I’ve loved the option for SRS platforms. Learning content through wanikani and bunpro really helped me start to shoot forward in my progress with the Japanese language, but I find that I can never apply what I’ve learned for the obvious reason that I don’t read any real Japanese. Like I try to look at NHK or read something I enjoy like manga I bought from Japan, but everytime I try I still feel the same as when I was a newbie to learning the language; I get stuck on stuff I don’t understand and give up.
Any time I try to convince myself to read/listen to Japanese I repeat the same steps of trying, not comprehending, and then giving up. It certainly is nice that I can read a lot of the kanji thrown out, and I even recognize some of the grammar that is in some more complex sentences, but I never get the full understanding of a sentence, and it’s really frustrating. Simple content like the graded learners are too easy, and native content is too much for me to parse. I even tried to join book clubs and I still don’t find myself having the motive to try and keep up.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this, so I figured I would ask the community what they would do. Currently the only situation I see myself getting any tangible reading actually done is to lock myself in a room with nothing but a book and a dictionary, but that isn’t much of a viable option in everyday life. How can I force myself to stick with reading to the point that I can improve my comprehension skills? How do I keep myself from giving up the moment I find a sentence I don’t understand?
(It might help to note that I suffer from ADD, so that may be a factor that’s making it harder than usual to keep my focus)
I mostly just do passive listening and reading, so if I don’t understand something I just live with it. Sometimes I’ll look up words on Jisho when reading or listening. It should be easier if your reading material is close to your current level, so that you don’t have to look up most words and you don’t lose a lot by skipping them.
Occasionally I watch videos in English explaining Japanese grammar (mostly from Cure Dolly). I don’t have to do any effort, just watch, so it’s entertainment for me rather than study.
In the end, it becomes easier the more often you do it, starting is always the hardest part. Rather than giving up when you get stuck, just skip some of it and continue reading or listening past the place where you got stuck. You can reread or rewatch it again later, understanding it a little better each time.
Like the other reply, I do passive Japanese listening/reading but I do it with random Japanese tv. If something peaks my interest, I’ll pay more attention to it and because it’s both audible and incomplete subtitles are frequent, I get practice with both listening and reading. Otherwise it’s just background noise.
Do you find the chosen reading material typically doesn’t match your interests? Participating in the book clubs (most notably the discussions) was one of the big factors in my growth in reading ability.
I decided to take formal classes. I am apart of a few Japan societies in the US that offer online group classes, but I started first in community college before transferring to my current uni as a non-traditional student. I realize if I am regularly quizzed or tested on what I’m supposed to learn I am more motivated to study. Using the SRS programs in conjunction with regular studying through a textbook has helped.
I think studying is vastly different from consuming native material, but you can combine the two a bit. There are a few members on the forum who will take words, phrases or grammar patterns they come across in books, movies, music, etc, and input them into programs like Kitsune. I like bunpro for informal Japanese since 95% of what I study in class is formal.
I also like the 4500 Japanese sentences from Tofugu, those are helpful as you can break them down pages at a time.
But to answer these particular questions:
I think setting a time limit for how much you read a day of whatever you want will help you. How many minutes can you currently read for before getting frustrated? 2-3 min? 5? 10? Just add 1 min extra to that time period. Don’t try to read for an hour a day, just aim for that period, and maybe do it 2-3 times a day.
Maybe the first time with music (lyrics), the second by watching something (subtitles), and the third by reading a book, newspaper, magazine, or manga.
I like the Todai app on the phone (I have the pro version) as there is a built-in dictionary and there are different voices for readers, too, so there can be variation in the news narration.
This might also be a good time to invest in a private tutor so you can get 1-1 support. Hope these ideas help!
I think passive listening could surely help! I’m in the states, so I don’t have immediate access to Japanese TV, but do you know any shows I could look at on a platform like Netflix?
I tried to join the Fruits Basket reading group. I thought I would be interested in it as a new series to enjoy, but the lack of context made it harder to understand the flow of the story or what was going on with the dialogue. It’s probably my fault, as I should have sought after a reading group for something I’m more familiar with. At this point it would be easier to find an old discussion for a series already passed since I keep finding series that have already been done/are more than a few weeks in.
That’s a good take on splitting the work. I’ll be starting formal classes at my University in a couple weeks, so I figured that might give me more of a reason to study, but I forgot about how formal the textbooks always stay. I surely wouldn’t call it natural Japanese, although it does share important foundations to improve language learning. I’ll look into how I could start enforcing myself to do at least 5-10 minutes of reading at a time to supplement my studies. Anything that helps reinforce what I’ve learned would be useful
Well… if you use a VPN, you could change it to be in Japan’s Netflix. I think Amazon Japan (like $5 plus VPN) probably has some regular tv/talk shows amongst the 1k+ anime. I’m not really sure how to find those kinds of shows otherwise though. If you’re ok with no English subtitles, then the comedy New Year show, Downtown no Gaki no Tuskai ya Aranhende!, can probably be found on YouTube. Other gameshows and comedy acts might be easier to find on YouTube as well.
You can also try playing casual video games in Japanese as an everyday reading supplement (something like Animal Crossing, or its mobile version, or visual novels, or any game that has enough text, really) - I don’t know if it’s too easy for you, but personally I like it since it’s not that scary to miss something, there is no complex detailed story you wouldn’t be able to enjoy it you misunderstood part of the contents. There are many mobile games and most of them allow to set language to Japanese without changing the overall language of your device.
Another advantage is that games like Animal Crossing are designed to encourage you logging in and talking to characters every day. It’s not much, but it is immersion, you don’t have to exercise any willpower to do it, and it’s really ok even if you don’t go looking up words, it’s enough to understand the gist of it.
I’ve considered a VPN but I always cheap out. Maybe it’s the time to take the splurge…
I really wanted games to be my solution to convincing myself to read japanese, but I always resort to skipping over dialogue to get back to gameplay. It helps a little when I actually tend to read, but I more often skip over it all and play the game like it’s in English
Animal Crossing can almost be too easy if you know the game well. I usually take a couple pages of notes, looking things up, then I go into auto pilot. When I’m lazy, I can play the game from memory, without reading anything (I only pay attention when they’re thinking, so the villagers don’t move out). I have to change games up to keep it challenging
I know right! Sometimes I do skip dialogue too, but any time I feel at least somewhat like reading, I try to look through it. Visual novels might be the solution, I’m going to play them more when my comprehension gets a little better - so far I can only bear to play the ones I don’t care about, since I understand only the basics of what’s going on. That being said, I feel like not understanding the details sometimes even makes a story better if it was not that good to begin with - allows you to fill in the blanks with what you think would be interesting or would make sense. But, again, you have to somehow be interested but not that attached to the original story.
Pre-pandemic I would’ve said take that book to a coffeeshop for an hour.
Is there a point in your day when you’re usually waiting around or have nothing to do? Lunch break? Between meetings? Lying in bed in the morning?
(A few weeks ago the family member I’m caring for really really wanted to do their own cooking even though they were still having trouble with some manual tasks. So I sat at the kitchen table for an hour or so with my manga and my phone dictionary and nothing else, and managed to get through a surprising number of pages in between opening the occasional jar, taking things out of the freezer, etc. And it was even fun.)
The point is, 1) have a fixed amount of time, ideally fixed by someone else so you can’t put it off (the hour before a meeting for example), and 2) be in a space where there’s nothing else in front of you except that book.
“Outside of SRS” is maybe the wrong question because you can train reading & listening comprehension on a sentence / phrase level within an SRS system as well. In fact, Mango Languages does just that (no I am not paid to bring them up in every other comment I write here).
I primarily say “outside of SRS” because I love using SRS, and I have done daily work with those kind of systems nonstop for about 1 1/2 years. Wanikani, bunpro, and torii are my go-to’s. While it helps to introduce material, I’m not cementing it in my head because I only understand how to recognize it in a review situation. It makes encounters in reading harder than I expected, as I recognize the information isolated in a WK review but I don’t catch them out in the wild when I actually need the info
If you can handle watching Sesame Street in Japanese, the Japanese YouTube Channel (Search for セサミストリート and choose the Sesame Street Japan Channel) has a lot of easily digestible videos. Since the show is geared towards children a lot of stuff has visual cues when they are teaching things so it ends up helping you understand a little better. Plus the dialogue isn’t hard to understand either. Cute and fun if you can stand watching it. I have found that the Japanese voices are much easier to listen to than the English versions. Less whiny sounding, but maybe that’s just cuz I watch anime. Just something fun to add to all of the other amazing replies already given.
You need to find something that you really want to read. That way, Japanese becomes the obstacle rather than the reason, and each deciphered sentence gives that satisfaction of getting one more piece of the story.
For me right now, it’s playing Final Fantasy 6 in Japanese. I already know the story but the fun is in seeing how things are expressed in Japanese and how much I can get through before having to look something up.
Plus, it lends itself well to the stage of learning that I’m at because there are line-by-line translations that I can check myself against. (Like here: Final Fantasy VI)
It also has quite a bit of katakana to practice on.
And now, I look forward to reading more of it and playing more of it rather than seeing it as a slog I have to do to get better.
I would start very small just to build a habit of reading. If focus is an issue for you then start extremely small, maybe for 1-2 weeks all you do once a day is open the book you get and just read one word. Then go to one sentence, then a page… and so on and so on.
Idea is to build a habit of reading so it is just a natural part of your day.
Joining the book club here has been the number one thing that has propelled my Japanese knowledge so I definately encourage you trying to get into reading
Otherwise I can really recommend the Netflix series Terrace House and Midnight Diner. Both are available even if you don’t have the Japanese Netflix. They are great for learning everyday Japanese and are also good shows.
I usually listen to the podcast “Nihongo con Teppei” (can be found on Spotify or any other podcast app) when I do everyday tasks or workout. It’s very simple in the beginning but gets increasingly difficult so it’s a great way to practice listening.
For books I choose some which are easier. For example Magic Treehouse is easy. Unlike manga there isn’t too slangy words in it. I usually check every word I don’t know, and also grammar points. I add then the words to Anki, so that I can practice them. (The book should have a level where you have to look up some words, but not too much, else it gets kinda frustrating.)
For grammar, identify it and then search for it. I usually google like this “grammar structure I found” plus the word grammar. (For example “ということ grammar”) Websites explaining the grammar point will be suggested. (Sure you can also search in Bunpro itself.)
Also check out words which are two words connected together. You might feel like, I understand both of this words, but I still don’t understand their meaning. But when you check you see it got kinda a different meaning. (For example 殴り合い, if you look at the individual parts you get something like hit meet. But you might find that not useful, when you look up the word, you see it means fist fight.)
Sometimes there’s also idioms. Those you should be able to find on Jisho. (For example I stumbled over 猫の手も借りたい. I was quite confused why they suddenly talked about cat hands, then I checked and saw it means “extremely busy; wanting even the help of a cat”)
If really unsure, you can also ask native speakers. For this I use “hinative”. Make a screenshot of the sentence you encountered or write it down and ask what does this sentence mean. I mostly got good answers. If you have Japanese friends, you can ask them too. (Here you have to wait, so I can see that this might not be too motivating when you want to read something.)
If you read regularly, you will get better, and material you found previousily difficult, will suddenly feel easier. I just put away stuff I found to difficult and pick it up later again. But sure you need to practice and learn more in the between time.
I hope this helped a little bit. I think the most important point is, that the material you use, should just be slightly challenging. At least for me I can say, that I feel overwhelmed and demotivated if I had to look up too much stuff.
Having just the book and a dictionary is what I did in the past, because I mostly read while commuting in the train. I work now from home, so I notice I read less. To still get some reading time in, I dedice 1/2 hour to my schedule. I set a timer, and just read until the timer goes off. (Figure out for yourself how much time you want to use. You might want to start with less, if it feels tiresome.)