Do you avoid Auto Pilot Reading?

Something I noticed when I read is I often accept ambiguity almost by default and don’t question what I don’t know yet. I acknowledge my lack of knowledge but don’t seek to remedy it unless the word or grammar comes up more than once.

Do you guys stop and search at every new word, do like me, or just throw caution to the wind and say “I am just here to kill time in Japanese!”


No, I think, I understand this enough to get the meaning.


That’s been me with One Punch Man recently. Like I know the surrounding material and just kind of go “Ah, they’re talking about X probably.” Then kind of move on. In OPMs case if I laugh at some point in the chapter I don’t need to go back because I could still get the joke.


Both modes have their time and place I’d say!

In the same way I’d read a book in English differently if I were skimming something I’m not sure I like yet right before bed vs. say, close-reading a passage I know I’ll need to write an essay on, sometimes different energy and investment levels make for different reading experiences in Japanese too, and I think that’s normal.
In fact – feeling the ability to switch between those modes grow in as I got used to reading Japanese at all was one of the most rewarding things about learning to read over time. At first you’re kinda necessarily stuck having to parse everything intensely, and more and more wiggle room develops only over time. So I say, treasure that leeway - it’s earned!

If it feels like I’m reading a bit too lightly, reading out loud to myself can be a fun tool to try to wring a bit more attention out, but otherwise I would just try to pick something to read that suits my energy level at the time.


I’m a beginner so not only do I accept ambiguity but outright incomprehension of words. I am hoping that seeing the word over and over will help it stick in my memory and I will pick up the meaning eventually.


100% this. I have some books I just ‘flow’ through. I kind of squint at a sentence here and there but let it slide past me if it’s not blocking general understanding of the plot. At other times I do close reads and try to squeeze every ounce of nuance out of sentences because I want to know. The latter is exhausting and so I do less of it, but it also tends to be nonfiction, essays, articles with relevant information to me, etc, whereas the majority of my reading overall is fiction.


For me it depends on if I am reading with the goal of learning or just for enjoyment.
I am reading Spy x Family now for the book club and when I come across something I don’t know, unless it blocks me from understanding what is happening, I will just make a mental note of it to check later but mostly I just want to progress the story and enjoy the content.


I guess I have always been like that. Which is why I was so “bad” at reading in school. My teacher would be like “Why is this scene important?” And I would be like “I was just along for the ride, I didn’t think about it all.” I have never really been one to do “close-reading” as you call it.


That’s fair too. I am reading in the book club as well and that’s why I came up with this topic. Because I see how others are going through it while I am kind of just reading through it with everyone. Made me think about rereading the first bit as I already got through week 2’s content.

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I have a rule when reading: if it shows up 3 times within 2-3 pages, I stop and look it up. Or, if it’s a key word and the whole passage relies on understanding that word, I look it up (for example, “The man was holding a OO, and everyone gasped in shock” - I want to know what he was holding to cause such a reaction)

Otherwise if it’s a word I don’t know, I try for context or just skim past it. I’ve foudn that the more I read that particular author’s work, the more I get used to their style and I understand more


I think this is a good metric for books, manga, audio dramas etc. and it’s pretty much what I do.

For games, I’m much more strict. Since a lot of the appreciation of a game might rely on you understanding nuances of how characters interact, understanding various tidbits/clues you get fed through dialogue, etc. you’ll wanna look stuff up as soon as it appears.

It’s also about practicality, if you don’t look up a word there and then, and try to fully understand the dialogue, you might lose your ability to do so as the dialogue might never touch back on the subject. :eyes: That could affect your overall understanding of the characters’ motivations, history etc and in the end, your appreciation of the game. Or you might miss important clues that directly affects game play.


Very true. With Dragon Quest XI I did stop and look up everything as it came up because I didn’t want to risk missing it. I owe a lot to that game xD


I do both. I depends on what I’m reading and how close it is to my current full comprehension level. Aka how close the difficulty is to being only +1.

If the difficulty for me is about +1, then I dig in and look up words and grammar to grow my knowledge. I find that it pays a lot of dividends to dig in at that stage because my understand of grammar grows the most when I’m only looking at +1 in difficulty for it.

When it isn’t +1, right now that tends to mean there are way too many unknown words. (I also don’t try to read things likely to have a lot of grammar I don’t know, so not historical fiction and I don’t read complex books yet.) The further away from +1 it is, the more I tolerate ambiguity.

So for me it is a sliding scale. Which is also affected by how much energy I have/how tired I am. Less energy, less lookups.


Both kinds of reading are really productive. Sometimes you want to take a passage of text and say “I am going to study this until I understand every word and grammar point in it”, and that’s a great way to dive deep and learn things.

But being able to just fill things in with your best guess and move on is important too, not just to be able to read for pleasure, but for listening skills. When listening, things are coming at you in real time, and that doesn’t allow time to consult dictionaries, so being able to parse what you were able to pick up into something coherent and keep track of the areas of doubt to fill them in as further information comes available is super useful.


Most people have already pointed this out here, but you need a healthy balance of both. Looking things up is going to allow you to improve much quicker. But it is also more exhausting and might make things less fun.

It can be rather hard to create a healthy balance, though. Here are a couple of ideas:

  1. If you use multiple sources, e.g. you’re reading a LN but also watching a TV series, you could force yourself to look up everything you don’t know while reading the LN, but when doing anything else, you treat it as free time and just let it go unless a vocab really bothers you.

  2. You could give yourself a limit of vocabularly to look up, look up every word you don’t know until you reach that limit.

It is generally always better to look a word up, and if you have the patience, you can stick to that one approach and benefit from quicker results. But that’s work, and most people also need some time off. And during your time off, why not get some extra immersion?

I read web novels during the day because they take a really long time for me to get through and are usually full of words I don’t know. This is my “real” vocab time as opposed to WK and Renshuu where I am more or less reinforcing things I know already or had exposure to prior.

When I’m reading VNs, it depens whether given game works with text-hooking tools or not. If it does, then looking up everything is almost too easy - impossible to resist the temptation. It’s also very quick, so it doesn’t feel like “work”, and doesn’t detract from entertainment factor :wink: This is a double-edged sword, because I tend to also look up the words I know, just to double check - and I don’t think it’s healthy :wink:

However if text-hooking is no go, leaving me with manual look-up as an only option, I tend to treat that as a last resort - I only look up words that I’m unable to guess from context, and that are important for understanding the main meaning of the passage. Otherwise I’m fine with just getting the gist of it, filling in the blanks with best guesses based on context clues :wink:


I don’t mind being on autopilot but I need to land at some point ! I can tolerate ambiguity for a few sentences maybe a whole page but after 2 pages understanding only 60% of what I read I have to stop.


This is me unless I just really want to find out as much as I can in as little time as possible and really can’t look everything up due to time constraints/don’t really care for some reason. However, with audio content/videos I usually just let things go if I have subs. My reason for this approach is this: everything is a learning opportunity, and everything I do in Japanese, I do to learn unless my express purpose for a particular activity is enjoyment. My other reason for this is that I feel immersion during which I don’t understand much isn’t very productive. (I know some people will say otherwise, and I’m not saying it’s useless – it isn’t; you can still benefit by getting a feel for sentence structure or new sounds simply by doing your best without a dictionary – but case in point: I advanced veeeerry slowly in French for about three years despite my 4hrs of classes each week being >80% in French for 1-2 years. What taught me the most was textbooks containing full translations – literal and natural – and two weeks of immersion in Paris actively speaking French, understanding what I could and asking questions in order to learn more. I’m now fully fluent and studying in French at the master’s level.)

Is this approach somewhat tiring? Yes. Would I recommend it to everyone? No, definitely not. However, I think that it’s a big part of why I progressed in Japanese, and perhaps also for how quickly it happened (albeit yes, OK, I know that I’m a little slow for a Chinese speaker given that I’m only just about to take the N1 after about four years of study – I can excuse myself given how much I’ve had to do besides Japanese, but what I meant to say is that I’m clearly not setting any records, especially as someone who had the advantage of already knowing kanji). Thing is though, I think looking everything up is something you should only consider after becoming sufficiently advanced to work out overall sentence structure, even within compound sentences (i.e. with roughly N4-N3 grammar knowledge). Doing so earlier will be extremely frustrating because there will be far too much you don’t know, and you probably won’t enjoy your immersion experience. Up to that point, I think it’s best to just stick to whatever study material you have, and otherwise, enjoy your immersion as much as possible while looking up only the words that really strike you.


I sometimes read the same sentence several times if I’m not sure until it actually sinks in and I can feel the sense of it. Otherwise I just read it like I would read English, but with the added boon that Japanese is way more “glancable” and one can just look at the text (a headline, leaflet, etc.) without actually reading it.