Do people actually learn new things by doing reading practice?

This is a bit of a stupid question, but I’d like to hear people’s advice nonetheless. A lot of people mention that it is important to practice reading in the early stages, and that you will regret it if you wait until later because you will have to catch up on a lot of grammar. I’ve been trying to read stuff for practice, but it never feels like I’m actually learning anything.

When I read something in Japanese it pretty much goes 2 ways

  1. I have to keep looking up words in order to understand anything. When I do this, I almost never remember this word by the time I get through the next page. So by the time I try rereading the next time I don’t understand the word once again.

  2. the other way I’ve tried is to not look up anything and try to figure stuff out based on what you do know in the sentence. This feels pretty good when I do it, and is a more enjoyable reading experience, but I think I am often misunderstanding the meaning of a sentence and therefore may be teaching myself incorrect readings and or grammar understandings. At which point I’m also not really learning anything other than how to make a story up in my own head.

What do people actually do when they practice via reading? Do you pick up new words or is it only to reinforce stuff you already know? How do I optimize reading practice to get the most out of it?

Also, has anyone else had this issue? Is it because I’m reading stuff above my level? or am I making some other mistake?

TLDR: I try to practice reading, but never end up feeling like I’m learning anything. Do you recommend people practice reading at my level? and if you do, how should I optimize it from maximum learning?

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What are you trying to read? If you have a total vocabulary of less than 2000 or something, you should probably be using lower level graded readers if you want a smooth reading experience.

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So far I have not attempted a whole lot of reading - mostly NHK News Web Easy and Satori Reader - but I have not done it intensively enough for it to make a difference in my reading comprehension. So I understand exactly where you are coming from, because my experience has been similar.

I aim to change that - starting with reading the Horimiya manga in the ABBC book club, but also intend to ramp up my use of both NHK and Satori.

Some folks here are much more diligent than I am - they add unknown words encountered in the wild to an Anki deck or an Excel spreadsheet or whatever, and make an honest attempt to review and practice those words. I am not likely to follow that pattern, even though I expect that it would do me good.

But I have had the experience of watching anime with Japanese vocals but English subtitles, with the TV remote in one hand (to pause and replay) and Shirabe Jisho in the other hand, when I hear an unknown word, or especially when I have heard the same unknown word beforehand, I will look it up, and rewind and replay the sentence containing the unknown word (in addition to viewing the English subtitling) - and over time that has absolutely led to significant gains in my listening comprehension and vocabulary knowledge.

So I expect that if I put in a similar level of effort when practicing reading it will eventually pay off - but probably only for those unknown words that I encounter frequently enough for them to ‘stick’ in my memory.

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I’ve now been reading quite actively for around three months, and it has really changed my whole game around this six-month-long journey into reactivating and deepening my Japanese studies. I used to do WaniKani for its own sake, now I do it just to be able to access harder material faster. I don’t claim to have exactly the right answers, but here is some stream-of-thought about my process.

It does feel like this initially. It will pass. I guarantee you around the fourth or fifth time you’re looking up the same word it just starts to get engraved into your memory.

You’re going to be looking up things a lot, so it pays to really make yourself comfortable with it. Start with texts with ふりがな and work your way up – you don’t want to do radical lookups too often, those are extremely slow and can completely kill the momentum of reading, as you’ve probably discovered.

Although, when you do look things up, make it count. Write the word down with your IME into some text file (or Anki card). Stay with it for a couple of seconds, don’t just speed on (unless the story is just at that point where you can’t stop).

Read manga. The pictures carry like half of the weight of exposition. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand one word when you first come across it – it’s likely to come up again. You can also develop a feeling for when it really matters that you completely understood what happened.

Don’t fret about individual words too much. You’ll see them again, and again, and again as you keep reading. By just reading more, all the important words will naturally reinforce themselves more and more often.

Reread the same things multiple times, but let some time pass between attempts. It’s amazing how you can sense your progress this way – stuff that was borderline impossible will become first approachable and then easy.

Pick books and manga that have clubs here on WaniKani forums. You’ll have an amazing opportunity to ask questions and verification, plus it’s fun to read in a group. There are most likely vocabulary sheets already made for you, chapter by chapter – take a brief look at them beforehand and make a copy for yourself with only the words you didn’t recognize. Then read them in context, aloud, and let the words wash over you.

By the way, I’m not kidding about the reading aloud part – it lets the auditory parts of your brain in on the fun. If you’ve been consuming any amount of Japanese anime, movies, video games etc. with voice acting, it’s likely you have access to a large amount of latent vocabulary already. Then it becomes more about connecting the written kanji form with the word you already latently knew.

I’ve also been doing this at times, but in these cases I’ve already promised myself I’ll read it quickly once and in depth later (ref. earlier point about reading multiple times). This way you won’t let a misunderstanding become reinforced in your brain.

Edit: Oh, and the main thing why you should start reading early: it helps a ton with the grammar. You just need to get exposed to a lot of it, so better get started early.

Edit 2: Might be helpful to pick something that you’ve already seen / read in English before, this helps quite a lot in guessing. :joy:

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I learned most of my English vocabulary by reading. Back then I didn’t know about SRS…

There are a few important points however:

  • Ideally you want “comprehensible input”, that is input where you understand the overwhelming majority of what you read. Depending on who you ask that can be as high as 98% comprehension.

  • In this situation it’s usually easy to guess the meaning of unknown words from context, and you’re more likely to remember what they mean if you encounter them again.

  • Of course in practice it’s hard to find interesting content with that level of comprehension if you’re not already very advanced in your studies, especially for a language like Japanese.

  • When I don’t use comprehensible input and have to look up a big portion of everything I read, I need to choose my battles. See if some words or expression tend to come back a lot, if you find yourself looking up the same word two or three times over the course of a few days it’s probably worth spending the time to commit it to memory, for instance by adding it to your vocab deck.u

  • Regardless of how you proceed, unless you’re really picking super hard content that’s too difficult for your level, I’m sure that you are in fact learning a lot, it just doesn’t feel that way because it’s a super slow process.

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This is a pretty common question that actually has a deceptively simple sounding answer: when you practice reading, you are getting better at reading. Reading in any language (even your first language!) is a skill independent from what grammar points and vocabulary you know, and the only way to improve your reading skill is just to read more. To put it another way, you can know every bit of vocabulary and grammar in a section and still not necessarily understand what that passage is about.

If you are a native english speaker, here's a passage that will probably give you some trouble as an example

“Man is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation which relates itself to its own self, or it is that in the relation that the relation relates itself to its own self; the self is not the relation but consists in the fact that the relation relates itself to its own self. Man is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short it is a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two factors. So regarded, man is not yet a self.” from the 1st chapter of A Sickness unto Death by Kierkegaard.

Pretty much no matter how much vocab and grammar practice you do before you start reading, when you try to start reading your first book/manga/visual novel/whatever, it’s going to be hard for you to put all those words together in your head in ways that actually have meaning. You just haven’t been exposed to enough examples of how the actual syntax (physical structure of phrases) and pragmatics (how things get used in practice) work in real usage of the language to be able to make heads or tails of what you are reading, and the only way you can get that kind of knowledge is just by doing it a lot.

You can use reading as a means of learning/reinforcing vocab as well by sentence mining or making vocab flashcards, but just the act of practicing reading itself will, over time, make you a better reader. It is a very slow process and can be hard to feel like you are improving, so the biggest piece of advice that I can give is to focus on the things that you do and can understand rather than on all the things you don’t. If something is just totally incomprehensible and doesn’t seem too important, it’s ok to skip it! You can always come back later. Even just getting a good night’s sleep can make a big difference when you try to re-read something you couldn’t understand

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my reading practice is with jp subtitles in anime mostly

for me I try to learn 2 words per episode, specially if the word is repeated, so I guess it will be a common word for that series.

I try as much as possible just watch everything without stopping to look up words, otherwise it would be boring just doing that (watching and pausing all the time).

But doing something like that guy andy in yt that learned 2k words in a month, just by playing 3ds games.

damn.

I am not a genius like that, but happy with my current achievements.

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Recently, I’ve been visiting my university library, which has a Japanese language section. I’ve been choosing picture books, which seem to be deceptively difficult. I’ve tried graded readers before, but I tend to have sort of the same issue in that they are either to easy or to hard. I’ll admit though I’ve only look at a few graded readers so far, so I probably just didn’t find the proper level. I learned Japanese in a university class to start, without wanikani or any ssri (and i didn’t take it very seriously) so I have some gaps in my knowledge that make it hard to match up exactly to the right level.

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Even if you don’t understand anything it’ll still be helpful to read. Your brain will make sense of it anyway, even if you are not aware of it. Looking things up and then forgetting it? Doesn’t matter, it’s all about the process. The end result will come with time, even though it feels futile.

All there is to do is to find content that is somewhat enjoyable in the beginning, which is hard, but with time you’ll get into content that you truly enjoy and then it won’t be such a drag.

The beginning sucks for everyone, but it gets alot better, even though it feels like you are just treading dirt.

The most important part is to put in the time, which alot of people don’t do.

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Any fiction intended for natives, even very young natives, is going to have all kinds of idiomatic phrases and grammar constructions that are more advanced than a beginner will be familiar with. They don’t use a lot of words, but they compose them in a way that is entertaining and interesting for natives.

If you still want to read things intended for young children, so the overall vocabulary level is lower, perhaps simple nature / science / social studies topics that you already have some familiarity with as an adult would be easier to get into. They won’t use grammar structures that make fiction more interesting, they’ll be a bit easier to guess what the meanings of sentences are, since you already know the material roughly, and they won’t have hard official terminology that similar texts for older readers would have.

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Absolutely! During my 3 year hiatus I just read manga and now since coming back to WK it’s all been just review with some new kanji here and there.

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Don’t think of reading as too hard, but it can be harder if harder materials are chosen.

There are skills other than grammar, like picking out key vocabularies and key phrases, and noticing most important parts of a sentence. After that, vocabularies and phrases can be looked up, or recalled from memory.

Some skills may be akin to listening, so listening along may help.

It’s unlikely (though not impossible), that you would already have those skills by the time of reading practice.

After some point, it might be better in some ways to read a little harder materials. Overcoming difficulties is a way to improve.

I’ll start off by saying that my reading ‘style’ is sort of hybrid: I aim to read things I can mostly understand, or guess by context, but will stop and look up kanji or grammar if it feels like they’re particularly important (and I’m really not getting them). I mostly read manga, so I do have フリガナ to make that searching much faster and easier. Stroke searching is hard and I am just a poor creacher

I definitely think reading is helpful for reinforcing learned grammar and helping to familiarize you with new grammar.

(I don’t say learn because I, personally, have a really hard time parsing out a grammar point’s meaning if I well and truly have never studied it before – but it can help me see the pattern of how it’s used, so when I do study it I’ve got a head start. Looking at you, わけ. Additionally, if there’s a grammar that I have studied being used in a slightly different way, I can sometimes manage to make sense of that by context.)

However, it’s also quite hard to get into reading if you don’t have a certain level of grammar under your belt; and when you do read, it’s important to pick something that is within your current level. Like, really important, because bashing your head against a story that’s too advanced for your current level is just going to burn you out. And for me at least, it’s also important that I read something I’m interested in because otherwise my focus flags reallllll hard.

Personally, I’ve been using manga to help bridge that gap – especially by re-reading manga I’m already into, because then I have both guaranteed interest AND additional context to help me parse out words and grammar I might not know yet.

Kind of both at once, at least for me. Reading is a good way for me to practice with kanji and grammar that I’ve studied, because I can come across them and go okay, I know this, now how does it work in this specific sentence? And it help me to not only practice, but to see it used in a more natural, non-study setting – which can offer context or nuances that don’t come across well when you’re just studying a word or grammar point on its own. In addition, it provides you the opportunity for something I find very, very validating: that moment when you go “waIT I STUDIED THAT YESTERDAY I KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS NOW”. For me, that moment is really important in helping to maintain motivation. We’re unfortunately choosing to study a very difficult language; it’s important to remind yourself of progress in any way you can, no matter how small.

But other than reinforcement, reading can also introduce something new, like if I come across a vocabulary word that I have to look up – and yes, I almost always wind up looking up a word more than once. A lot of times I do re-forget it, absolutely. But what this basically is doing is acting as SRS in it’s natural form; see a thing, learn the thing, try to review the thing again later. Sometimes it’s been too long and you have to re-learn instead of reviewing.

Eventually, though, the word will ‘guru’, so to speak – at least for me, I’ll hit a point where I go “Oh I know this one, I looked it up, what was it what was it- OH YEAH” and then I can keep going, and when the word shows up again that “OH YEAH” will come just a little bit faster. Again, it’s basically the natural form of SRS, just without the structure WK supplies.

The other thing that helps this is reading the same genre. In my case, my current practice manga is 名探偵コナン – which does mean I’m learning a lot of murder mystery vocabulary, to be fair – but because I’m following the same series continuously, I see the same sort of vocabulary or verbal ticks and get that natural SRS effect ever time I come across them in a new chapter. Because it’s a manga, I have those visual queues to help with guessing context. And because it’s a manga I’ve read before, I’m interested and I know some of the plot already, which again helps to provide context/support so that I don’t have to look up quite as much.

Finally, something you’re getting out of reading is the ability to read, and I’m not being sarcastic about that. Sitting down and looking at a big wall of Japanese can make your brain shy away (or at least it makes mine, sometimes) but reading practice teaches you to sit down and work your way through it, even if that might be at a pretty slow pace at first. The more you do it, the faster and smoother it gets.

TLDR; Yes, reading helps to both reinforce studied items and learn new ones, but it takes time and can be frustrating. Make sure you’re using something that fits your level and interests you to minimize the frustration, and know that eventually it will get easier.

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I have pretty much given up trying to read anything more than Graded Readers and textbook passages until I learn more grammar and vocabulary. I am about wrapping up Genki 1, but likely to wait until I get through Genki 2 before trying to read more complex things. I was a Russian major in college - and reading passages were not really introduced until toward the second part of second year (or maybe even 3rd year? - it’s been awhile) - which is a similar level to what I am aiming for in Japanese. I took a year of Japanese - and there was NO reading in that class. Mostly conversation.

I can tell I have hit a point where I am understanding more complex sentence structures - i.e. sentences with clauses, but still have a long way to go. I know that most people talk about the JLPT levels in Japanese but CEFR levels are another way to think about things .

There are six levels of language proficiency (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2) according to the CEFR scale. They are grouped into three broader levels: A1-A2 (Basic User), B1-B2 (Independent User), and C1-C2 (Proficient User)

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I think upper A2/lower B1 is a good time to tackle more complex reading passages. In many ways, I think you just have to grind through building vocab and grammar - and there is just no easy way around it. But you probably know that since you are here on WaniKani.

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When I tried reading when my grammar level was still very, very low, I don’t feel like I was able to get a whole lot out of it. But the more advanced my grammar got, the more I feel like I was able to get out of my reading. If you are truly a beginner, like N5 or less, you might be better served waiting until you’re at around N4 to really try diving into native material, though yeah graded readers might be an option in the meantime!

Part of it, too, is just realizing that you’re basically learning to read all over again. When you learned to read as a child, it was probably also very hard, and took years for you to become proficient, but you probably don’t remember this now as an adult. I’m sure that I read many books as a child without perfect comprehension (I can remember some individual words that I totally misunderstood when I was younger, haha). So I’ve had to learn how to let myself read in Spanish and Japanese without perfect comprehension.

You have to just try your best and then move on. You have to learn to accept ambiguity, and tell yourself “this is good enough for now.” As your language skill improves, sentences that were once out of reach for you will start to make more sense. But you have to get through a lot of easier sentences, first, before you’ll be able to tackle the hard ones. And this is where reading really shines: the sheer volume of practice. Each individual sentence probably doesn’t benefit you terribly much, but reading thousands upon thousands of pages of them does eventually add up.

As far as optimizing reading practice goes, I’m largely an intensive reader over an extensive reader, at this point (so I do your first method, which is looking up everything instead of trying to guess based on context). I augment my reading by adding words to Anki that I encounter in my reading. This helps me get extra practice with those words without having to rely on repeatedly running into them in my reading and looking them up in the dictionary each time. Over time, as my collection of mined words has grown, my overall reading comprehension has improved a lot.

I also read a variety of stuff, but limit myself to only mining words in one domain, which is the thing that I’m most interested in (pro wrestling). This means that when I read pro wrestling stuff, my comprehension is much better and the reading experience is much smoother. With manga and other stuff, the difficulty varies a lot, but usually it’s more of a struggle.

If you choose one domain to focus on, you’ll probably find that your reading comprehension in that domain will improve a lot faster. So that’s one trick you could try. Generally stuff with more everyday language, like slice of life, for instance, is a bit easier to pick up for beginners.

Adding vocab you encounter to an SRS also speeds up the process, though of course it adds extra study time as well, so you have to be careful there. It’s easy to overdo it and burn yourself out on both studying and reading. You can totally learn by reading without SRS, though! Reading is in many ways a “natural SRS” in that you’ll encounter repetitions of words spaced out over time. An actual SRS will probably have better optimized timings so that it’s easier to memorize things, but it’s certainly not the only way to do it.

Personally, I use SRS very heavily for Japanese and it has helped me a lot, but I haven’t used it at all for Spanish, and I’ve been able to make it to an upper intermediate/low advanced level of Spanish ability with reading/watching/listening to Spanish material being basically the only tool I’m using to get me from the upper beginner/lower intermediate phase to where I’m at now. So I can vouch for the success of both SRS-assisted reading, and reading without SRS.

Also, sometimes I have trouble noticing my progress on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month scale, but when I compare myself to where I was a year ago, my progress becomes immediately visible! So sometimes you just have to trust that the practice is helping, even if you can’t see the benefits of it yet.

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For those who are first starting out on reading Japanese, I like to reframe it.

It’s not reading.

It’s deciphering.

You’re taking a bunch of unknown words, bound by unknown grammar, and you’re puzzling them together to try and extract some sort of meaning, often with no clue as to whether you are right or wrong.

This is one reason I’m a big proponent of joining the Absolute Beginner Book Club once you’ve learned at least N5 grammar and some common vocabulary.

This gives an environment where you are reading alongside others, allowing you to ask questions and get verification, as well as education that is specific to the material being read.

Extra on what to expect from one’s first-time-reading experience (written with joining the book club in mind):

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You can always try the below. If this isn’t going to teach you Japanese, then there ain’t no hope for yas.

then the material you are trying to read is too difficult for you yet. If you try the Tadoku approach, you start easy, like, very very easy. But read a lot. If there are more than two words you have to look up on a page, it’s just too difficult for you yet.

Reading is so important to understand the context words are used in. You might say you already know what breakfast means in Japanese and would probably say 朝ご飯. But then you come across 朝食, which means the same in English, and start to wonder why there are two different words to begin with. Reading helps you to understand in which situations words are used