Thoughts about sources for reading material

So, I found out about NEWS WEB EASY recently. I’ve been trying to read random news articles every once in a while. It feels like banging my head against a brick wall. I never understand a darn thing and can’t ever get past the first sentence. I always end up needing to use a dictionary and I can use it to figure out what individual words mean for the most part but I can’t for the life of me ever figure out what the sentence as whole is supposed to mean. The whole process can take upwards of an hour without making any progress and I just end up giving up every single time :cry:

I’ve been thinking it might be good idea to stop trying to read anymore articles on the site for the time being and trying to find a different source for reading material, preferably one with English translation.

Know of any sources like that? Ran into similar problems? Any other insights?


Have you been/are you studying grammar? If you’re having that much trouble, I’m not confident that switching to a different source is your answer.


If you look up the words and still can’t understand the sentences, it’s most likely your grammar knowledge is lacking.

Focus on grammar for a while, I personally recommend Genki I and Genki II textbooks, but if you don’t want to spend the money or want to progress faster, you can learn about the same amount of grammar topics by reading Tae Kim’s guide.

Start reading after that, don’t worry too much about vocabulary at first, looking up words in a dictionary will be normal for a very long time.

A wonderful reading resource I used when I first started was There’s many news and stories you can pick to read and you just need to click the vocabulary you don’t know to see the translation. You can also check your most looked up words and study those or add them to an anki deck.

Honestly, the first thing you pick up to read will always feel confusing at first, but make an effort to keep going on even if you aren’t understanding all that much and need to keep checking the grammar points. Eventually things will get easier (personally, about a week reading 1-2 hours everyday and I noticed I wasn’t struggling much anymore unless I found some harder and uncommon grammar point, a month later I was able to read easier light novels without too much struggle).

Good luck with your studies!


I’m about two thirds of the way of through Tae Kim’s grammar guide. I’ve also seen a handful of Japanese Ammo with Misa’s videos (probably around 30-40 or so). I was hoping this was enough to maybe make some sense of at least 20% of the text I would come across on what is supposed to be a simple news article but every sentence I come across still feels to me like a bunch of random words strung together…

Thanks, I’ll give it a look :slightly_smiling_face:

I doubt just putting more time into it will help since I’m not understanding anything at all while reading and thus I don’t gain any new knowledge. What would you do if you came across a sentence that you just can’t figure out the meaning of, no matter how much time or effort you put into it?

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I’m willing to bet you are learning more than you realize. It’s difficult to gauge things like that sometimes.

Can always ask here on the forum.


I doubt just putting more time into it will help since I’m not understanding anything at all while reading and thus I don’t gain any new knowledge. What would you do if you came across a sentence that you just can’t figure out the meaning of, no matter how much time or effort you put into it?

Personally, I would check the grammar points of the sentences, search for it on Tae Kim or Bunpro, or look for sentences with similar structures to it on or something. Asking around is also an option like Ryouki recommended above. If you are struggling on it for too long, skip it and go to the next sentence. I do believe you are learning just getting the exposure to the language and getting more familiar to the sentence structures. Even if you feel like you aren’t understanding anything at first, it does get better after a while.

Maybe my methods aren’t the best, but sharing my own experience: I felt the same way when I started. My first text was 銀河鉄道の夜 and I remember struggling so much with the first dialogue. I could vaguely get the gist of it, I got lost during the whole thing, I can’t even say I enjoyed reading it or understood much, but I still forced myself to finish it. I used it more as a learning material do mine vocab for an anki deck and to take note of grammar points. After that I picked a (physical) light novel called キノの旅, and while I struggled with new vocabulary, I didn’t really look up any grammar points. Just looking up the words was enough to understand the whole thing. A few months later and now I’m reading a light novel volume per week without too much struggle, I don’t think it would have been possible if it wasn’t for the initial effort with 銀河鉄道の夜, I learned way more than I expected with it, and I learn more everytime I continue reading new native material.

However, I still recommend finishing all of Tae Kim before attempting to read!


Had you tried to read something different before you started NHK EASY ? Even tho it’s labeled as easy it might be quite hard for level 10 user. I would suggest you to read something easier in the beginning. When i was level 10 i was doing Genki 1 and Genki 2. There is a nice reading section in it. You may also want to try Japanese Graded Readers. I started NHK EASY after i finished Genki 2 and by that time i was also level 20 on wanikani. I think NHK EASY in terms of difficulty is between N4 and N3 by JLPT standards.


No prior experience reading text before trying NHK easy.
I’ve tried doing Genki 1 but I found it was too slow and wasn’t going as much into depth as had liked so I switched to Tae Kim’s guide.
I can’t affored Japanese Graded Readers right now, but I might check it out in the future.

This online tool can help you parse sentences, indicating vocabulary, grammar, and reading:

It’s not directly translating, but it can help you with understanding.

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Data point: NHK, same experience as you until I got up closer to level 20. I guess ‘easy’ is relative. Now I’m getting to where I can usually read it with a dictionary handy. But still, some are easier than others. It really depends on the subject matter of the article.

As others have said, you’re going to need some grammar, so do bunpro, and also some common vocab that WK doesn’t teach, so also do some N5 and N4 vocab lists.

I actually read it two ways.

  1. Read the whole thing without stopping to look anything up, just skipping what I don’t know. Then at the end I see what I did get out of it. Anything? Sometimes later sentences make me understand previous ones from context, etc.

  2. Slog through with a dictionary like you’re doing. I don’t actually recommend doing that all the time at first. Once you start getting the gist of the articles, then you can do that as a vocabulary-building exercise, but like you’ve found, you want to keep this at +1 difficulty to your current level, not +1000.


I agree with everyone on grammar. But just learning grammar doesn’t mean you’ll recognize it in use right away.

One method you can use is the following (with NHK’s News Web Easy):

  1. Pick an article.
  2. Pick a single sentence. Any sentence should be fine.
  3. Read over it, and look up any words you don’t know.
  4. Read over it, and look up any grammar you don’t know.
  5. Repeat as much as you have time and energy for in a single session. (Even just one sentence is fine.)
  6. Repeat every day.

Reading over the sentence and looking for grammar you don’t know can make you aware of grammar that you do know, but didn’t recognize. And that will help you recognize it in the future.


I wouldn’t advise picking a random sentence out of the middle of a paragraph, though. Since Japanese is very context-based, some sentence may not make sense if you don’t know the context. So just keep that in mind.


Oops, I failed to include that I was speaking about NHK’s News Web Easy, where it’s not as much of an issue! But even there it’s worth keeping in mind.


If you’d still like to try and read NHK Easy (and later just NHK), I highly recommend the TangoRisto app. It’s free, you can sort articles by vocab difficulty, toggle furigana by JLPT level**, tap vocab to pull up the reading and definition, save vocab to review later, etc It’s a really nice resource for NHK articles.

**There are no officially published lists for JLPT vocab, so don’t be surprised if some words differ from other lists

Some pics

It’s available on Android, although I am not sure about iOS.


It seems like I might be at a similar level to you, at least in terms of vocab and grammar knowledge (or maybe lack thereof?). I try to read at least one article every 1-2 days on News Web Easy, and while I definitely don’t understand every word, I am starting to be able to come away with a decent idea of what the main points of the article were. So, I thought I’d share some of my process, in case it could be of some help to you.

My detailed strategy for reading...

First off, this is definitely optional and I think others have mentioned other tools with a similar purpose, but I’ve installed Yomichan in my browser which really sped up the process of looking up words for me. If you haven’t used this add-on, I can basically hold the shift key and hover my cursor over the beginning of any Japanese word to get the reading and definitions. It’s not perfect, but can often detect some of the longer and/or compound phrases that escape me when I don’t recognize them as a single entity/concept. (It also has the ability to add words directly into an Anki deck, if you’re into that sort of thing…)

Since the vocab’s quicker to look up, I can spend a lot more time searching for the grammar points: what is that verb tense, what other meanings does that particle have, etc. I’ve used Bunpro a lot to look up grammar—I’ve found that that works especially well if I’m not sure how the particle is used, or which of the surrounding words/particles are important to the grammar construction. I can look up one particle (for example の) and get info on every grammar point they have containing の, in a format that’s much for me easier to parse than a standard Google search. When I something that seems to fit the context, I’ll follow the links to the other resources for more detail. I’ve learned way more grammar this way than trying to slog through Genki I :slightly_smiling_face:

If things still don’t make sense after looking over the grammar, I will: (1) try to search for articles in English about the same topic (hopefully you can translate enough of the headline to search for similar stories). NHK World sometimes has a simple English version that is almost a direct translation, or at least hits the same points as the easy Japanese version. If this feels a little too much like cheating, other news outlets might also give enough context that I can piece together what the meaning should be. Then I work backwards to figure out how the grammar fits together to make that meaning.

Alternatively, if all else fails and I still don’t understand, I’ll (2) put the sentence into Google translate. Its not perfect, but it seems to do reasonably well with the easy articles. I only use this as an absolute last resort, though… And again, once I figure out what its “supposed” to be saying, I’ll go back and try to decipher the grammar to figure out how it fits together.

One last tip: try not get hung up on any one sentence that’s not making sense. I find that if I keep moving through an article, I’ll start to get enough of the context that I can start to see what those bits I got stuck on earlier were trying to say. And, well, if that doesn’t work, see #2 in the previous paragraph :woman_shrugging:

I can’t promise any of these ideas will work for you—but it has helped my reading improve a ton in a relatively short amount of time. Just keep practicing, and it will get easier, little by little!


I’ve seen bunpro mentioned a lot in the forums here and will almost definetly check it out! Do you recommend it? Is it worth the money?

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To be honest, I’m not subscribed to it. Even without a subscription, you can (at least for now) access all of the grammar breakdowns and their respective links to outside resources (like Tae Kim, and the other usual suspects). What you’ll miss out on without a subscription is the SRS and a substantial number of example sentences using said grammar points.

I believe that Bunpro lets you try the full version for 30 days before committing to a subscription. You could always give it a try and see if it works for you. For me personally, I’m spending too much time with WaniKani+KaniWani right now, and trying to read as much Japanese source material as I can, so I don’t have the time or patience for another SRS in my life. Someday, I will probably go back and subscribe to Bunpro, but I feel like I’m making decent enough progress with my grammar from what I’m reading that its just not a priority right now.

Some other sources for reading material for poor people (and cheap people):

Search YouTube for “enka”. Most of the videos are a) subtitled (in japanese, you stil have to look up words you don’t know), and b) sung slowly enough that you can read it. Plus, one click pauses it.

Search for “hentai manga”. Caution, that’s adult content – the subject matter might not be your favorite, but there’s plenty for free. The hentai part only because normal manga always wants you to pay for it. (and I would double check any phrases I learn there before deploying them in the wild :smiley:)

I don’t know how far along you are on general speech, but it might help if you try shadowing and (i know this is gonna sound weird.) watching J-Drama and movies with the subtitles off. Shadowing, is generally considered something an intermediate would do rather than something a novice might do, but I think there’s merit to practicing your intonation and pronunciation early on. And as for the Visual media it relies on Context that you are able to pick out from the shows, check out the youtuber “what i’ve learned” and specifically watch the video: How to learn a language: Input. He explains it far better than i can, but those two method should help. And for Shadowing material i’d probably just go with JapanesePod101 and find one of their 1 hour long videos, or shadow a TV show or movie. (i know my shell says im level 1 but i’ve been practicing for about a little over a month now and have been going a bit ham at it.) Edit: grammar.

I would recommend the app Beelinguapp, you download short children books, like Peter Pan and the ugly ducking and read through them at your own pace, with an English translation available if you need it. I really like it because there is not furigana and it forces me to read and recall the kanji. Hope this helps :slight_smile: