How to start reading and stop worrying

Hi everyone, I have since I started WaniKani looked at lots of post in the community and one big tip for learning Japanese that I have seen time and time again is to start reading books, news and manga in japanese and not worry about not understanding every kanji and every word. I have tried but it is really hard to do and I don’t really understand how to do it, should I stop and learn what the kanji means? Look up words I encounter? Add them to a anki deck?

What do you do when you are reading Japanese?


I started off reading stuff I’m familiar with in Japanese to help bridge the fact that my skill-level was too low to grasp enough context in completely new things. Now I also just read as much as possible, and I basically add nothing to other SRS platforms as I read, but I do active vocab studies apart from that. FloFlo especially has been such a boon. Incredibly useful.

Two Ace Attorney games were the first native things I fully got through. The fact that I knew the storyline meant that even with my garbage level of grammar knowledge, and less than middling vocab, I could keep pace with the story even when just picking out a few sentences or words at a time.

I am now trying to go for the 多読 approach and have my reading (and listening) be about quantity of exposure, and my specific vocab and grammar studies be about the quality of the exposure.

Sometimes that one word that I don’t know is the topic of conversation, so then I will look it up. And otherwise I only look things up if I get curious about a word.

In the beginning, I would look up most unknown words and take a quick note by hand in kana. Later I’d re-write them more neatly in a notebook to get more exposure to the words and to be writing kanji by hand.

That took a lot of time. Looking things up meant 2 hours spent reading was more like 45 minutes of reading. Sometimes I would also avoid reading - not because I didn’t want to read, but because it was a hassle. But then I also felt like I was doing it “wrong” if I didn’t focus a lot on mastering basically every unknown word.

Nowadays, I binge on as much reading as my time and brainpower allows, and I’ve noticed a much faster improvement in my overall reading ability.

Is this the most optimal stratagem? Maybe not. But it’s also something I can sustain day in and day out, because, unlike my previous strategy, this is fun! I’m enjoying myself a lot! Daily consistency will have me learn more than 2 hours of “perfect” studying every few days, because “perfect” study is too taxing to incorporate in my study routine.


Hi. I’ve started the level 0/1 books on White Rabbit Press. It uses easy vocabulary and not a lot of kanji. I’m on level 8 and have found that I can understand most of what I’m reading. I have had to look up some words and also check conjugation which I’m adding to KameSame. I think also using a grammar resource helps too.
I would suggest that maybe try something easy? Like a graded reader.
The Genki grammar books haves a fair amount of reading in there, which might be helpful to you.

I did try some manga but it was too difficult and I didn’t want to be looking up knew kanji every few minutes. I’ll try again later in the year once I’ve learnt more kanji and grammar.
I also had a look at the news ( I think it was the NHK) but it was way out of my league. :scream:


So your recommendation is to use structured study material like WaniKani, Bunpro and FloFlo and quantity of exposure on the side (Manga, news, games, books, tv-shows) without stopping to look things up?

I basically started with sample sentences, learned grammar through Tae Kim, kanji and vocab through WK, worked my way up to graded readers, then manga and then I just started reading whatever I could find that wasn’t incomprehensible.

In the beginning I’d look up almost everything, and by the time I got fed up with that it turned out I could pretty much get the gist of what I was reading without looking stuff up.

Doing this, the things I can read has organically increased, and nowadays I’m not too worried that a new book may be too difficult (though I prefer to read a sample just to be sure).

Remember that getting the gist is always enough! :slight_smile:

EDIT: Nowadays I tend to limit myself to looking up words with kanji I don’t know (or have forgotten! :tired_face:)


I have found the book clubs really helpful because there is usually a vocab list (via community or flo-flo) which saves time when looking things up, and if I really don’t get something I can post a question on the forums (if someone hasn’t beaten me to it). Currently I can sometimes read without worrying about the words I don’t know, but I still prefer to look them up. (I commit the heinous crime of pencilling them in my book and am regarded as a heretic by some parties as a result).

In the end, it’s a question of trade-off - do you have time to look everything up, or is it better to just get a general idea and move on? I think this varies for everyone. I remember when I was a teenager learning German, a friend found me a second hand novel translated into German. I started looking up everything as I went, but that got boring really fast. It was more enjoyable to read faster even if I didn’t understand everything, so I changed tack about a quarter of the way through. It has taken me longer to reach that point in Japanese, but just go with what is comfortable for you.


That’s no crime! My Japanese mangas and books are my textbooks and rarely is there a bit of blank space left in them after I’ve written down all the translations and grammar notes! But yes, addressing the main discussion, I tend to read too closely, looking up everything, and need to learn to relax more and, like you, look up less and so read faster.

But, however you read, the best idea is to read together in a club! It’s fun and provides a bit of discipline and a real boost!


Forgive my ignorance, but what is graded readers?


Graded Readers are Japanese books made easier for the benefit of people studying the language. Parallel Texts are books that have the English alongside the Japanese, also for the benefit of learners. There’s a whole club here dedicated to both types of books!


Graded readers were made for foreign students of Japanese, with a focus on what you usually learn first. They are much more tailored to what we can read than a childrens book, which might use all kinds of advanced grammar and terms we aren’t used to. The graded readers go from very simple grammar and low number of words, up to advanced with long stories.
The difficulty are separated in to levels, so anyone from complete beginner to advanced can use them =)



What you do largely depends on the following trade off: desire to understand everything versus tolerance for looking things up. There’s nothing inherently wrong with looking up (nearly) everything you don’t know, especially at the beginning when there’s a ton you don’t know. When I first started reading I looked up nearly everything and it worked well for my style of learning. At the time I never studied the words I encountered. Of course I learned many words from repeated exposure, but not as much as I could have if I’d studied what I read.

Now that I’ve been reading for a couple years, I’ve gotten tired of looking up so much. So now I’m looking up a little less (but still a lot more than many others would) and I’m adding some of what I do look up into Kitsun to actually study and learn properly. Whether this new approach will work for me is still TBD, as I’ve only been doing it for a month.

To summarize, there are multiple approaches and you have to find what works for you.


I still think not looking up everything (or almost everything) is better use of your time, largely for the reasons @Omun wrote about. Just translating word to word doesn’t really advance you in the language that much instead of reading more and hearing more. Trading reading time to just lookups is not a good tradeoff, if we consider our study time limited. I think this is also true with listening, which doing it this way has also helped my vocab and reading tremendously in a bit more indirect way. Of course you need to get the gist of the material, so if someone finds themselves spending all the time looking up words and grammar, they maybe need to find more appropriate material.

But in the end you should do what is more fun for you, which makes you more likely to do it consistently. I find lookups to be incredibly distracting. That said I’m still trying to train myself not to care about unknown words in a sentence, even if I understood it as a whole.


But on the other hand, spending too much time “reading” when you don’t understand the material from lack of vocabulary is a waste of time, in my opinion. There’s a spectrum between looking up and understanding nothing, and looking up and understanding everything. The right place on the spectrum depends person to person.


Oh I do agree with that, but I was mostly referring to the situation where you do get the gist of the material.

Yes, but I’ve noticed language learners have a tendency to skew it too much to the “need to understand everything” side, and would benefit moving a bit to the other side. Maybe it’s a symptom of classroom teaching, I don’t know.


How much grammar and vocab outside of Wanikani have you studied?

I started reading some graded readers early on, and now I’m reading manga without looking stuff up. I only look up words if I think that I’m supposed to know it or if I see it frequently enough. I don’t look up grammar, but I have been going through Bunpro and adding grammar points that I see frequently.

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Yeah, I’ve been trying to learn this lesson myself, but it’s hard. I think it has less to do with being a language learner and more to do with being an adult (or even a teen) though. As adults, we’re used to understanding nearly everything we read, so we don’t like this feeling of being ignorant and naturally want to understand everything in the language we’re learning too.


When you’re at a lower-intermediate level and want to start diving into native prose or manga, here are my general tips:

  1. Look up words and kanji only if they feel essential to meaning, or are recurring. Or if you’re interested in them. But settle for partial understanding here and there to get through, and because there will be so much you don’t know at first. Getting a few important bits is better than bogging yourself down to get everything.
  1. Add them to a Word document/flashcard deck/digital flashcard app (Anki, Quizlet, Kitsun, etc.) only if you feel like it/they seem particularly important/useful. Again, it’s a judgement call. In a perfect world, you’d add all of them, but in a practical one, keep yourself moving. Exposure will also do some of the work. Same goes for phrases (not just individual words).

  2. That’s it. As you become more comfortable with reading and accumulate more study, eventually you will get to the point where you’ll want to look up every unknown and add it to notes somewhere, but that’s only once they become few enough and noticeable enough to not have that task seem so daunting. (And because at that point that’s the level of granular learning you really need to progress.) Early on, it needn’t be so. Your goal is to get something out of it appropriate for continued learning at your level–not to force mastery on your first pass.

Also, basically everything @Omun said above. Seems like our approaches were/are pretty similar. Have outside kanji/vocab study, and use reading for the fun of it, to pick up some new phrases/words, and to increase reading speed. That takes the weight off of needing to catch everything. (At this point reading has become a main vocab-learning resource for me, but that’s after getting much further along with study.)


I have been an avid anime and manga years for an over a decade and now recently taken a university course at beginner level. Just finish that and found Wanikani and Bunpro.

To weigh in a little on the “read without looking up” vs “read while looking everything up” debate… There’s another aspect to consider, which is the difficulty. If you can’t understand enough to enjoy the material without looking up every other word, then that’s your cue to consider that you might be better off reading something easier.

I do think graded readers are a fantastic place to start, because they help you get some basic practice in reading without the usual pitfalls of reading native material.

Different people have different tolerances for looking stuff up, reading without understanding, and reading things for practice over interest. You have to find the right balance that works for you. The principle of tadoku essentially boils down to making sure that reading is enjoyable, because then you’ll continue to read.