What is your approach to reading?

Wasn’t sure how to title this so had better explain what I mean.

When I am reading in a language other than English - let’s take Japanese as the example - I am not understanding every word or sentence and need a dictionary. The two main approaches would be to translate every word I don’t know and perhaps research grammar points that confuse me. I’m sure that would be great for my Japanese but in practice if I did that then my rate of reading would be painfully slow. It would take a long time to read each page and I would almost never finish books as the enjoyment from reading the story would be non existent. So in practice I tend to be selective with what I look up. That is also frustrating as at times I don’t understand what is going on but on the flip side I do read a lot more than I would under the first method so exposed to a lot more Japanese.

What approach do you use to reading?


The dumb generic answer is probably the best one: You need to find the balance that works for you.

Look at it this way: Your goal should be to understand as much as your can. Both quantity read and amount of things looked up are variables that will change that. As of right now, I really try to understand everything, but from the sounds of it you’re pretty early on in your reading. When I was first starting out, I would just look up everything I felt like looking up. Like if the sentence was about something pretty unimportant and I didn’t really care, I didn’t bother. If it was a very interesting part of the story, I would try to understand everything so long as a sentence didn’t take more than like 5 mins or something.


My approach when I started was just to read, as useful as that sounds…
Joking aside, I would read each page 3 times.
Once at natural English reading pace.
Second time translate words I didn’t know
And finally re-read the page. So on and so on.


I started out with “look up everything I don’t know” until I had the basic grammar understood. Very slow. Lots of learning.

Then I transitioned into “look up most words”. Really, this is the same as above, but without the need to look up as much grammar. During this time, I built up a solid understanding of the most common grammar through exposure in reading.

Now I’m at the stage of “only look up words I don’t know if they come up at least three times in a chapter, or if I’m not certain what’s going on.” (I read manga almost exclusively, so pretty pictures help fill in the context.)


I read visual novels for fun and practice, so my current approach is this:

Is it unimportant? Skim it.
Is it boring? Skip it.
Is it interesting? Look up the words I don’t know.
Is it crucial to understanding the plot? Break the sentence down piece-by-piece in a spreadsheet.

I think it’s like @Vanilla said. You have to find a balance, and also differentiate between what’s worth putting time into and what’s not. If you treat everything with equal importance it could lead to burnout and hold you back from the stuff you really want to read.

Personally I think my method is a good one because it keeps me engaged with what’s happening. I’ve learned the hard way to let it go and not get dragged down by boring sections, or things I didn’t fully understand but also weren’t entirely necessary.

By doing things this way I get both intensive reading practice (quality) but also put a lot of time in reading in general (quantity). AND, I get to play and enjoy some really cool games. Best of both worlds/methods, IMHO.


Another approach I’ve been quite liking (and I’ve only been trying to read Japanese for a few months so definitely take any advice from me with a grain of salt lol) is to be reading a couple of different things at a time and to switch up based on what style of reading I have the energy for at the moment.

For example, just now I’m reading Haikyuu, yotsuba and a beginner book of short stories (specifically for language learners). The short stories I can pretty much just chill out and read, it’s low energy as there will tend to only be a few new grammar points or vocab each time. Little enough that o cam get by without looking anything up if I want, but I’m also reading these on Kindle so it’s v easy to get a quick translation.

Yotsuba I like to read and try to really understand everything, looking up and new vocab or grammar. That obviously takes longer but yotsuba is at a fairly good level for me where it’s not too laborious. Haikyuu is a much harder read, so I’ll generally only look up enough to let me understand what’s going on.

Between the three I feel like they give a fairly good balance and it’s nice kind of having a ‘study’ book and some more chill out fun reading.


One thing I’m doing that hasn’t been mentioned is using a translation first and then going back and reading without looking anything up.

The difference with other approaches like this is that you need a translation with the Japanese and English side by side.

For example, I’m doing this while playing through Final Fantasy 6. I use this site: Final Fantasy VI

I’ll read through a specific part, like the intro sequence, and look up any unfamiliar Kanji or grammar while using the supplied translation as a reference.

Once I’ve read through the whole thing, I’ll play that part through on my Gameboy Advance. Using an advance is fun for the nostalgia factor but it also means that I don’t have an easy way to look things up.

So far this approach has helped me get much more comfortable with some measure of uncertainty while reading other things and improved my reading overall.

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That’s sort of what I do too. Bit of both.
I think it’s probably a good idea to find a balance between intensive and extensive reading.

Apart from that, it also depends on the medium. If I’m reading something on my laptop I tend to look up a lot because it doesn’t take long anyway (with a browser dictionary or something).
But when I’m playing a game on a switch or something I only look up what I think is the most important, because it takes way longer and playing wouldn’t be any fun otherwise.

As others mentioned before, I only tend to look up things if I really don’t understand what’s going on anymore, or they seem super crucial. Otherwise I tend to try to understand things by context. If I come across a word I don’t know or a sentence that doesn’t make sense I’d usually keep going for a while and see if that maybe provides context. If not, go back, try and find the most important words, look those up, try to understand the rest by context. (Although also not necessarily every word, just the general meaning.)

Looking up every single word/grammar point might be good for vocabulary. (Although some claim learning things organically and not by dictionary makes you remember them better… idk.) But I find that ‘understanding by context’ is also a great skill to learn. The “You don’t always have a dictionary (or calculator) with you in the real world!” teacher phrase might not be true anymore in the age of smartphones, but I certainly won’t pull out that dictionary in a conversation and look up every word I don’t understand fully haha.

(Also, educational pretenses aside, I’m just too lazy to look things up lol. If it’s a one-tap thing in NHK news, sure. But if it requires copy-pase or even radical reconstruction from paper… ehhhh xD )

I’ve been using a method called tadoku 多読. it find it really effective. for me when I stop to look up word it breaks the flow of a sentence but if you just continue you can often pick up what’s going on thought context. https://tadoku.org/japanese/en/what-is-tadoku-en/ have a look

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We have a big 多読 thread here on the forums. See [2021] 多読/extensive reading challenge :eyes:


Ah awesome thank you :blush:

Most what i do has been mentioned. I only read what i enjoy and only translate what i care about

Well as a dumb and generic hooman, I appreciate this answer :slight_smile:

I would certainly say you should try to read things at a level which pushes you (either with new grammar, Kanji or vocab) - ie operate just a little bit outside of your comfort zone - this way you will progress.

@Esceptico, do you remember your process of learning to read when you were a child? Did you love to read? If so, what was it that made you love reading? If not, what sucked the love of reading right out of you? Think on those questions and then try to analyze what you can take from the approach or leave behind on the table.

I highly endorse the idea of reading “at whim.” If you’re HIGHLY focused and motivated to learn about a specific topic through reading Japanese texts, then go for that, and look up every word. But if you’re just wanting to get evermore fluent at reading and plan on using Japanese books for some of your entertainment, I suggest using a more extensive (多読) approach, starting with what you can read with relative ease (and great interest) at this point and working upwards over time. Kids do this. They gain more vocabulary through reading than doing anything else (including schoolish learning where they’re taking a more intensive reading approach where you are assigned reading (not reading at whim… not what interests you) and you’re expected to comprehend every word or else look it up in the dictionary and know how to spell it and all the things that eventually kill the joy for so many readers. You’ll pick up more from encountering the words in various contexts than you will by really honing in on just one example of the word and making flashcards or whatnot. But of course in order to encounter a word multiple times you have to see it multiple times so you’ve got to read a fair amount.

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