My Complete Journey, Reflection, and Advice for Achieving a High Reading Level in Japanese

Hello. For my fellow learners to are interested in reaching a high level in reading, I would like to share with you some things that I have learned and done that may offer a little bit of guidance. The whole video is 2 hours long, be warned.

While I am not the best reader of Japanese in the world, I think most people would consider me to have “made it” in the sense I can pick up a book off the shelf and read it without a dictionary without any issues in comprehension. I also expect some people do disagree with some things I have to say, but that’s ok. I’m not particularly interested in debate here, but if there are things you would like for me to clarify, please ask. All questions are welcome.

I am not expecting this to be a long thread or discussion of any sort, but I’m happy to dive more into detail if anyone who still has questions has something more niche or unique to them they would like to ask. Overall I just plan to link this in my bio so people who are curious can watch.

Questions and further answers:

Oh wow, yeah I forgot to explain that lol. Sorry. So Visual novels have an option to make the text automatically jump to the next text chunk after a certain amount of time has passed per character displayed in the current chunk. Its called autoplay and you can adjust the speed from slow to fast. I can’t do my autoplay speed in the middle yet and have to set it a bit slower.

About WK

I would agree, but I think the level of structure wanikani provides is not a necessity for a lot of people who are going to be highly successful in japanese anyways. After interacting with certain communities where people basically learn 2000 words and basic grammar before just learning the rest from visual novels, I realized that the struc

ture doesnt have to necessarily be in experts telling you WHAT to learn, but rather just guiding you in how to learn it. If you have enough content you want to read, people to guide you when you have questions, and the time, I think wanikani is completely unnecessary. For some people, I would say wanikani is absolutely necessary, however.

So in general, on this topic there is a very important point thats kind of obvious. The ability to find answers to questions you don’t know is a skill in and of itself. Knowing HOW to search for grammar and word meanings that you dont know is a skill I searched for by trial and error. Thats the biggest net that will solve most of your issues: just time and practice. Then, there is what I would consider a deeper level barrier which is the resource barrier. A lot of answers to questions I have had, I have only been able to find easily in japanese. That is to say, if I search in english I cant find an answer. So the higher your language ability, the higher access to resources. The third thing is questions that I cant find online at all.

It may sound pretty terrible, but if you take those three things and break it down, really what it boils down to is “eh, your future self will prolly have a better shot at it.“ any time you cant immediately find an answer. And thats exactly what I would recommend. If you cant quickly find an answer, just say screw it honestly. So long as youre not at a very high level and deprived of things to learn, I benefitted the most from that approach. And by quickly find an answer, I would usually just copy paste the part I didnt understand into google and tack grammar on at the end. Or whatever conjugation followed by whatever was behind it. 90% or more I got a hit I would say. Thanks maggie sensei and all those jlpt sites. But then, when I would get the hit, I would read the explanation and focus primarily on the example sentences and their translation. Get a feel for how it operates in those sentences, and try to apply that to what I saw. I would never just read the explanation. NEVER.

It sounds like magic, but so many things I struggled with so hard, and finally just decided to ignore it. Then, a few months later, the answer was as clear as day or super easy to find. A big reason, I think, ties into that knot problem. If you are having a hard time with something, it might be the case that theres something else in the sentence tripping you up that you don’t even realize. Or it might make it obvious what the usage is supposed to be and can assist you in looking it up. Alternatively, you might just get a few super obvious context sentences that make it very clear what the grammar is doing and you never end up looking it up in the first place. The ability to move on to the next low hanging fruit and not try to find the answer to everything is a valuable skill in my opinion. Not only from an efficiency standpoint, but from a acquisition standpoint. You dont want to brute force explanations and sentence structures into your head with grammar rules that are beyond your current capability. I noticed that by letting myself naturally untie grammar and get to a point to where a look up was more along the lines of “yep, ok that makes sense“ rather than “hmm, ok I think I see how this works“, I developed a more authentic feel for the grammar. Thats an important part in what I talked about where an expert knows a couple usages of a particle and an intermediate learner knows 10.

Theres also the issue of you need to parse sentences as you go. One thing I think a lot of people will find themselves doing is reading a sentence and then kinda rereading it because they werent processing it as they went. Then, while reading the first part of the sentence the second time, they are kinda able to piece it together better. I think this is pretty natural and just a result of not internalizing the grammar. By not having a feel for the grammar and building meaning as you go, you cant really anticipate whats coming next or connect parts of long sentences very fluidly. More organic grammar understandings helped me out with this a lot.

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First of all, thank you for taking the time to share! It’s really interesting to hear about your experience and what it took to get you where you are now.

Just one thing I didn’t quite get when you were talking about your reading speed (probably has something to do with my lack of experience in reading visual novels) - what do mean at around 1:52:15 when you say “when I put on the autoplay, my autoplay is below the middle speed”?

As a side note, feels kind of crazy to hear someone say that their reading speed is slow when they can read a whole book in a day. Even two books! Like what on earth, man :joy:

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Oh wow, yeah I forgot to explain that lol. Sorry. So Visual novels have an option to make the text automatically jump to the next text chunk after a certain amount of time has passed per character displayed in the current chunk. Its called autoplay and you can adjust the speed from slow to fast. I can’t do my autoplay speed in the middle yet and have to set it a bit slower.

Yeah its not something I expected to ever really have as a problem, but it becomes a very apparent one. You get to a point where you understand 99.9% of what youre reading anyways, so the biggest bottleneck on the amount of input you can get is just the speed you can read. And you might have already expected this, but the two books weren’t long novels. They were average length light novels, so in total it was about 500 pages for the one day.

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Big thanks for sharing! :slight_smile:

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damn, my boy is a youtuber now

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No problem, hope its of use to some people.

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That was awesome. My expectations are already pretty low, so I don’t really think it came off as a downer/disheartening thing at times. It felt more like confirmation of things that people will probably notice, but leave unsaid in various Japanese learning communities. In that sense, it was kind of a relief to hear your take on things. Thanks for the great video!

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Oh boy, time to procrastinate for 2 hours! Thank you in advance man

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Oh snap the face reveal

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Would be cool to add timestamps to the video, for those that don’t want to spend 2h watching.

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Fascinating like to conversation ratio here. I’m currently at 41:00.

I think you bring up some interesting points about Wanikani. It truly is a tradeoff as far as speed and efficiency goes (learning things you don’t need for the immediate and daunting task of reading your first whatever). Having structure is, I think, extremely important for anyone moving into a new field (language or otherwise) because they don’t have the prerequisite experience or knowledge to determine what is or isn’t important for themselves. There’s no choice but to defer to experts on that matter.

I’ve been working as an instructor lately and users of Wanikani end up falling into the same holes as many in other curriculums do. Namely, the better the course (which Wanikani is a good course), the more students tend to solely rely on it. This means they while they progress in their coursework and their subject (Japanese), they do not progress as students.

The moment Wanikani fails them in some way (through a crappy mnemonic or a badly worded definition) their faith in the program takes a huge hit and suddenly they have no idea what to do, because they’ve never had to find the answers on their own and they don’t know how to. This is the make or break point and many students die here.

What might be an interesting topic (and I’m not done with the video so I have no idea what’s in store) is how higher level people find the answers to questions they have.

I have a focus on these in any beginner course I teach. Ex: don’t know what the “slice” method does? Well here’s how I’d find out using Google. This is where I would look in the documentation. This is what I would ignore because it’s extraneous to your needs. How do you know if a library is worth learning? Check weekly downloads. Is it maintained? Is it documented? etc.

In a way you’ve hit this by talking about how you made your way from WK > novels, but I have noticed a lack of these kinds of topics in general. I’m not really sure why, because it seems absolutely critical since no curriculum can spoon feed you Japanese for the rest of your life.

Anyway, just thoughts

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I would agree, but I think the level of structure wanikani provides is not a necessity for a lot of people who are going to be highly successful in japanese anyways. After interacting with certain communities where people basically learn 2000 words and basic grammar before just learning the rest from visual novels, I realized that the structure doesnt have to necessarily be in experts telling you WHAT to learn, but rather just guiding you in how to learn it. If you have enough content you want to read, people to guide you when you have questions, and the time, I think wanikani is completely unnecessary. For some people, I would say wanikani is absolutely necessary, however.

Oof, this was one of the things I had written down to talk about but I think I actually forgot to.

So in general, on this topic there is a very important point thats kind of obvious. The ability to find answers to questions you don’t know is a skill in and of itself. Knowing HOW to search for grammar and word meanings that you dont know is a skill I searched for by trial and error. Thats the biggest net that will solve most of your issues: just time and practice. Then, there is what I would consider a deeper level barrier which is the resource barrier. A lot of answers to questions I have had, I have only been able to find easily in japanese. That is to say, if I search in english I cant find an answer. So the higher your language ability, the higher access to resources. The third thing is questions that I cant find online at all.

It may sound pretty terrible, but if you take those three things and break it down, really what it boils down to is “eh, your future self will prolly have a better shot at it.“ any time you cant immediately find an answer. And thats exactly what I would recommend. If you cant quickly find an answer, just say screw it honestly. So long as youre not at a very high level and deprived of things to learn, I benefitted the most from that approach. And by quickly find an answer, I would usually just copy paste the part I didnt understand into google and tack grammar on at the end. Or whatever conjugation followed by whatever was behind it. 90% or more I got a hit I would say. Thanks maggie sensei and all those jlpt sites. But then, when I would get the hit, I would read the explanation and focus primarily on the example sentences and their translation. Get a feel for how it operates in those sentences, and try to apply that to what I saw. I would never just read the explanation. NEVER.

It sounds like magic, but so many things I struggled with so hard, and finally just decided to ignore it. Then, a few months later, the answer was as clear as day or super easy to find. A big reason, I think, ties into that knot problem. If you are having a hard time with something, it might be the case that theres something else in the sentence tripping you up that you don’t even realize. Or it might make it obvious what the usage is supposed to be and can assist you in looking it up. Alternatively, you might just get a few super obvious context sentences that make it very clear what the grammar is doing and you never end up looking it up in the first place. The ability to move on to the next low hanging fruit and not try to find the answer to everything is a valuable skill in my opinion. Not only from an efficiency standpoint, but from a acquisition standpoint. You dont want to brute force explanations and sentence structures into your head with grammar rules that are beyond your current capability. I noticed that by letting myself naturally untie grammar and get to a point to where a look up was more along the lines of “yep, ok that makes sense“ rather than “hmm, ok I think I see how this works“, I developed a more authentic feel for the grammar. Thats an important part in what I talked about where an expert knows a couple usages of a particle and an intermediate learner knows 10.

Theres also the issue of you need to parse sentences as you go. One thing I think a lot of people will find themselves doing is reading a sentence and then kinda rereading it because they werent processing it as they went. Then, while reading the first part of the sentence the second time, they are kinda able to piece it together better. I think this is pretty natural and just a result of not internalizing the grammar. By not having a feel for the grammar and building meaning as you go, you cant really anticipate whats coming next or connect parts of long sentences very fluidly. More organic grammar understandings helped me out with this a lot.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to record this, I love listening to this kind of stuff.

I’ve only had time to watch about half, but when it comes to Wanikani, I feel like I agree with every bit of your reasoning… but it still leads me to thinking Wanikani is a really good tool for me, for a different reason. My own viewpoint when it comes to words you learn in a list like this is exactly as you say, it’s more an introduction to the general idea of that word than a real “knowledge” of it. Knowledge will come after reading or hearing the word hundreds of times over.

It’s worth mentioning that I’m lucky to have a lot of free time, because I’m doing a whole lot of reading alongside Wanikani, and I’m SRSing words in native material just as much alongside this. But I’ve just personally never understood how people manage to go out and learn things all together; it’s a little overwhelming. Totally, respect to you for basically not even knowing grammar and somehow picking it all up from zero. I wouldn’t say I need “structure” exactly out of WK, but I do think I personally require SOME system that gives me a base of prior knowledge of kanji. I’ve found the kanji I study specifically in WK, for the most part, stick a lot better than ones I’ve tried to learn on my own outside. I’m still working on how to better remember them myself, because I’m well aware how necessary that is going to be, but for now it is what it is.

It’s kind of like the knot problem on a smaller scale, isn’t it? To me, if I don’t know a word or its kanji, that’s 2 knots. Trying to learn a kanji compound and I haven’t already seen those readings elsewhere? More knots. That, to me, has been the value of this site. Perhaps learning what a word I “learned” on WK for how it’s truly used is its own task, which might look like more work, but now I’m taking on 1 task and not 3. I know you used the metaphor more for “solving” comprehension than memory, and about them interacting together, but it felt fitting enough. I just think it’s easy to overload my memory if there are too many pieces without something known (however weak that “knowledge” may be) to hang some of them on.

This is all just my own thoughts because I find the topic interesting and, since I am already doing a lot of self-directed reading, wanted to reflect on why I continue using WK! I don’t mean this as argumentative, not one bit. Looking forward to finishing the video when I have the time.

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Thank you very much for this video. I watched the whole thing and it has made me reflect on my own journey and thoughts on language acquisition. I definately agree with @Raionus that its refreshing to have a real down to earth honest conversation.

Your video raises the question I’ve asked myself before: “Should I be learning Japanese?” Its truly a very personal question, that you give some very helpful tips for figuring out. For myself, the verdict is still out. I’ve definitely taken turns having fun during the language journey, but at the same time, i’ve struggled with the itch to keep studying more. I’ve read through almost all of Tobira and achieved level 44 on WaniKani. For the reasons you’ve mentioned, WaniKani has started to feel like an excuse for not actually learning Japanese, and its also become less fun. My journey through Tobira was a huge amount easier than my study partners due in a huge part to the character recognition and base vocabulary that WaniKani set me on. One thought I came to as I was contemplating my response is that no amount of japanese learning recommendations will be internalized as much as the ones you learn yourself from experience. I don’t regret WK, Tobira or any step along my journey, but I certainly want to aim for the sustainable path where I pick my own reading material simply because i found a book/story that I want to read. I’m hoping once I make that transition to light novels conquer my first few books, I’ll have a better idea on whether I should be learning Japanese.

As i’m still a relatively lazy learner, i’ve started transitioning my time from WK to Satori Reader (in addition to my native material studying). I haven’t been using it too much, but I would suggest it as an option for those who have fallen into the trap but still want to be spoon fed a paragraph of reading every night before bed with a voice playback for comprehension practice. As a bonus, the built in SRS does auto include the sentence it was included in and includes voice playback without any extra effort.

With that said, its very helpful reminder that the journey will almost never end. I have tremendous respect for you and others that have put in the work and have made the progress you have. I’ve been studying for 2 years and have recently basically spent 2 months just doing maintenance reviews with relatively little reading practice as I play video games for hours each day. It’s been a mini vacation from Japanese to recharge, but I’d love to come back in 3 years and realize that “I’ve made it”, not because I have false aspirations of the wonder of studying japanese, but simply to understand that its been incorporated into my lifestyle and I have unique friends and experiences that i’ve made along the way.

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About the part on the good points of reading books.

It’s going to be correct Japanese.

Errrr, it really depends on the author :sweat_smile:
Also on your definition of “correct”.

Edit:
“Oh sh!t, I can read Japanese bro!”

But yes, learning Japanese made me cry tears of blood over a very long time, but when I was binge reading 本好きの下剋上, I definitely felt like it was all worth it.

To be fair, though, I really learned Japanese because I had to, and reading was the easiest way to get there. I didn’t expect to find stuff I enjoy reading that much, so I do break your expected use case :joy:

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Correct in the sense that people actually say it or write like that in books is a pretty fair statement to make for 99.99% of all content.

So no, I really dont think it “really depends“ on anything and is more like something you can maybe find an exception for if you look for it. I think you might be overexaggerating/nitpicking a bit too much here.

And yes, you were one of the cases I had in mind when I posted earlier about how you need to have a big driving force of necessity like life/work/spouse related things revolving around japanese to have a fair shot at getting to a high level if you dont enjoy it. In this case, I think I was talking about people who were learning as a hobby and said they should pick a different hobby if they didnt enjoy it. sadly though, some people just have to power through it even though they dont enjoy it. I cant really say anything on that though because Ive never been in that position where I learned because I had to, so Ive got no advice or opinions really.

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No, okay, that’s why I was thinking we may disagree on the definition of correct.
The way character talks in things like KonoSuba or Re:Zero isn’t even remotely realistic, and this is not at all the “proper” way to talk (or write) to people.
Now, it is “correct” Japanese in the sense that it is actual Japanese, but I’m not sure that justifies spending too much time on it. (The section that made me react was saying that it was going to be “Oh, that’s how you use this, that’s how you use that”).

Ah, yes, that makes more sense. I haven’t had the time to check replies to this thread yet :sweat_smile:

Well, having a goal helped me just power through it. I’ve been much slower than a lot of people I see on the forums, you included, but I made it anyway. I also got to a breakthrough once I could finally read books (which is something I enjoy, regardless of language). For me, that was only viable once I had enough vocabulary and grammar knowledge, because looking things up all the time was definitely not fun (and not directly related to my goal, so I didn’t even have the motivation boost). Once I started being able to enjoy books, though, things got much easier. Suddenly, learning Japanese on its own became motivating, because it was mostly from adding words I saw in those books I enjoyed (thanks to Floflo).
Using flashcards got old again once I could just read through an entire book without needing any lookup (words I didn’t know being obvious from kanji/context).

I do enjoy looking up birbs names in kanji, though.

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I agree but disagree. Like, from a usage standpoint, there’s a lot of japanese that’s going to be useless in a lot of contexts. The most obvious example is hardcore chuuni language being useless in an everyday work context. I think that anything you’ll see again is perfectly fine to spend time on.

But when it boils down to it, japanese that one author uses is 99.9 percent likely to have been used by another author in a similar context. So if you read within that context, the Japanese you are being exposed to is something you will basically always see again EVENTUALLY. That was the whole point of that section. You are basically serving your future self by getting to see the Japanese you will see again in the future. Of course, what’s used is context dependent which I mention a lot, but assuming you don’t have a very short stint with an obscure context, that’ll be the case.

Much like getting a vaccine is just exposing yourself to something similar you can expect to see in the future so your body is prepared, as a learning material books are nothing more than a collection of pieces of the language you can expect to see again that can help prepare you for when you do. That was the point of the section and what I meant by serving your fluent future self well. Anything you just gloss over now is something youll have to learn later, so you’re doing yourself no favors by whitenoising and blowing through stuff you shouldnt be. There is the .1% of stuff, you wont see again, but shouganai right. Like who knows when I’ll see 曜く again.

Yeah me and you are pretty different when it comes to japanese learning, but I’m sure you would agree most people who just want to be able to read and have no need to learn the language will have a tough time getting there if they cry as many tears of blood as you did. I know you said reading the bookworm book made it feel like it was all worth it, but if you had no obligation to read japanese and you read the translation for it, would you really go back and spend several thousands of hours learning just to experience the original over the translation? Theres a lot of great things I can do and am happy I learned japanese, but the extra level of enjoyment an original work provides over the translation could never amount to several thousand hours of suffering no matter how many works I read.

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Sure, I absolutely agree with that. If someone enjoys a given type of books, they will definitely come across those words again in a similar context (from reading similar books). Also, for people around the beginner to intermediate level, they’ll be learning basic stuff in there too, that they will come across again regardless.
I guess the only exception would be when reading stuff one does not enjoy, I guess? But I that hypothetical person should just read something else instead. Not keep going for 14 books. Hypothetically.

Well, it taught me the word 下剋上, so…
More seriously, most likely not. If the translation got dropped midway, I might have gone through the dictionary brute force route, though, but that’s very unclear.

Oh, also, I gave no context, but

Literally happened to me (albeit not with that wording). JALUP had a challenge to finish two books in the span of a month, so I tried. I had painfully finished one novel before (like a year prior?) so I thought I might have better odds, and I had absolutely overshot it. When I started reading, it was definitely a revelation. Also, I should have kept going after the first book one year prior.

By the way, I do agree with the content of the video, if that wasn’t clear (also お疲れ様). (Except for the minor disagreement on “correct” Japanese that I’d instead call “relevant” Japanese, but who cares)

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Did it actually? Im surprised you didn’t see it long before that. Guess its just a numbers game though

Alright, fair enough lol. If you avoid reading novels, then you probably will be suprised when you are able to. But if novels are a part of your learning materials for awhile, and I recommend they do be, then you won’t be surprised when you get to my level.

And I guess it’s important to specify that I mean reading from a standpoint of like comfortable literacy. Around my 3rd book where I finally was able to kinda get some stuff on my own without a dictionary, I had a similar oh shit moment. But I mean, I still sucked at the time and it was still new.

Eh, I wouldn’t call it a disagreement. I’m with you that relevant would be a better word honestly. It’s just that, well, shouganai now lol. Either way, for people starting out reading especially, the relevant japanese to them is usually also correct so hopefully it doesn’t cause too much confusion to other listeners.

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