How do you actually know you're getting better at reading?

The standard advice is that you become better with practice. But as an old teacher once told me practice doesn’t make perfect it makes permanent.

Having recently completed Tobira, Read Real Japanese and the N3 section of Bunpro I decided to start reading a light novel entirely in Japanese and vowed to not look at an official translation at all and just go through it armed with a dictionary. Read through the first few pages and realised hey this isn’t so bad. Curiosity got the better of me and I looked up an official translation and realised there were a number of sentences I completely misinterpreted and would’ve continued making the same mistake if I hadn’t look at the official translation.

Looking at the Reading threads everyone seems to go at it with just a dictionary but how do you guys know you’re not just making the same mistakes again and again unless you look at an official translation (if it exists) or ask a native?

Is attempting to read Japanese armed with just a dictionary not really a viable strategy?


If you truly expose yourself to enough content, you’ll overcome those kinds of things.

When I was a little kid, there was a point in time where I thought that “approximately” meant “exactly”… I literally had the complete opposite idea somehow, even though I’m a native English speaker. Of course, I was only 5 or 6. Eventually, I ran into a situation where it didn’t make sense to me why the word was being used the way I thought it would, and I actually checked.

We don’t come into the world with a perfect understanding of everything, it’s always developing, but natives are inundated with content constantly, so we progress pretty quickly even when confusion arises.

Basically, just assume you’re going to make some mistakes along the way and dig deeper when you feel you misunderstood stuff. If you misinterpret enough things in a story, eventually you’ll be confused and you’ll look for the source of the confusion. That will help resolve it and you’ll have learned something new.


It is. It is unavoidable to misunderstand a lot of things at the start, but the more you get used to it the more, let’s say, 心の余裕 you have to be able to judge what you actually understand and what could use some polishing. It’s an iterative process. You can reevaluate your understanding of any grammar construction, the meaning of any word etc. at every step if needed.


I think it is a viable strategy.

I did the same thing with English as a child. I literally read all the time and my vocabulary was way higher than most kids my age, but I made interpretation mistakes. Mostly I didn’t look at a dictionary, but made inferences on word meanings based on context. Mostly I realized and corrected those mistakes over a few years, very few of them lasted more than five years or so. I doubt I have any more left.

Doing all that reading will hugely benefit your overall language ability, with the cost of a few misunderstandings that will eventually clear up if you continue to use the language …is my inexpert opinion!


This is kind of true, but the moral of the story isn’t “therefore, never practise”.

I very much agree with what Leebo said, that eventually you’ll run into situations where your confusion lets you know something is up. Plus, just because you start reading doesn’t mean that you completely suspend any other kind of study, right? So you might misinterpret a sentence one time, but that doesn’t mean some grammar point is now indelibly etched onto your memory incorrectly. If it really has made an impression, then finding out you were wrong all along will probably leave an even bigger impression (for example, note that Leebo remembers a word he incorrectly understood when he was five or six years old).

It also helps that lots of us here read in groups. You’re much less likely to all make exactly the same mistake. Plus, there are usually a good number of more advanced learners reading along with any club. Any one club is not usually made up purely of beginners. Sometimes we can’t quite work something out, or we’re not confident with the result - but usually we can at least recognise that, and the few things we might be getting wrong along the way are far outweighed by the benefits of the whole exercise.

As to the question actually encompassed in your title… You can read faster, you recognise things that you previously had to look up, you find yourself able to help others with questions, you’re more able to work out where the words start and end…


I generally don’t use a dictionary unless a word seems crucial for understanding what’s going on. If I need to use the dictionary a lot on one page, I’ll decide the level is too high for me and read something a bit easier.

This is very personal though! I just know I learn best when I can infer meanings from the context and get a ‘feel’ for certain words. If I have to look up a lot of words, I cannot get a feel for words because there’s simply too many.

I found that once my level gets high enough for material I enjoy reading more as well, which makes it easier to continue :slight_smile:

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Everyone has already given really useful answers, but I’d like to add something. It’s really hard to see progress over the short term. Every day you’re learning a little bit, so it’s hard to see a difference from one day to the next. But over the period of months your progress becomes more apparent. It’s just like when you’re growing taller physically. You and people you see every day don’t notice as much as the person you see twice a year.

This growth occurs for individual grammar points / words and overall sentence structure, where things you used to struggle to figure out or had to look up are obvious as soon as you read them. Things you had trouble with for weeks or months after learning them are now intuitive instead. Of course, these get replaced with new things you just learned and struggle with, but that’s the nature of learning.

This also occurs on the larger scale, with reading speed and overall comprehension. To give a personal example, I started reading the manga series ご注文はうさぎですか about two years ago, and it was a struggle. It would sometimes take me over an hour to read an 8 page chapter, I didn’t get half the jokes, and so on. After volume two I took a break from that series, during which time I read two books with the book clubs here and read an easier manga series on my own. Then when I finally picked up volume three of ご注文はうさぎですか (about 9 months after dropping it), it was easy. Yes, easy. Sure, I still had to look up words (as I always do), but overall I understood much, much more and it became a joy to read. I may not have noticed my improvements over the short term, but by contrasting my experience reading the same series at two different times, it became apparent.


Weird question I don’t want to start a whole new topic for, but how do I type づ? I had to copy it from the definition to use it for a recent word I learned lol… It seems to be pronounced the same as ず、but I can’t type it with tzu or zu?

You can type du. If you are ever unsure, you can always check the hiragana chart in the system.


Oh wonderful, thanks!

But wasn’t it far easier to read volume 2 than volume 1 because of the common vocab? If that was the case then wouldn’t volume 3 be even easier? Or did you decide that in general you weren’t understanding as much as you wanted to which made you go to different series first?

(Because i’m hoping that will happen for me with danmachi)

Not particularly. The nature of it being a 4-koma comedy manga meant that pretty much every chapter was about something different. Sure, there was some overlap (mostly related to cafes), but not enough to make it more comfortable by volume 2.

I’m sure I picked up (or solidified) plenty of words and grammar in that 9 month period that helped make volumes 3 and beyond easier, but the bigger thing was probably getting used to the flow of Japanese sentences in general.

It was largely this. For what it’s worth, I saw the growth you’re hoping for in the manga series I read between volumes 2 and 3, which was 放浪息子. That series had 15 volumes total, and there was a noticeable difference in my ability to read the first few volumes compared to later volumes. I think that largely comes down to getting used to a particular author’s writing style and choice of words.

I’m sure it will get better for you with DaniMachi as well, but whether it’ll be enough of a difference to maintain your sanity I can’t say. :sweat_smile: I don’t have any experience reading multiple entries in a book or light novel series, only manga, so I can’t comment on that directly.


Oh my, I was hoping id become japanese by the time ive read that many volumes of manga :sweat_smile:

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lol 15 volumes…

<— イニシャルD reader…

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Yep. はじめの一歩 is over 120.

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Thank you and all others for the advice! Offtopic but I noticed your level color circle is purple. Is that the color of people who reset after reaching 60? I don’t think it’s the case that you never progressed past level 3 or maybe it is…

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It’s for lifetime members.

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Wait, why is your title back to James? :cry:

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Meanwhile Kochikame was 200 volumes and no one in the U.S. has heard of it.

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