How do you read stuff without getting distracted?

It seems like when I’m trying to read Japanese articles, I’ll finish a sentence or two and then my brain will go off on a tangent about something slightly related for 5 minutes and I don’t notice until I’ve wasted a bunch of time. It doesn’t matter how easy or difficult or interesting or boring the content is, it takes me so long to get through a short basic article because I get distracted a dozen times while reading. This doesn’t happen to me in English nearly as often, otherwise I’d be like “Do I have ADHD?”.

I feel like I recently “leveled up” in comprehension and can finally read N5-N4 level content with relative ease without having to look stuff up every two seconds and I really thought my struggles with getting distracted would start to go away but it hasn’t and I’m going nuts. Does anyone else struggle with this? Does anything help?

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Nah, it’s normal. Probably just taxing your brain a bit. It’s pretty difficult to learn to read.

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This happens to me a lot too, there’s a couple things I do that help:

  • pick a specific instrumental song to loop while reading (this probably won’t help though if you need silence when you read). playlists don’t help, in fact they make me more distracted because i start thinking about the music instead of the book i’m trying to read. pick music that can easily fade into the background and isn’t annoyingly repetitive when looped. also, if the song’s on the longer side, tell yourself you’ll stay focused for the duration of that song. i’ve noticed that by the time the song loops i don’t actually notice it looping (or if i do, i don’t want to stop reading yet!)
  • using a stopwatch has really helped for those times when i’m having a hard time getting started reading. i tell myself i’ll read for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour. windows 11 lets you pin the stopwatch so i always see it in the corner. i’ve noticed it’s so much easier for me to stay focused when i can see how long i’ve actually been working
  • as you might be able to tell from the above two points, i really like small goals. goals like “just one more paragraph” or “just one more page” are helpful, especially when you get to the end of that goal and repeat the process (“okay, i finished that paragraph… now just one more paragraph!”)
  • do you always read on your phone? or on your laptop? do you prefer physical or digital? maybe try changing it up and seeing if a different format will help. i have a really hard time staying focused when reading on my phone, so i almost always read on my laptop. if you’re reading articles maybe try printing them out and seeing if that helps
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Just reading a vocab example sentence is hard for me to concentrate all the way through without getting distracted.

It happens to me a lot, including in English, though I’m definitely ADHD. It also doesn’t matter how interested I am in what I’m reading. I feel it has lessened some though since my proficiency with Japanese and reading in Japanese has increased—with needing less time to look things up and to think about what I’m reading, I have more of a chance to get completely into what I’m reading and there are fewer side roads and rabbit holes for my brain to go down. But even so, it still took quite a while to notice any real improvement on that front. I’ve been reading for almost 2 years now, and it’s really only in the past few months that I’ve been able to read more than ~10-20 pages of a given novel in a day, even though my comprehension and stamina for reading definitely went up before then.

I second setting small goals. In manga I don’t like leaving off mid-chapter, so I try to just read one chapter (and then sometimes I’ll find I can read then next, and the next… the whole volume. But sometimes just that one’s all I can manage). In novels, I’ll flip ahead to see when the next chapter or break is and try to read to that if it’s close, or at least just to the end of the page. Or the paragraph if it’s particularly bad, but if I’m leaving off at the top of a page or section, it’s easier for me to remember where I was when I pick it up again, which is why I try to make it to there lol. But yeah, our brains like short, clear goals a lot better than long, vague ones, so they can definitely help with focus.

(Music too, though with me it doesn’t matter if there are lyrics, even Japanese lyrics, as long as the song is sufficiently familiar to me. Too new, and my brain’s more likely to jump to that. But if I’ve got a song/album/playlist that can just sink to the background, it gives the back of my brain something to do aside from going off on tangents, though it’s absolutely not fail-proof.)

Sometimes I just need a change of scenery. If I’m in my bedroom and am having trouble concentrating but don’t wanna put it down, I might try moving to the living room or the computer room.

Sometimes, though, it means I need a break, whether that means I switch it out for something else I’m reading (or start something new), or I do something else entirely. Some days I don’t get much reading done at all even if I technically have the time and energy, simply because it’s a bad brain day.

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i would recommend FluentU. It makes the reading/ listening/ watching people speak/ learning vocab process interesting for me.

Are these articles actually engaging and interesting to you are are you reading them because you feel like they’re what you can read/what other people suggest?

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I used to think I had like ADHD or something but the reality is, like any skill, you just need to train yourself to get better. Focusing while reading is one of those skills. I think its important to find stuff you enjoy with visual elements first like manga or something. After you get used to doing that, graduate to reading easier books, and advance to harder books.

Easier said than done, because having interest in it is a big contributing factor. Its funny seeing this post because I ran into this problem in English yesterday. I was wondering about some political thing and looked up articles on it and I didn’t have the patience to read it all, and I realized my issues weren’t language related, they were interest related. Hope this helps.

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I do have ADHD, and furthermore, I got off my medication part way through my Japanese journey due to the side effects not being something I wanted to put up with anymore.

Honestly couldn’t agree more. I’m sure if we look at the reasonably achievable hardcap of focus, ADHD people will have a lower one, but my personal opinion is that extremely people are even remotely close to that hardcap in the first place.

So much can be done by training yourself, using focus techniques, cutting distractions, engaging in more interesting content, meditating, etc. Everyone has a lot more potential than I think they realize.

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100%. I think we don’t realize how we are our own worst enemies when it comes to how easily distracted we are.

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