When to switch to extensive reading?

When reading paper books, I’ll take pictures of any words I don’t know and look them up later. If on a computer, I’ll use Yomichan. In this way I add 25 cards a day to Anki. This is great, except for when I feel like I’m spending more time making cards than reading. I unfortunately like reading, so after a few hours there is a mountain of words to look up.

There is a balance to be struck here, but I’m not sure what that is. I don’t like missing out on learning new words and Kanji. At what point should I just start reading extensively?


Well, theres a few things you can do.

You can add your words for the day and then extensively read after you have reached 25 words.

You can do what I do and intensively read one book and when you reach your word limit for the day switch to reading another book.

You can look up all of your words and keep track of what words you have looked up and how many times you’ve looked them up. Learn the ones that have the highest amount of total times you’ve looked them up.


I don’t think it’s necessarily a toggle between extensive and not-extensive, more just finding a process that you like and leaning into it as things slowly get easier over time.
What’s “extensive” is going to change a lot over time, after all. And liking reading definitely isn’t a drawback, but rather a huge positive! It’s just the dealing-with-new-words process that might need tweaking to help you keep up with that enthusiasm.

For me, the process I like ended up being making word lists on the Takoboto dictionary app on my phone + importing them to Anki, so that I can track all the words I encounter, where, and how many times, and trust they’ll end up in SRS eventually when I want them to, saving time on creating cards and taking pressure off of the initial look-up in the process.
This is enough to let me happily read as much or whatever I want in any format, so I’m happy with it.

But I think there’s surely as many systems as there are readers!


I don’t have that much experience reading Japanese (and books in general) but I realise that reading is a skill that won’t get better unless I practice it. So I’ve been reading every day for the 3rd month now. I want to understand close to everything so I have to look up stuff. However, I’ve started reading an LN series and will be finishing my second volume soon. The second book was easier than the first one. I was already familiar with lots of vocab and got used to the writing style. So at times would just mark the words I don’t know (or am unsure about) but won’t look them up if that word isn’t critical to understanding or looks like a weird idiom I have little chance encountering again.

Overall, I’d recommend picking up a book that’s slightly above your level and trying to read it with minimum look ups. Of course that may be difficult if you’re just starting out, in which case you’ll have to look up stuff more often.

I think the benefit of reading more outweighs the benefits of reading more complex literature until you are pretty confident at reading Japanese.

Also, personally I don’t srs the vocab from the books because I think it’s nore beneficial for me to read more. I’ve learned quite a lot of vocab regardless. Some words just keep popping up, so that’s almost srs anyway :wink:


I look up words only as long as I feel like it that reading session. The first 30ish minutes, I often look things up quite liberally. The moment I catch myself thinking “I just want to read,” I do that.

Like @d-hermit I don’t really create flashcards of stuff from my reading. I have some other SRS vocab going on again, but I prefer to discard cards I know from the core 10K at the moment. Noting what I find when reading, then putting together cards is too much hassle for me.

I’m in no way saying what I do is great, but I’m happier when I do “sub-optimal” studying. Trying to master every single unknown thing in Japanese the moment I encountered it was fatiguing and aggressively un-fun for me. When I just read with absolute minimal looking up: had a good time and I still felt like I improved by the end.

That element of enjoyment, and letting go of the “fear” of not studying perfectly makes things more sustainable to me. Keeps things in a way that I can dedicate daily time to it.


I don’t think there’s every going to be a point where you don’t learn new words. If it’s anything like reading in your native language, you should eventually learn to infer meanings from context. It’ll be up to you whether you really NEED to learn every single word, or decide that I can live with not knowing the exact meaning of a word.

I’m also an avid reader, so I understand the struggle for wanting to become fluent in a new language. It’ll still be some time before it you’ll get there, especially factoring in things like vocab nuance and writing style. I already struggle when I read new genres in English, so I imagine it will be the same, only worse going into Japanese. It’ll be unrealistic to expect to master a new language within a few years.

You’re already way ahead of me, so don’t stop :muscle:

So many lvl 60s, only slightly intimidated


I think unfortunately for a long while one has to work on vocab, otherwise reading is painful :frowning: . I’m in a similar boat when it comes to reading, but I hope that eventually I won’t have to keep Anki-ing every other word I encounter.

I’m not sure how it’s for you, but for me at least learning vocab from books goes way faster than random words I add from a dictionary. Meaning, it should eventually get easier if you just keep at it :slight_smile: .


If you’re using Yomichan, I believe there’s a function that allows you to instantly add words to an Anki deck with the click of a button. Disclaimer: I haven’t used it myself and, from what I’ve heard, it can be rather temperamental. :sweat_smile: Just a suggestion.

I’d also recommend just reading for pleasure. Find something you really want to read and forget you’re studying. Even just by looking up word, if you’re really enjoying the process of reading, you’ll be far more likely to retain that knowledge.

Sometimes kanji can be really useful in this aspect!

It happens plenty that something is technically a new word, but through context, and knowing meaning of composit kanji, it can be really easy to follow at times. Even when I forget the readings sometimes and have to leave that awkward mental blank while I read…

Just a number :robot: :purple_heart:


Decided to do some google research to help put things into perspective.

According to Wikipedia:

English contains(at most) 470,000 words according to the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary
Japanese contains(at most) 500,000 words according to the 日本国語大辞典

According to this website, the average number of words a native knows is about 20k-35k.

So you need to know only about 4-5% of an dictionary to know as many words as a native. However, just because you know the 20k words doesn’t mean you won’t ever encounter new words.(Flashbacks to playing DQ11 in English using obscure words :no_mouth:)

Take this all with a grain of salt of course. Also, if you wanted to be an avid reader in either language, I imagine the number will be closer to the 35k mark.

Numbers make me happy, and this is also a reality check for myself


J-Just what I needed!




One thing that I do think is helpful with SRS and the “look things up more quickly” approach vs. avoiding SRS and dictionaries, is I think it helps your reach keep pace with your grasp, so to speak.

Like, I wanna read not just a lot of stuff, but a lot of different types of stuff, including tantalizing books more difficult than I might be ready for at the time.
I think if I were consciously trying to read unaided, it would be a lot more important to have a graded reader style difficulty ramp-up and read groups of material from the same author in order to maximize the power of natural reinforcement.

Whereas personally I like that the memory safety net, so to speak, of SRS and speedy lookups can cheat the process and help make sure that if I come back to a difficult series I started several months ago, it’ll be the same as ever.
But I could be completely off base and just trying to justify a system I’ve grown accustomed to. :slightly_smiling_face:

@Vanilla just continuing to read after hitting the 25 mark does make a lot of sense. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of words to know, so it doesn’t make sense to build a pile of them. Words in has to equal words out, and more than 25 new Anki cards a day I think could get overwhelming.

One difficulty of the look-it-all-up approach, is that for instance I’m reading 鬼滅の刃, which is heavy on sword fighting lingo and demons speaking strangely. It can be difficult to ascertain what is worth learning, and what isn’t. Looking words up during reading also breaks up the flow, which is a problem for us ADHD people.

SRS is pesky because of how effective it is. It’s very rare that I retain words learned during a dictionary lookup. @rodan I definitely find it frustrating to not retain things, as you said, revisiting a book and finding it as difficult as before.

@Omun I think you’re right about the danger of this becoming a grind. I remember now, in the far past of 2019, that I started learning Japanese because I thought it was fun, now I’ve become a 四字熟語 memorizing robot. Burning out would be the worst outcome.

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What I did (and still do like 3 years later) is use koohi.cafe to help me decide what words are worth learning when I was starting out. It tells you how frequently each word is actually used within the work and that helps with picking what words to learn. I started by learning every word that appeared 2 or more times in my book. jpdb.io also has a feature that allows you to search a word and see how many anime, books, vns, etc in their database use that word. For the flow of reading, I sometimes will highlight words or phrases I want to look up deeper later and just go back to it.


Something I like about my word lists approach, is that I can see instantly if I looked the word up before, which can both comfort me that I didn’t know it, or reassure me that it’s a good word to learn. For most of my time reading, for example, I would add it to a list earmarked for importing to Anki if I’d looked it up in another context once before.

In the moment I just have to type it in and tap a few buttons to look it up, glance at the meaning, and log it and be done worrying about it for the moment. And since that’s the same no matter what I’m reading, it’s ingrained into my muscle memory and doesn’t break the flow too much for me.

I’m never really looking for a deep understanding of the word in those situations, just some quick clues basically to understand the sentence. More than that I leave up to context over time.


I am liking your word list approach and will try it out. It doesn’t break the flow and even when reading “extensively” you don’t miss out on the most important words. I tend to read too much about a word when I look it up mid-reading, and it breaks my train of thought. So this seems like it would be helpful in several ways.

If curious, there’s a thread here where I went into a lot of specifics about the importing to Anki process.
It’s a little fiddly, but once used to it, being able to create thousands of cards at once from words you personally looked up from any source is pretty sweet.