Reading Immersion and note-taking

I’ve read quite a few forum posts on immersion here and there already, but I feel like I am not yet doing it very optimally. Usually I have the book in front of me, and (if it has) a book club with the associated vocabulary sheet open on a screen next to my reach. Then, I would read about 2-4 pages, then stop, look up every word I didn’t understand, and put it in my own vocabulary excel sheet. Though, it feels like this takes too much time and takes away the joy.

Here are my questions:
When you started digging into immersion, how did you approach it: Did you often stop and take notes, or did you wait until the end of the chapter? Did you do note-taking at all, or tried to limit it to only the most important words? Was there a point where you changed your strategy? :thinking:


I used a visual novel and text hooker so I could instantly look up words and would look up every word I didn’t know and solve each sentence one at a time. I’d just Google all grammar that came up that yomichan didn’t cover. No notes.


For half a second I thought it had an NSFW meaning… :man_facepalming:


I don’t take any notes whatsoever. I look stuff up and move on. I trust that eventuelly I will understand.

I used to take notes, create Anki cards and so on, but I never really gave them a second look. That’s why I know trust in learning through repitition.


The tools I used to extract and look up text were all SFW! The eroge the text came from, however, not so much.


My strategy has been the same since the beginning, and it’s not really a strategy at all, it’s just…reading.

I don’t go over the same text several times, nor take notes. That would be studying.

I look up every word I need to (easy with ebooks), and try and fully understand every sentence before I move on to the next one, also looking up grammar if necessary. If a sentence refuses to make sense even after vocabulary and grammar lookups and careful rereading, I move on*.

And that’s it.

Without notes it may feel like your efforts are in vain at first, but your brain is still recording stuff, and the more you encounter vocabulary and sentence patterns, the more familiar they become.

Other people prefer reading with only minimal lookups (extensive reading). Others learn the book’s vocabulary beforehand. There are all sorts of methods, and they all work. The only important thing is to make sure to enjoy it, so that you keep coming back for more. :slight_smile: :books:

*Okay, this bit has changed: In the beginning I wouldn’t move on, I’d ask on the forums and make every effort to work it out. Now such sentences are rare though, so I’m fine with occasionally ignoring them.


This is basically what I did for my first couple books, except I didn’t do the “put it in my own vocabulary excel sheet” part. WaniKani supplies plenty of new vocab already, and you can pick up some of the common non-WK words just through exposure.

Trying an ebook can be easier, though you have to be careful not to rely on the pop-up dictionary too much.

Regardless, it’s normal for the first few books to be a bit of a slog.


Mostly I just read, and try not to look stuff up unless I absolutely have to (I’m trying to read the book, not the dictionary). I don’t take notes. Currently I also do what is effectively pre-reading study using prebuilt decks, but that’s a new thing for me and there’s only a deck for a few of the books I’ve been reading. (This seems to be working ok for me, but I already have a large vocabulary so for me this is the 90-95% part of the coverage of a book; dunno how useful it is at lower vocabulary levels.)

I think if it feels to you like your current process is taking too much time compared to how much time you’re actually reading there’s a lot of scope for cutting that down.


Reading physical copies when one is not somewhat competent in the language already is an exercise in torture. I would rather stick to online sources and check up with yomichan or the like and move on. When reading books later on, use a marker for words/phrases you don’t understand and move on, can later check up on the word/phrases you were unsure of.


Still very useful for me. I stick to things I can read with yomichan/text hook for the most part with a single JPDB word list sorted by frequency as my only active SRS. I notice new items in what I’m reading at a much higher rate than with other methods. Because of that I also think it’s less of a drag than WK or a core deck which often feel like a waste of time when they don’t line up with whatever media is being consumed. However, I’ve only been doing this for about two months with an account that was almost fresh so it could be that I just happened to get lucky with this list/book.


If this is your first time reading native material, you need to build up pattern recognition of common grammar, and to recognize/understand common grammar. Both of these come from reading native material.

When I got serious about reading native material (after trailing, failing, and giving up a couple of times before), the number one requirement for me was learning all the grammar required to understand each sentence.

I looked up vocabulary as well, as that was part of understanding the sentences. I also did SRS on the vocabulary, but in an inefficient way (I wasn’t using a frequency list to know which vocabulary was most important for me to know). Grammar really was the most important to get to know in the beginning.

It did take me time to get through each sentence for a while. (Book club discussion threads are a shortcut for this.) But between learning the grammar, re-learning it each time I encountered it and didn’t remember it, and encountering it some more, I developed a pattern recognition where I knew the grammar when I saw it.

From there it was a matter of learning enough vocabulary words that I can reduce the number of lookups per sentence.


I don’t take notes, whether it’s grammar, vocabulary, or an unknown kanji, I just look it up until I can understand it in Japanese, then I keep reading.

It does work, I have remembered and learned things through this method, it also makes things more pleasant to read, allowing me to read more.


This exact thing has actually been a benefit to physical media, for me at least. :laughing:

I try to split my reading time between doing something physical and something on the computer. So when I’m reading on the computer, I get access to stuff like yomichan, jisho, textractor, or even deepl to quickly try to answer questions and look up words.

But, when I’m reading physical stuff I am really restricted to only looking up stuff that I absolutely need to look up to understand things. Forces me to try to turn the brain gears a little harder, and also to tolerate more ambiguity than I’d be comfortable with accepting when reading something digitally.

I know it’s really hard, but try not to worry too much about the nebulous concept of “efficiency” :sweat_smile: whatever you are doing that works for you is probably good. If you feel like it’s not working and want to try out other things, don’t get too hung up on making yourself do something you don’t enjoy just because someone else said it was efficient/stop doing something you do enjoy because someone said it’s inefficient.

In the long run, as long as you are doing reading and interacting with the language at all, you will make progress! You will build up your grammatical pattern recognition, you will start to recognize common words/phrases, you will start to get a feel for the flow of writing in japanese, and all that other stuff! The minutia of day to day study routines are more of a personal taste thing; what works for others might not be what works for you, and what works best for you might also change over time!

As for changing my strategy, I try to shake things up pretty often. I used to do a TON of anki and wanikani, but last september I swore of SRS when I first committed to reading a ton. The only form of note-taking I did was opening a new dictionary tab every time I looked up a word, and then copying them into a list, but I pretty much never looked at them again. I mainly used it as a way to track how hard a text was based on how many words I had to look up.

But just this last month, I started re-introducing anki (after I learned yomichan could automatically make flashcards lmao) just to see if I’d like it more now, and I have been enjoying it again and seeing benefits, so I might keep with it until I get frustrated with it again

It’s really a self-reflective thing, though. I try to pay attention to what parts of the reading feel hard, and then implement stuff to target those weaknesses so that my main reading can be as enjoyable as possible. When I quit wk, it was to focus on increasing my reading speed/endurance because that felt like my weakest skill. Now, my grammar feels pretty weak, so i’ve been doing a little bit of study for that on the side. But all the studying I do is another thing. I try to read mostly for fun; if I am really really struggling to read something (or just not enjoying it), I usually shelve it to come back to later and find something new.


In the beginning, I didn’t take note while reading. Rather, I took note while studying premade decks (Wanikani, Core 10k). I probably have never taken note of grammar in context, not even now.

I realized pretty well that reading would involve guessing, and that makes Kanji important; and there are other ways to breakdown, other than Kanji.

I learnt to look up vocabularies and Kanji in a smartphone, with screen writing; and using Yomichan is a recent thing.

Since last year, I took note of vocabularies and Kanji during daily recap (dictionary app history, once in the evening); but it’s now getting less. I didn’t put in Excel immediately, because that would involve a PC or laptop.

Early on of returning to Japanese studies, I asked and discussed in book club to clear of doubts. Also, Short Grammar Thread. I couldn’t remember well how I did it during the previous studying. (That was also in Wanikani Community. I couldn’t read well before I’ve started Wanikani.)

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Does anyone have a recommendation for an E-Reader? I have a basic kindle, but the long press to look up a work takes so long that it actually makes reading an entire book so much slower.

This. This felt like an eye opener to me. :eyes:

As you and others said, taking notes felt like doing some progress, and doing none I feared I will forget what I just looked up. It’s different from WaniKani where new items will get reviewed, so you encounter them quite often. But I suppose when doing immersion / extensive reading, it’s just about to consume a lot to see it over and over again, and with the joy of reading it might stick better in your head.

Thanks everyone so much for your suggestions! I read all of it and it is very helpful to me.

I didn’t know about this. Thanks so much! I went over JPDB, and I’ll sure use it when starting another novel.
Where do you get your frequency lists for Manga though, since JPDB doesn’t seem to have it yet? :thinking:

Ahh I have heard about the Core 10k before, but somewhat forgot that exists. Thanks!

That might be true, but as others said, I fear I would overuse the lookup feature. Also, having the finished books on the shelf feels like an accomplishment, too. Since I’m living in Japan, I can get used books quite easy for very cheap. But I’ll also try out digital ones and see if it works for me :nerd_face:
A bit interested: where do you buy your digital books mostly so that you can use the lookup feature?


Personally, I generate them myself. I have a few on my site, mostly as ODS (spreadsheet) files, although I’ve started making web pages with them (such as this one for the upcoming Absolute Beginner Book Club manga pick, and this one for the pick after that) for my own personal tracking of words I do and don’t know.


Different strokes for different folks, but to me the word “immersion” literally means immersing yourself in the language.

It’s about sheer quantity and avoiding your native language altogether while “immersing”. Since neither you nor I are completely fluent yet, that means a LOT of misunderstood or not-understood-at-all stuff just washes over us. It’s not just for reading either: listening practice is just as valuable. You literally want to surround yourself with the language (easiest if you’re actually in Japan, of course).

This is very different from studying as @omk3 stated.

But immersion is an incredibly valuable addition to studying. It puts your subconscious to work and lets your brain start pattern matching and creating additional neural connections to stuff you already know. Trust me: you’ll start to have more and more “aha!” moments. At first it’s just a word or two here and there, but over time it starts to become easier and easier.

By all means, jot down a note when something really catches your attention, but slowly, haltingly struggling to understand every single word as you proceed is NOT immersion, IMO.

Further thoughts:

I think immersion-reading should be somewhat pleasurable. If you’re struggling to completely understand everything as you go, it won’t be. Neither will it be if you don’t understand anything at all, of course, so the trick is finding material that’s just a bit beyond your current level.

Regardless, you need to learn to accept that you won’t understand a lot at first. You may or may not decide to come back to a passage later if it doesn’t become clear later on.

One anecdote:

It occurs to me that I do this when reading English (my native language) novels for pleasure, too!

My favorite novel of all time is The Peripheral by William Gibson. I almost gave up several times during the first 100 or so pages because I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Then all of the sudden it just clicked, like an optical illusion resolving itself before my eyes. It was a joyous, profound feeling when it happened and I literally raced through the rest of the book.

I clearly remember finishing the last page, then IMMEDIATELY going back to page one to re-read the first 100 pages. To this day, the only novel I’ve ever done that with.

I’m so glad that I just plodded through those first 100 pages and didn’t give up.


In some ways, I don’t agree about copious reading alone at all. To begin with, there are different kinds of reading materials; as well as different purposes of what feels important to get from a reading material. Perhaps my thought is closer to checking with exercise books.

Then, if I read novel-type materials more extensively, I will lose time to read educational-type materials extensively. Not to mention other kinds of materials, like actionable-type or chat-type. Also, there would still be the torture part, as well as energy and time lost. (Energy is very valuable, much more than time.)

I don’t even agree about pleasure. If anything is sustainable, it is OK even with ups-and-downs. Progress will need external measurements, nonetheless.

About extensive reading, I am not sure if I should subvocalize or not. Is it OK if I make a wrong subvocalization? Also, is it OK to skim? What about illustrations and charts?

Perhaps it can be just difficult to find a suitable material, and just bear with it?

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I don’t think threre is a right answer, but my opinion is basically the simplest one: Do what you want to improve at.

Do you want to get better at skimming or do you want to get better at extracting the full meaning from text?

Do you want to get better at knowing the readings for words or not?

Do you want to get better at reading words right?

Personally, my answer for all these was that I want to get better at reading words accurately and being able to fully comphrend text so I didn’t skim and checked to make sure I was reading words right I wasn’t sure of. As of last year I started skimming more and not subvocalizing because I wanted to improve my skimming skill. I think an extremely vast majority of learners don’t need to do that. You’ll get faster just by improving your language ability anyways, so I think for most people’s goals they need to just focus on getting to more or less full comprehension without use of Google or a dictionary.