How to start reading as a beginner?

#1

Having finally reached level 10 on WaniKani, I want to branch out in my Japanese learning.

I’ve got some good Japanese basics. I can read the alphabets. I know some basic grammar. But my vocab is so trash I usually can’t read a single sentence without looking it up. But I’m conflicted because I’ve read people say not to look things up and just keep going. But if I don’t I can’t make sense of anything!

So my question is, what’s the best way to learn to read better? Should I read books and look everything up as I go? I found this floflo website which looks adorable, is it good for this sort of things? Or should I follow the Graded Readers approach of not using a dictionary?

Additionally, should I study grammar at the side at the same time? I’ve tried out bunpro, which seemed pretty do-able.

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#2

While I love floflo with all my heart and soul, I’m not sure anything on there will be easy enough for you, from what I can gather of your Japanese level. It’s designed to help people get into reading Japanese books, so the material isn’t really aimed at total beginners, unless your barrier truly is just vocabulary rather than grammar.

If you want to get an idea though, one of the easiest stories on there is ‘Obaa-san to Kuro Neko’, which is available for free:

Maybe you could take a look at the text and, acknowledging that floflo will of course help tremendously with the vocabulary, see whether the grammar is in your range?

I’ve used Graded Readers and found them really effective for giving you reading practice and confidence. The ones I tackled have a Level 0, which I didn’t try, but the Level 1 texts were very simple.

The concept of reading without looking things up in a dictionary works well when the text isn’t too difficult for you to understand and the unknown words are at a low enough frequency. Graded Readers are also illustrated, which helps you to infer meaning even further.

http://www.ask-books.com/tadoku/en/

That said, they can be a little pricey (I’d recommend looking around to find the best prices). You get a CD with those ones which can also come in useful for listening and shadowing practise, but it’s something to bear in mind.

Otherwise, there are a few book clubs in the forums, and you might be able to find something at your level. This is probably the easiest text being tackled at the moment:

There’s also the Beginners Book Club, which is just about to start reading Aria. In general, manga can be a lot easier to tackle than books. Again, you’ve got pictures to help you infer meaning, but the sentences also tend to be much shorter and so on. Lots of slang can be something to watch out for.

Also, I’d bear in mind that the first chapter of anything is usually the hardest. You’re getting used to the author’s style, and there’s often lots of hard-to-read exposition. Try to persevere with anything you try out for a couple of chapters at least before making the decision.

Good luck with whatever you decide, and go for it!

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#3

Do you have any preferred grammar resources? Grammar textbooks are good about providing reading material for beginners, since it’s relatively difficult to find something that matches a beginner’s limited grammar and vocab knowledge. At the beginning of your studies, there’s a minimum number of words that you need to be able to comprehend to make reading less of a chore, and grammar resources are often good about supplying those words, as well.

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#4

Hey, what’s up. I made Floflo.

I think that grammar is the best place a beginner can invest his or her time. There’s really not a lot of it compared to vocabulary/kanji and, unlike with those two, its very difficult to look up using English resources (we got like… Jgram.org I guess?).

While it’s page count may seem intimidating, I think that you should aim to have Tae Kim’s grammar guide complete before attempting any native resources, manga or otherwise. It’s not as difficult as it seems because the first 1/7th of it is dedicated to easy stuff like kana and then 1/3-1/2 of every chapter just shows the vocabulary he uses in his example sentences. You can probably finish it (at some basic level of understanding) after like 2 months or less. It helps to not get caught up trying to learn every single word he uses as well, because that’s beside the point of the guide.

Graded readers are very fun because they give a good confidence boost. I think that they’re very expensive though.

If you’d like to just start reading though Floflo is a good choice. I recommend you limit yourself to the Aoi Tori Bunko publishing line because they’re far easier than any other book.

As Radish has mentioned, the にゃんにゃん探偵団 (Nyan Nyan Tantei-dan) group also exists. I’m currently hand-typing a vocabulary list for it as well so I think that’d be a good jumping point into reading. It’s manual labor though so I’m not sure when it’ll be up.

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#5

Satori Reader is a good resource for beginning reading, and it has several free articles and stories available. You can see a translation of each sentence as well as click on any word to see the individual definitions and grammar points, and you can also save words to study with a built-in SRS system on the site. It also lets you put in your WK api key to see what kanji you already know, and you can also add them individually yourself, so then you can set it to only show furigana for characters that you haven’t learned yet. Also, there is sound to hear either the entire article read aloud, or one sentence at a time.

Here’s an example of one the easy free articles: Tokyo Cat Rides Free

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#6

How you approach beginning reading largely depends on your interest, your patience, and the time you take outside of reading to enhance your ability to read.

I will give my approach, but I forewarn, I am a very stubborn person, so my process is much slower to start in order to more quickly gain the ability to speed up. If you are easily discouraged or frustrated, my way is probably not for you! :rofl:

Step 1: Find something that interests you. Some may say read something easy, light in text amount, or a graded reader, but my opinion is that you’ll succeed more if you are tackling something you have a personal investment in. In addition, tackling something you know is above your current level guarantees the ability to learn more and a great feeling of accomplish once you finish. Of course, this also means you may choose something that is too far, where you can burn out of it. Do pay attention to relative difficulty (for example, floflo lists relative difficulty. Something of “Very Difficult” is probably too far. I definitely believe interest overcomes difficulty, but there is a limit. My personal policy was 2 hours per page when I started. If it took longer than two hours to translate the first full page of a light novel, I put the book aside and found another.

Step 2: Diagram sentences. This may sound like something out of English class, but one of the best ways to figure out Japanese grammar through reading is to figure out where everything is and why. Ideally, this should turn out like Mad Libs, where sentences beome a mixture of understood phrases (where grammar and meaning are understood), known phrases (where either grammar OR meaning is understood, but one is not), and unknown phrases (where neither are known).

At level 10, unless you have decent grammar behind you already, most content will likely fall into the unknown category. This is fine. It will feel intimidating, but it is very easy to turn those into known phrases. It is the understanding that is difficult, but, unless you are reading high level text, you don’t need to fully understand in order to figure out the general idea.

Step 3: Filter and research. Once you’ve identified what you can and can’t read, it’s time to fix that. Your first priority should always be text in ひらがな. At first, filter out the unknown kanji/words. I will detail this in the next paragraph. ひらがな is usually the bulk of your grammar, and hence, the bulk of your meaning. The faster you learn how these work in sentences, the faster and easier your reading becomes. As you are already familiar, it is common practice for advanced readers to not research unknown words. As I often read away from my computer, I have a small notepad pinned to the book I read in which I quickly write any words I don’t know when I come across them. If you’ve ever played Mad Libs, you should know it feels to read with some unknown words. While it may be frustrating to miss meaning, the time it takes to look up everything, especially when you start, will burn you out.

Why should you not immediately look up unknown kanji/words? Rentention. Take the following sentence: 某は猫でござる。(それがしは ねこ でござる。) Assuming you are familiar with でござる being used as the token samurai speech in anime/manga, likely the only kanji/word in that sentence is you don’t know is 某. Hopefully, one can deduce that it is likely a pronoun (I, you, or he/she/they). Seeing as context would text you whether the cat is talking or not, you then have learned a new kanji/word without researching it first. You are much more likely to remember it after that than if you look it up (similar to completing math homework by just writing in the answers at the back of the book instead of solving the problems yourself).

Step 4: Researching Kanji and Words. At this point, you’ve hopefully created a glorious example of Mad Libs, with sentences formed and needing only an assumedly large number of blanks to fill. So how do you go about filling those blanks?
First, research verbs. Usually always located at the end of clauses, verbs are the most critical words to learn, as they largely determine the grammar (as most verbs have matching relationships with particles). Verbs, unless tied with する or compound, will also usually use their くんよみ, meaning resources like Google Translate probably* won’t mess up the reading. If you don’t have verb conjugations memorized, do it before you start. It will save you so much time.
Second, discover unknown kanji. Start with readings, and, if you are familiar with how phonetic patterns work with kanji, try to guess the reading before you look it up. Ideally, figure out kanji in じゅくご with kanji you already recognize first, since you are more likely to understand the meaning. Learn the reading, check for the possibility of a stand-alone readings (usually* くんよみ), and, if you really want to progress, use Anki, Kitsun (if you aren’t signed up to try to get in now, you totally should :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: ), or another flash card resources to drill those kanji. It may also be a good idea to see what level in WK that kanji is contained (if it is) to get an idea of where you’ll be at that level. Always try to guess the meaning of a word by looking at its kanji meanings before actually looking up the word itself.
Third, discover unknown words. Sometimes じゅくご aren’t easy to figure out, and sometimes they’re just あてじ that are designed to either mess you up meaning-wise or reading-wise. Ideally, understanding all of the kanji combined with context will provide you the means to understand the sentence. Realistically, however, there will be plenty you won’t be able to get. Look them up after a reading session (however long you deem that) and compare any guesses you could possibly make. Making wrong guesses is good experience, and helps you remember those words in the future. If you’re dedicated, add those words to a flash card/SRS resource and drill drill drill. Otherwise, move on and hope your memory holds when that word inevitably pops up.

Step 5: Reread everything. Probably what I consider the most important step in learning by reading, make sure to reread any text you read after you have finished researching anything. The best way to both solidify the information you’ve learned as well to give yourself a nice pat on the back for your efforts is to read through what you now “understand.” If your process is working, you should be able to very slowly dig through and get a mostly clean picture. If you find yourself getting caught a decent amount but still able to get through most of it, tweak your research and study habits. If you essentially can’t reread it, you are probably reading something too difficult.

TL:DR

  1. If it’s not interesting, you likely won’t manage to get through it.
  2. Separate what you understand, what you recognize, and what you don’t recognize.
  3. Filter the above content and research, starting hiragana/grammar > kanji > vocabulary.
  4. When researching kanji, start with reading then meaning. Always research verbs first.
  5. Reread anything you translate both for confirmation of understanding and to feel how you’ve progressed.

Notes: My approach assumes you are writing/typing a translation while reading. I highly recommend against attempting straight reading without physically translating as a beginner, as sight-reading and mental translation is highly less effective at retention and provides no lasting feedback about your progress.

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#7

In my experience, the toughest part is finding good reading material that is appropriate for your reading level.

I’m a big supporter of graded readers as a fun way to get started with reading. They are designed to be easy to pick up and start reading right away, even if you have a limited vocabulary and minimal grammer knowledge. There are various options available, depending on your reading level and personal preferences.

Another option is bilingual books that offer side-by-side Japanese and English text. However, these tend to be at too high of a level, grammatically, to be of much use to a true beginner. And there is a distinct temptation to “cheat” by reading the translation before you have really tried to understand the Japanese.

Another option would be Japanese children’s books or light manga aimed at younger audiences. These books tend to be easier to read, with plenty of pictures and furigana, but even kid’s books can have a lot of strange vocabulary and tricky grammar if you are just starting out. Plus, not everyone enjoys reading children’s books enough to stick with it.

Early on, your best bet is to just start reading whatever you can or whatever interests you. Get a variety of reading material together and just see what you can do right now. Start with the simplest items and see if you can handle it. If not, why? Not enough grammar knowledge? Not enough vocabulary? Not enough kanji knowledge? What is holding you back? And more importantly, what can you do to change that?

Early on you should go into reading EXPECTING to look up a lot of words. Anything you pick up will have plenty of new words and unfamiliar kanji. If it gets overwhelming, back up and focus on building your vocabulary for a bit, either by studying vocab directly or by using easier reading material for a while. If possible, try to find practice sentences or short stories that use simple vocabulary at first. But if you can’t find anything easy enough or you want to tackle something harder, just take it slow, learning new vocabulary as you go along. Just don’t neglect your grammar studies. That can quickly become a bottleneck if you are not careful. Adjust your studies to shore up your weak points … and keep using WaniKani!

There are many options for vocabulary building. The most basic is a notepad and pencil - write down new words that you encounter while reading so you can review them later.

It is important to recognize that it will never be perfectly easy to start reading a new language. Just like putting off studying kanji until later won’t make it any easier on yourself, it will just hold you back. The sooner you get started, the more practice you will get at reading and the faster you will start to see real results.

After you finish a short story or book, hang on to it. You can re-read these beginner books to test your vocabulary and remind yourself of just how far you have come!

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#8

Thanks everyone for all the great advice! You’ve given me a ton to work with.

I’m going to try some of the recommended books, because they seem like I could manage them if I try hard enough. But I’m also going to follow Raionus’ advice of completing Tae Kim’s grammar guide. I’ve seen the book before and it seems like reading it would be the best next step for me.

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#9

Tae Kim’s guide is good, but sometimes his explanations didn’t quite click for me. This is another free online grammar resource that I’ve found very helpful:

https://pomax.github.io/nrGrammar/

It is a long read, but very detailed and helps to fill in some of the holes that can trip you up as you progress into reading independently.

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#10

Great advice already .
I will point a thing or two regarding my reading experience so far.

I started with japanese about a year ago, so take that in mind.

Initially while the ‘‘read what you are interested in’’ was the mindset I was going for, there isn’t much material to read with only some hundreds words of known vocab. So I took the Graded Readers route starting with level 0 in the series. With 500 words under your belt and halfway a basic textbooks you should be ready enough. There are at least 3 series that are available ( Ask, Oxford, Taishukan) for graded readers in japanese.

After 5-6 months following exclusively graded readers material (level 3 in the series) I’ve jumped into native content … but well… the level I’m able to get it’s in the range of readings aimed at 6-8 year old kids, so there’s that. There’re lots of options now, though not necessarily anything that I’m passionate about … mostly short tales; I’m currently reading a series aimed for kids going from 1st until the 6th grade, so it gets more complicated gradually.

Mixing graded readers with native material now feels like a good way to wean myself off from learners oriented books, as after level 4 in the graded readers you can actually run out of material (there’re limited options there, compared to the almost endless options of native content)

Eventually graded readers series are suppose to leave you at a level you could grab with enough confidence material aimed at 4-6th grade kids. So you might stick with them till you are done with those, or jump into basic native material when you feel they are in that sweet spot, when you bump into some , but not too many, new words, grammar concepts or expressions, so the whole reading it’s entertaining while still learning new stuff.

In the end I would recommend to start with graded readers as a way to start you on reading on a regular basis, and as you get better try some native content, eventually you will find something that feels ok as a way to make the transition…

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#11

I’m in the exact same spot as you and had the same question wow. Glad you asked.

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#12

I just ordered my first Level 0 Graded Reader. I can’t wait til it comes in within a couple of weeks. I am so glad you posted your thoughts on these books, Ncastaneda, because I was hoping I had done the right thing.

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#13

I’d also like to add to this conversation that at a certain point you just sort of start being able to read NHK Easy if you’ve been doing any work on your grammar (though the ‘Easy’ part of that is a bit of a misnomer . . .). I’ve been pretty lax (about 2/3rds of Genki I finished), and I was able to tackle my first article (with a LOT of dictionary assistance and translations provided by the NHK Easy subreddit ) at level 16. Life’s been busy, so I haven’t really kept up with it, but my ability to read articles seemed to improve a lot for the week or so I was regularly reading it, going from 1.5 hours for my first one to 30-45ish minutes on the later ones while displaying improved comprehension.

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#14

Great!! Enjoy it! I remember reading my first story from the Ask series some time ago (about the cherry blossom season :blush: )… It was a huge change from reading my Genki dialogues, since I actually cared for what I was reading (I was somewhat fed up with the characters from the Genki books :sweat_smile: )

A word of notice, don’t neglect your vocab learning. I was appointed a few weeks ago, that indeed there’s a gap between graded readers and basic elementary kids stories, mostly related to vocab count, so working on your vocab acquisition will allow it for it to be a smooth transition once you’re done with the series or already reaching the last levels.:+1:

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#15

has anybody linked duendecat yet? see also this thread.

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#16

Thanks for your comments, Ncastaneda! I work on Vocabulary from other sources for at least an hour a day. If I encounter new vocabulary, I’ll learn it on the spot. I love vocabulary, luckily. It gives me something new to use on my Japanese-speaking co-worker. Anyway, I’m really excited to get started on reading real books from a baby level and going to higher levels as soon as I can.

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