Assisting in improving reading skills - A survey for now (with giveaway), and hopefully more later

Despite my advanced WaniKani age, I’m not really an active regular despite the excellent topics and discussions. My WK Stats might not look like it, but I’ve been studying Japanese every day for a while, despite being only on level 49 here. Please don’t judge me based on that. :wink:

Therefore, I feel the need to make this post a little longer. Yet, here’s the TL;DR:

I’m doing research on what kind of features language learners want in a technology-backed reading-focused language learning service. There’s a survey with a $20 gift card giveaway to collect that data: https://calstatela.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_4HPnmHZ86JgvQJn


Before I address why I want to build this in the first place, I think it might be a good idea to introduce myself, as you might be thinking something along the line of “yet another anonymous guy who’s riding on the Crabigator’s tail, promises the world and does not deliver”.

初めまして。シーバ・マティアスと申します。どうぞ宜しくお願い致します。
As you can see on my LinkedIn profile, I’ve been working the majority of my professional life in Software Engineering and Development since January 2000. You can check out some of my open source contributions on my primary GitHub account. I took my first JLPT in December 2016 and passed the N3, before proceeding to get my Associate of Arts degree in Japanese within a year afterwards. I’m currently pursuing a BA in Negotiation, Conflict Resolution, and Peacebuilding as a Presidential Scholar at CSUDH and hope to continue my graduate studies in Japan to make the world a better place :heart: & :peace_symbol:.

For that, I obviously have to improve my Japanese language skills. Because you read a lot in Academia, and one of my Japanese professor encouraged me to read more native material, I was looking for a website, app, or other type of service that would assist me in reading more challenging pieces. I tried several available sites and apps, but the dumbed-down “Japanese” didn’t do it for me. Sure, for manga, after getting through N3 grammar, all you need is usually a dictionary, and sites like renshuu.org will be good enough (as a matter of fact, I’ve published the vocabulary for the first 57 chapters of Naruto there), but anything more challenging becomes very 面倒くさい very fast.

From the need for my own development as a Japanese language learner, trying to become literate, an idea for a website that assisted me in the learning process formed over time. I consulted with one of my Professors to talk through that idea, and after I received his overwhelmingly positive feedback, proceeded to build a prototype, that I then demoed to a prominent business figure at my University.
Long story short: Everyone I showed it to, liked it so far. But, these people are all my supporters. I would like more honest feedback from the masses of language learners that don’t have a personal connection with me (yet).

Taking a step back though, I would like to see if what I’m thinking of building out, is what people actually want, and if they’re willing to pay for certain features. My hope is that I’ll receive enough interest and can replace my full-time job with this service and get interesting cooperations with publishers that allow for more contemporary literature offerings.

The survey itself should take you much less time than reading through this post. There are only 9 questions, with the option to leave your email address (necessary for the $20 gift card giveaway), as well as the opportunity for leaving comments. For example, if you indicated that you want reading recommendations based on the words you already know, it would be a good idea to point out that you also would like a feature that lets you import your WaniKani vocabulary (even though I have that already planned).

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So please let me know what you think. It’d be helpful for me if you’d take the survey.
Feel free to leave any comments at the end of the survey or let’s have a discussion here.
The internet is a big space, so if I’m totally missing a good product/service that has all the things that are indicated in the survey, then please tell me, so I can use it and I don’t have to build it myself. :wink:

My assumption is that since WaniKani is used for learning Kanji, a lot of us here are readers or want to read, but are having a hard time getting started. So let’s find out, what we want.

どうもありがとう御座います。

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There are only three features in my reading practices, that I need:

  • add your own reading material (like here);
  • add vocab from your materials;
  • srs-wanikani style vocab learning tool;

I wasn’t able find app that could do something like that

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I on the other side don’t want to spend more time facing a screen (as all SRS services force me to spend long hours in front of a screen already), 'cause I’m noticing eye strain constantly since learning japanese :disappointed: … I could try an e-ink device though…

I’m much more fond of physical copies and I would rather want a tool that allows me to import all my known vocab (as I keep an ever growing Anki deck) and suggest new material based on that. :hugs: , so I could progressively ditch my way out of children’s books.

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I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has completed the survey. The comments in this thread as well as the optional comments at the end of the survey have been read and give us confidence and extra ideas how we can build something great.

The survey will be kept open for at least a few more weeks, as several colleges in California (our current academic home base) start their Fall semester next week and we expect more responses from that group of language learners.

I’m looking forward to read more responses. :smile:

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At this point, I would like to ask some follow up questions to one of the points of the survey.

If you haven’t taken the survey yet, please do so first here.

The current data shows, that people would like to have recommendations on texts based on words they already know. While there’s different levels of knowing a word, I suggest to making it simple (for now) and go with a binary form of knowing a word versus not knowing a word.
So let’s assume you’re getting a ranking of all available texts based on your known vocabulary. You might get a text recommended, because you already know 95% of its words.
The question I have for you is: What are your preferred methods of having this service (let’s call it a website for now - because that’s what pretty much everyone wants based on the data) know, what you know?
I already hinted at planning to get a reader’s WaniKani vocab into the system via the WaniKani API. We can talk also about at what WK level vocabulary is marked as “known” on this new website.
What other methods do you want? What about Anki?
What about text book vocabulary? Would you like to be able to say you know all the vocab of Genki I && II, Minna no Nihongo, Tobira, etc?

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For reference, I think floflo.moe accepts some kind of CSV import. One can specify their WK key (or level) and how many core 6k words they know. It has been well suited to my needs.

I have a question, by the way: how will you know which words are present in a given book? Will you parse the book yourself (like floflo) or do something else?
The problem that arise from floflo’s method is that books have to be bought one by one by the admin so that they can parse the text. For that reason, the list of available books is somewhat limited so far.
(I guess you could also focus on free texts, like those from 青空文庫)

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A CSV import is certainly one solution that can be easily supported. Thank you for the suggestion. And while it certainly doesn’t seem to be of high priority at this point, a mobile solution should be supported at some point, too. Handling files is just not as seamless on that type of device, yet I’m confident there will be nicer solutions available.

For now, 青空文庫 in fact will be the primary source of texts; so parsing is rather trivial. Somebody wished for being able to take a photo or scan of a document and would like to have the same functionalities as provided for the site’s library. I like that idea a lot and it’s going to be something that will be addressed in the future. Besides technical challenges, my concern is primary that of infringement of intellectual property rights. Of course, I want to avoid that, so I will get some legal advice as well.

I think more realistically than buying and parsing books one by one (and allowed to do so) is my plan, which is to work directly with publishers together, to get some contemporary literature into our site’s library. My assumption is, that our site has to have the numbers to go through the trouble and accommodate us. I see some interesting partnerships though, and my hope is, that I can contribute to reduce piracy by giving readers an affordable and good service and all people involved in creating literature a fairer compensation. I hope that sounds good to you.

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