori Reader a few days ago, and I’m really sorry I didn’t dive into it sooner.

The thing I’m enjoying most about Satori Reader is, you can click on every word in a story, and you’ll get at least a dictionary definition – and it will be the correct definition for that context. Plus, each sentence has a full English translation; it’s not a fully-idiomatic translation, but one that tries to map more directly to the Japanese.

And if you’ve clicked on an expression, or a complex grammar point, there will be an extremely detailed explanation. There was one I read today, where the explanation started with, “Let’s unpack this sentence together,” and went on to a page-long dissection of all the grammar.

A free account will give you access to the first two pages of all of their stories, so I think you can get a really good idea of what it does. Like I said, I tried it a year or two ago, got really frustrated with how often I was clicking on the definitions, and put it back down. I kind of wish I’d started it then, and leaned into the frustration, but maybe I just wasn’t quite ready, yet.

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Oof I remember when I first started immersion only knowing a thousand words. It was hard as hell. If you like manga then you should go for it. The grammar is hard to understand when you’re a beginner but if you can look up some of the nouns you may be able to piece together what is going on from context. If you’re learning vocab words as you go then at least you’re getting something out of it. Immersion is going to be tough whenever you start.

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You mentioned the doggy Detective books looking difficult. I can tell you from my own experience, I started with doggy Detective 1 and I’m working with the book club on the second book now…I can now read the entire weeks pages in the time it took me to get through one page when I started. I still will run into new grammar and maybe take a half hour or more working through a sentence, but that’s just part of the journey. I find that my biggest leap in reading ability was just from practicing with these two books.

I think even standalone grammar studies start becoming more memorable when you know you’ve seen or struggled with real sentences that use the grammar point you’re learning.

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Wow, so many helpful replies! Thanks a lot, everybody. I didn’t expect to get this much in the way of feedback so I’m really grateful for all you have to say. :slight_smile: All of your advice seems pretty sound, so I think I’ll try out those methods and keep in mind that it’s just always going to be difficult at the start.

@ChristopherFritz
It’s less reliable sources I’m worried about, and more my own failings, to be honest. I might misinterpret what I find or end up looking up a grammar point that at first glance might look like it matches what’s in the text I’m reading, but might be an entirely different matter.
Yeah, I switched that to “tag” instead of suspending in Anki, though I’ll be switching over to kitsun full-time once I’m done with the HJ decks. But do you recommend doing something with those suspended words then, or should I just learn them naturally via immersion if they won’t stick in SRS?

@magsl
I haven’t started using either yet, but I’ll definitely take that into account! I’ve used the Todai Easy Japanese app for reading news articles, which I think does the same thing. It’s really great to use but I stopped using it when I got frustrated from having to click almost every single word to understand things. I’ll see if I can integrate some sort of reader with texts I read, though I don’t know if I’d be able to do that with Kobo, as most of my Japanese books are on Kobo.

@sergiop
That makes a lot of sense! I flipped through Genki a bit and noticed that it seemed to have things that hadn’t been introduced in HJ (though HJ might have some things not in Genki as well, I don’t know). Because of that, I was planning on quickly going through Genki I and II after I finished HJI to patch up any gaps in my knowledge before moving on to either Tobira or Quartet (I still haven’t decided which one to go with yet, but I have time to figure that out). And yeah, sorry if the way I worded it made it seem otherwise, but I’m definitely planning on continuing with my grammar studies while doing this. The reading is just something I figured I could do on the side, but I’m prioritizing HJI and Wanikani for sure. You’re right, I kind of figured HJ wouldn’t prepare you for native content, at least it doesn’t seem that way to me atm. I figure HJI and then Satori Reader which I might start at the same time I go through Genki might be enough, but I got curious about starting early after seeing the absolute beginner book club. But I’m also like you–I have a hard time pushing through if I don’t understand the grammar or most of the vocabulary. I’m going to try anyway though since it seems most of you think it’s helpful to get some reading practice in early. :slight_smile:
Btw, as somebody who has gone through both HJ and Genki, what do you think about HJ’s grammar explanations vs Genki’s? I’ve heard that Genki sometimes leaves things out or gives absolutes before correcting themselves in later chapters when they feel you’re ready to know about the various exceptions or other meanings, which is something I’m not a huge fan of. Tbh, that’s the main reason I’ve stuck with HJ, is that their grammar explanations just feel so clear, and I figured if I learned grammar concepts through HJ first, I might not get as frustrated with Genki later.

@CoffeeFuel
Oh, that’s funny, I’m exactly the opposite when it comes to tolerance for grammar vs vocabulary. I’ve found that while I dislike not knowing the words, I really hate not knowing the grammar. I think it’s just because for me, I can look up the words fairly easily through a dictionary or parser, but it’s a lot harder to look up the grammar and know if what I’m looking up is the right thing or not. A matter of confidence in the dictionary vs confidence in my google skills. lol
I’ve actually read all the grade 0 stories, and thankfully am able to read them without needing to look up anything–I just learn words in context. I wasn’t confident enough to move on to grade 1, but I probably should do that at some point. I will still probably skim through the picks from the absolute beginner book club to be sure, but if I struggle too much with them (and I very well might!) I will go back to purely graded readers. Tbh even if I don’t struggle with them, I’ll probably still go through the graded readers after hearing how helpful they were for you. I was hoping to “graduate” from them as soon as possible, but maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it since they seem to prepare you for native material fairly well. Maybe instead of looking for the easiest book or manga, it’d be better to stick with the graded readers!
Good luck! Your plan sounds pretty solid and I might try to follow in your footsteps once I reach a similar level.

@Hilbert90
That makes sense. Yeah, I should probably just get over that and jump in. Knowing that it’s a big jump no matter the level, is oddly enough, a bit reassuring. A part of me thought that it was something that could be bridged by upfront learning, and so I was always worried about when exactly would be the right time to start. I guess there really isn’t a “right time” and more just a “do it.”
I actually have read through a couple of White Rabbit stories! At least the ones in their app (I don’t like physical books due to lack of physical room). Sadly, they don’t seem to have that many in their app, which is a bit of a bummer. But yeah, what you and CoffeeFuel have said about graded readers has made me reconsider them. I was going to try to move on from them asap, but it seems to be worth the while to stick with them for as long as possible instead.

@ccprince
Oh, I was going to start using Satori Reader after I finished HJI, but if I’m already going to be starting to read, it’s probably a good idea to start using it earlier as well. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it, but I held back mainly because of the subscription model (I know, I know, seems strange coming from somebody who uses Wanikani). I think I will try out the free account though, and see how I feel about the stories. And yeah, people are telling me to lean into the frustration, but I think I agree with what others have said, that it depends on how well you tolerate not knowing anything. I think my tolerance is a bit too low though, so I’m going to at least try it out and see how I feel about it. :slight_smile:

@tankwidow
Yeah, it definitely seems pretty hard. T_T But I have been told to stick with it and so I shall, since apparently it’s going to be tough no matter what, and it should hopefully get easier the longer I do it. And yeah, I’m hoping I can get to the point I can just learn new words via context since that seems pretty intuitive and more in line with what I remember when I started reading in my native language as a child.

@SolarHusky
Huh, that’s pretty heartening to hear, tbh. I’m glad that it gets a lot easier over time and not harder, or about the same. I will try to remember that whenever I struggle with my reading, that it will get better. And you make a good point with the grammar becoming more memorable. I’ve noticed that I seem to remember the things I’ve come across in graded readers a lot more easily than the ones I haven’t. So starting to read now, no matter how hard it is, seems to be the way to go! I might take another look at the detective books then and see if I can’t take a crack at them. :slight_smile:

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When I say learn words from reading, I mean look up kanji in a dictionary and add them to SRS. Something like HouHou is great for this, as it is both a dictionary and an SRS system.

When I first started I didn’t care for using a dictionary and thought I could just skip words I didn’t know. But I really learned almost nothing from this. Better to look up words as you go and add them to SRS. Then in a few days you can reread the passage without using a dictionary. Even if you don’t understand every last thing, you’ll at least be expanding your vocabulary.

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I would say grab something the interests you and also look at graded readers at as close to your actual level as possible. The “fun” thing will be slow going (if you are going the “I want to make sure I understand it” route) and often frustrating regardless of what you choose. The graded reader is to build your confidence and ease the frustration that the native material will bring about. This is just my advice. I do think working with native material is important when just starting, but I also think it’s important to have something aimed at language learners too. Gives a nice balance as mentioned above. Good luck!

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@tankwidow
Ohhh I see what you mean now. :laughing: Yeah, that makes sense. I’ve actually checked out Houhou and I haven’t heard a single bad thing about it, which is pretty impressive considering the diversity of opinions on the internet. Though the interface gives me a bit of a Windows 98 vibe, which isn’t necessarily bad, but I more prefer Wanikani’s look. That and I do pretty much all of my Japanese learning on my phone so I’ve had to turn down PC-only programs or non-iOS applications like Torii, which is a shame because they looked really good.
I will probably use kitsun for this though since I have it, can use it on my phone, and it also seems to be good for adding words via dictionary to a deck.

@chantellis
I think I’ll do that! There’ve been a few people recommending I at least stick with the graded readers. Originally I was going to move on from them as soon as possible, but that seems to be a bad idea. And yes, I am unfortunately in the “I want to understand it” camp. It’d be easier if my brain would let me relax and do extensive reading, but I’ve had a difficult time of it every time I’ve tried. What you suggested actually seems like the perfect combination. I’ll look up and add words to an SRS with native material, but at the same time stick with graded readers and go through them as well to build confidence. That’s one thing I noticed, is that I always felt more confident in myself after going through graded readers, but I always felt pretty down after skimming through native materials. And thanks, I’ll definitely need it! :slight_smile:

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I dropped Anki when I started focusing on WaniKani, and have only slightly started using Anki again recently. So I don’t have the experience to say for certain anything that works for me. But my future plan is:

  1. Add cards based on whatever criteria.
  2. Let leeches suspend.
  3. If I go to add a word in the future and find it’s already added as a leech, then unsuspend it.

The alternative is to determine why something is a leech, and to improve the card. I would only do this for words that I felt I needed to learn, and wouldn’t bother for word that I likely won’t encounter often. (Not that you always know which word you’ll encounter often. I encountered a new word in the title of an anime episode, then I heard the same word used in a different context in the next three episodes.)

In the end, you’ll probably want to try out a few things, and figure out what works best. (This may take time.) My main recommendation is to allow yourself to let troublesome cards be suspended for a while, so you don’t end up wasting time on problem card reviews each day.

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