I recently started reading my first manga in Japanese, volume 9 of ひだまりスケッチ. Because I’ve read the first 8 in English, I’m already invested/interested in the story/characters so I’ve found I’ve been waaay more motivated to read this (compared to the new beginner-reader-friendly books people recommend which i’ve tried beginning in the past) which has been great.
I translate every line (what I’ve heard people call intensive reading, as opposed to extensive reading!) Many kanji and phrases I recognise and when I am able to read a sentence easily it’s such a fun feeling
That said, I’ve been feeling a bit of imposter syndrome in that … sometimes it doesn’t feel like I’m reading at all but just using a dictionary and a translator – is that how everyone feels their first time reading?
Also since I’m making a topic, another thing I’m a little concerned about is that I struggle reading when it’s all kana (as is used in children’s stories and things). Is it normal to find kanji easier? Should I be practicing reading all kana texts or is that something that doesn’t appear ‘in the wild’ that often?
And generally, do people have any advice for new readers of native japanese material?
I’d recommend looking at the first volume, to get a better feel of the writing from the get go of the story and how characters speak.
That said even works you’re familiar with and you start from the beginning will be challenging to anyone new at reading. And this daunting feeling of needing time and effort to parse anything new you read will probably stay for a while. But it does get easier so long as you keep reading even if it’s a single panel on a regular basis. I also recommend learning grammar alongside it, so that when you learn new grammar you can see it back in what you read and what you read might also lead you to new grammar you haven’t seen before.
I also used to try to translate everything at the very beginning, but I saw that I made way too little progress and my motivation to continue was dropping. So I changed my approach and mindset that everything I’m reading, it’s okay if don’t fully get it, this is all practice to get better at reading. I stopped translating sentences, started looking up vocab I didn’t know either after or during reading. I also found it helpful to set a goal at a reasonable amount, not too much that it overwhelms not too little that I don’t get any challenge. Ultimately I settled on trying to read a manga chapter per day and that has worked for me. For books I’ll have to probably lower the amount a bit and go for a chapter per week or something.
Anyway it’s not strange and you’ll get so much better with repeated practice over a longer period of time, but it definitely doesn’t come for free. No free nuggets with your wanikani fries.
That’s what reading is when you don’t yet understand the language you’re reading.
The only thing I’d be worried about is becoming over-reliant on translations (i.e. getting stuck on translating Japanese instead of understanding the Japanese as-is, down the line). But that’s not something to be overly cautious of as a beginner, because you’re going to be translating no matter what - you don’t really have another way of understanding what you’re reading, essentially.
Yes, it’s absolutely normal to find kanji helpful. It’ll get better as you learn more vocabulary, but right now you’re basically reading kana by kana and “guessing” where the word boundaries are. That’s easier with kanji because even if you don’t know what any of it means, if you see 明日は魚か肉かどちらが食べたいの？ it’s fairly clear that 明日, 魚 and 肉 are probably words, as well as 食べたい being a verb conjugation of sorts. Contrasting that with あしたはさかなかにくかどちらがたべたいの？, that becomes a bit of a mess that’s gonna make very little sense unless you know those words already. Some things, like the Japanese version of Undertale, will add spaces to make that a bit easier.
mmm yes I did consider! I read a few of the pages free to try on bookwalker when i was browsing but unfortunately bc i love the series so much and have reread it so many times, i worried i knew every line already so wondered was i actually translating or just remembering haha
I’m glad to see that it’s not contradictory that the feeling both stays and gets easier! I will definitely try and commit to reading on a regular basis ^-^ I defo agree about the grammar and actually that was part of the appeal to start reading native material, to see more casual grammar and how it’s used naturally in conversation; for me it’s much more interesting learning by seeing grammar being used than by doing my bunpro reviews alone
I will defo bare in mind your advice about the dangers of committing to translating every sentence all the time! thank you so much for all your advice thud先輩
this is such an important thing to remember and esp the phrases i know automatically it feels much more like recognizing the japanese as-is which is a lovely feeling - i hope with time more phrases will become like that! right now i use a translator at the very end to confirm my guesses as to the sentences’ meaning, but i wonder if I should stop using a translator entirely to really encourage me to have more confidence in my guesses ?
yes i totally forgot about the word boundaries thing!! that’s so true!! i think it’s also there are just so many homophones in japanese sometimes it’s hard to remember / i get overwhelmed - i hope with time i get better at contextualised understanding i.e. knowing/remembering based on context (especially since this is the same processing used in listening comprehension) if that makes sense
Not necessarily, I’d say, but I’d save a translator like DeepL or ichi.moe as a last resort. Machine translations take a lot of effort away from you in identifying grammar points, correctly parsing the sentence structure, and so on - and can sometimes give very strange results to boot. But if you can’t parse a sentence with a dictionary and some grammar references… by all means use a translator. Just make sure after you see what a sentence means according to it, to check whether it actually means that, and why it means that.
But there’s nothing wrong with checking your understanding. Just don’t overdo it - if you know what something means, you know what it means. If you think you may be second-guessing yourself too much, it might be worth it to just not use a translator at all, and see if you can follow the story. If you can, no need for the translator unless you have specific doubts.
That makes perfect sense, and it’s exactly why you will get better at this. You don’t hear kanji, but you’ll still be able to tell your 交渉 from your 公証 and your 考証, so to speak. Pitch accent can play a role in that, but a big part of it is just knowing more of the language and understanding that in context, one meaning is a lot more likely than another.
Also another thing to add is you can try rewriting the sentence yourself, or ask someone else if that is too much. I find that seeing certain words written with kanji in a sentence helpful. It works as a tool to easier look up and distinguish parts you know and don’t know , but also when you see the connection between kana and kanji it gets easier to see it.
Of course you can also just ask about a specific part in a sentence.
I made a post some months back saying much the same stuff, and I promise, it really does get better eventually if you stick with it. It’s probably going to take a while before you start regularly hitting moments that feel more like “real reading” though.
Seconding everything yamitenshi said on DeepL, 100%. I still use DeepL kind of a lot when I get stuck, which some people discourage, but the thing is I only use it if I’m not managing to put a sentence together fully, to get another hint at how it might work. Often that new perspective is what I need to work out what the unknown parts were doing for myself. If I still can’t get there on my own, it either gives me a new avenue to investigate if I want to do some searches online, or I just throw it out, because trusting DeepL is the thing that makes people tell you not to use it.
If you feel like you’re relying on translators and dictionaries too much, try reading actual paper books. That makes look-ups much more difficult than highlight/copy/paste, so you’re less likely to do them unless you’re really stuck.
I use Google Sheets when reading. I scan each page, throw it onto a google sheet and type out each sentence next to the page and then translate each sentence.
My escalation resources are, in this order, jisho.org, ichi.moe, A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar, and then DeepL. Is this reading in the traditional sense? No. But IMHO simply looking at ink on paper and having no comprehension isn’t a very good use of time. Does it get better the more you do it? Yes!
The struggles are normal. As long as you’re mindful of the pitfalls there’s not too much to worry about with tools imo. Eventually you’ll try to read something tools can’t handle anyway, so as long as you keep reading getting tool free practice is inevitable as well. It’ll get better over time and after building confidence, but to reach that point you need to read more. Don’t worry about the imposter part, because this is pretty much fake it til you make it.
Reading stuff in the wild pretty much always comes with headaches (slang, dialects, typos, weird fonts, etc.) so just look at it as part of the learning process.
@yamitenshi@Daisoujou oooo thank you both for your comments on DeepL - I rediscovered it recently and ngl my first impression was “wow this translates so well!!” bc the phrases were a lot ‘smoother’ than what i figured out; but maybe all it was acc doing was giving my translated sentences an extra twist / more personality than the phrases actually needed ! As you say, if I know what something means (and sometimes this might just be the general gist as @Thud was originally saying), then maybe i know what it means
I would defo love to read a physical book; i’m actually moving to japan fairly soon so i’m so excited for the bounty of japanese book stores to explore hehe but also there’s a nervousness bc of all the things @ccookf mentioned:
it’ll be a growing experience for sure haha and i think that comic u posted captures it perfectly
So interesting hearing other people’s process and thank you for sharing the resources you use too as well as sending motivation !!
at the moment my process is similar but i actually love physically writing ! Pls excuse my ugly late night handwriting haha but here’s an example:
I write out the sentence then use two colours to differentiate what I know and what I don’t know then I look up all the unknown kanji/vocab/grammar points nearly always with jisho.org - I’ll defo check out a A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar bc I think I’ve heard ToKini Andy talk about it too!
One other thing: even as a fairly experienced reader, I still find reading yonkoma to be quite a different beastie from reading the more free-form manga. It’s possible you may have an easier time of things if you start with one of the latter as your first Japanese book.
oh cool i’d never heard that word before (yonkoma!) You’re probably right, tho I do enjoy that it gives me a nice numerical goal like @thud was saying here:
as lately I’ve been reading 1 set of the four panels each time and it’s been a good amount.
It’s probably a good idea for me (and most beginner readers?) to read an assortment of types of writing; for example, manga is very dialogue driven with near to no narration; i would love to see how those types of sentences found in a novel or that sort of narrative are configured too! but maybe that’s for later in my japanese journey idk haha
I’d say the key to remember is that the brain is a pattern recognition machine. Once you see the same grammar over and over (so long as you understand the basics of that grammar), you’ll start to better understand the sentences in less time. Likewise for common vocabulary words.
As you keep reading, you’ll be seeing the same grammar and common vocabulary over and over, and eventually it’ll start to feel less like deciphering and more like reading.
It sounds like you’ve moved past the “I wish Japanese didn’t have kanji” stage and into the “I wish Japanese used kanji more often” stage!
yeah this totally makes sense ! i’m sure the more i read, the more i’ll not only recognize more grammar/phrases but specifically i’ll get a sense of which grammar/phrases r commonly used and that’s what i’m most excited about for now: collating an assortment of the most commonly used / everyday language so i can put it into practice !
it’s mad how helpful ‘zooming-out’ and looking at your body a little more neutrally can be haha
While intensive reading is exhausting and something one might profit from at the beginning, I think it’s maybe a little better to focus on understanding the sentences in Japanese rather than translating into English. I think @yamitenshi mentioned something along those lines. To me at least understanding the nuance in Japanese is definitely more rewarding.
Speaking of reading online, try not to abuse Yomichan ;).
As for kana strings, that’s definitely a thing in kids books. Don’t try the children edition of Fiend of 20 Faces by Edogawa Ranpo, for instance. It just hurts . Reading kanji makes things way easier.