From the monthly archives: April 2011

I went back to the Seattle library on Wednesday for more books, taking the bus this time, because (unlike with the Sounder train which I’m so fond of) there’s a bus stop just a block away from the main library. I came back with a nicely stuffed bag of books, and now my word count is up to 90,511, so by the time I write next week’s update, I’ll be up to 10% of my goal!

I’m gradually becoming able to pick up level 5 books and read them without feeling like I’m in over my head, and level 3 books are starting to be too easy. In my case, I have a rather wide base of words I’ve seen once or twice before over the years but never learned or had reinforced until now, and that’s serving me well — I don’t know what kind of progress someone without that base of years of video games and lots of lang-8 diaries and comments would be making. For me, though, it really feels like I’m tying a lot of previous experience together very quickly.

One weakness of my apartment is that I don’t really have a cozy place to read: the office and the dining room table feel too hard somehow, our living room furniture is good for playing video games but somehow not so comfortable for reading, and reading in bed in the middle of the day just feels goofy. So I’m in the process of making our little balcony a reading-friendly area: I set up a little container garden, and all that’s left to do is to find a better chair than the one I have now. I’ll take pictures when it’s all done.

 

When I was at Powell’s picking up used books, many of the ones I bought were books that were translated from English – Murder on the Orient Express, Treasure Island. I’ve resolved to stop buying books I can’t read, but I made an exception for these, as I think I should catch up to that skill level fairly soon, they were cheap, and I’ve already read them and knew that I would enjoy them. That made me wonder: Is it better for extensive readers to read translations of books they already have read in their native language or books whose stories they’re already familiar with, or would they be better served by focusing on books that they’re completely unfamiliar with?

The thing I’ve found to be most useful about familiar material in my own reading is that I can use my prior experience to guess words that I might not otherwise be able to understand, making them easier to remember. Because readers know the overall gist of the story already, they should be more comfortable with the book and should be better able to skip parts that don’t make sense without getting frustrated, allowing them to read at a slightly higher level. If it’s a book they already know they like, that makes it more worth their money than a book they may get bored with halfway through and never pick up again, and a lot of books that have been translated are classics, giving them literary value alongside the language learning and entertainment values.

However, familiar material may permit readers to rely too much on their prior knowledge, paying less attention to confusing parts that they may have been able to untangle if they were forced to do so, and perhaps even getting bored with a plot they already know, sapping them of the drive to keep going and see how it ends. Readers may also be able to artificially inflate their reading level because of their familiarity with the text, but then feel frustrated by the words they still don’t know and become discouraged by the contrast between their native language reading abilities and their target language abilities. They may find it easier to stick to translations and not branch out to many new things, and in the case of books that have originally been translated from another language, there may be idioms or interesting bits of information about the target culture that they could miss out on.

In the pursuit of fluency I would think all reading has value, but I wonder about the comparative experiences of two hypothetical extensive readers who read at about level 5 or 6: one who makes her way through the entire Harry Potter series in Japanese (a popular starting point for Japanese language learners, it seems), and one who reads an equivalent amount of words written by Japanese authors. Would there be differences in their motivation, comprehension and overall gain in skill?

In my case, I’d rather read something I haven’t read before, and I think I get more out of it that way… but I do rather want to see how Hercule Poirot sounds in Japanese. And, of course, I studied Japanese literature in college, and one of the things that most motivates me is the prospect of reading the original versions of many of the Japanese books that I’ve already read in English. (That may or may not count; I’ve forgotten the details of most everything but the Tale of Genji!)

 

This is an incomplete list of all the Level 6 books available from the Pierce County Library; it’ll be updated as I keep reading them.

From Extensive Reading in Japanese, the definition of a Level 6 book:

Level 6: Easy unabridged books for adolescent native readers from twelve to fifteen years old. These books still include furigana; and there are few pictures. The content is more complex. Some specialized vocabulary items appear.

I’ve added Amazon links for the benefit of having title images and just in case anyone wants to subsidize my reading, but if you’re interested in ordering any of these, I’d also recommend you look them up on Kinokuniya’s website and compare shipping costs. Also, all title translations are my own unless otherwise indicated, names are family name first, then given name, and 作 and 絵 mean “author” and “illustrator,” respectively.

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This is an incomplete list of all the Level 5 books available from the Pierce County Library; it’ll be updated as I keep reading them.

From Extensive Reading in Japanese, the definition of a Level 5 book:

Level 5: Beginning at this level, material is quantitatively and qualitatively different from the lower levels. Level 5 books usually have more than 100 pages and fewer illustrations. Some kanji have furigana, but not all of them. Stories are fully developed and more detailed. Japanese native readers would be ten to thirteen years old.

I’ve added Amazon links for the benefit of having title images and just in case anyone wants to subsidize my reading, but if you’re interested in ordering any of these, I’d also recommend you look them up on Kinokuniya’s website and compare shipping costs. Also, all title translations are my own unless otherwise indicated, names are family name first, then given name, and 作 and 絵 mean “author” and “illustrator,” respectively.

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This is an incomplete list of all the Level 4 books available from the Pierce County Library; it’ll be updated as I keep reading them.

From Extensive Reading in Japanese, the definition of a Level 4 book:

Level 4: Full texts with kanji and kana. Most kanji have furigana. The content is much richer and the length of a story could go over several volumes, but ample pictures help the readers. Most film comics are at this level. Japanese native readers would be eight to twelve years old.

I’ve added Amazon links for the benefit of having title images and just in case anyone wants to subsidize my reading, but if you’re interested in ordering any of these, I’d also recommend you look them up on Kinokuniya’s website and compare shipping costs. Also, all title translations are my own unless otherwise indicated, names are family name first, then given name, and 作 and 絵 mean “author” and “illustrator,” respectively.

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This is an incomplete list of all the Level 3 books available from the Pierce County Library; it’ll be updated as I keep reading them.

From Extensive Reading in Japanese, the definition of a Level 3 book:

Level 3: Kana and kanji are mixed, but the book is mainly written in hiragana. Furigana is provided for any kanji in the text. The content is not only fiction, but may also contain facts or accounts of some natural phenomena. Pictures are the main feature of the book. Japanese native readers would be six to ten years old.

I’ve added Amazon links for the benefit of having title images and just in case anyone wants to subsidize my reading, but if you’re interested in ordering any of these, I’d also recommend you look them up on Kinokuniya’s website and compare shipping costs. Also, all title translations are my own unless otherwise indicated, names are family name first, then given name, and 作 and 絵 mean “author” and “illustrator,” respectively.

文明の迷路
Mazes through Civilization
作/絵:香川 元太郎(かがわ げんたろう, Kagawa Gentarō)
Level 3 絵本, 32 pages, 1,700 words (est.)

Although the bulk of the book is devoted to illustrations of mazes set in various ancient civilizations, the language used is fairly sophisticated, and I liked the feeling of instant feedback provided by having to follow the instructions to complete the various puzzles. Take care to find all the crystal pyramids, and you’ll wind up in Atlantis…

ひみつのたまご
The Secret Egg
作/絵:かみや しん(Kamiya Shin)
Level 3 本, 48 pages, 1,000 words (est.)

A sweet book about a boy playing in the woods who intends to dig a trap, but can’t make anything bigger than a shallow hole — which looks like a perfect size for a nest.

ムーミン谷に冬がきた
Winter Comes to Moomin Valley
原作:トーベ・ヤンソン(Tove Jansson)
文:ミンナ・パルクマン(Minna Parkman)
絵:モルデン・シュメット(Mardon Smet)
訳:矢田堀 厚子(やたぼり あつこ, Yatabori Atsuko)
Level 3 絵本, 47 pages, 1,500 words (est.)

I had never heard of such a thing as a Moomin until I read somewhere that the series, originally in Swedish and about a family of cartoony-looking trolls, is quite popular in Japan. In this one, one of the Moomins wakes up prematurely from hibernation and experiences winter for the first time. It’s a slow-paced, gentle comic, and I rather enjoyed it.

えほんねぶた
Picture Book Nebuta Festival
作:あべ弘士(あべ ひろし, Abe Hiroshi)
Level 3 絵本, 32 pages, 900 words (est.)

I knew I had seen this guy before — he illustrated “森からのてがみ 2 (Letters from the Forest #2)” In this book, we follow the process of creating an illustrated float for a local festival. This would be a nice book for a classroom: it’s heavy on the kanji, but they would mostly be ones that students would be familiar with around the third year of study, and the ones that are difficult often have pictures — you might not know what 筆 are, but there’s a picture right next to the second time it’s used. So it combines the good parts of an upper-level book (the content, the kanji, the complex sentences) with the good parts of a lower-level one (the pictures, the manageable length).

 

This is an incomplete list of all the Level 2 books available from the Pierce County Library; it’ll be updated as I keep reading them.

From Extensive Reading in Japanese, the definition of a Level 2 book:

Level 2: Mainly hiragana and katakana text. If there are kanji, furigana is given for each kanji. The text is longer but still contains a lot of pictures to aid student comprehension. Japanese native readers would be five to eight years old.

I’ve added Amazon links for the benefit of having title images and just in case anyone wants to subsidize my reading, but if you’re interested in ordering any of these, I’d also recommend you look them up on Kinokuniya’s website and compare shipping costs. Also, all title translations are my own unless otherwise indicated, names are family name first, then given name, and 作 and 絵 mean “author” and “illustrator,” respectively.

ミッフィーとメラニー
Miffy and Melanie
作/絵:ディック・ブルーナ(Dick Bruna)
Level 2 絵本, 26 pages, 180 words (est.) ★★★★☆ Hardcover

I actually started trying out extensive reading last spring, when I lived in Ann Arbor, and the A2 library system had four or five of these translations of the Miffy books. I loved them! Reading them almost as quickly as I could read English made me happy. By now I am only reading picture books out of a vague sense of obligation to my poorly thought-out resolution of reading all the Japanese children’s books in the Tacoma library, but when I saw this one on the Pierce county library shelf I couldn’t help but check it out.

タテゴトアザラシのおやこ
A Harp Seal Mother and Child
写真:福田 幸広(ふくだ ゆきひろ, Fukuda Yukihiro)
文:結城 モイラ(ゆうき もいら, Yūki Moira)
Level 2 絵本, 28 pages, 500 words (est.) ★★★★☆ Hardcover

I’ve got a strong preference for this kind of level 2 book with regards to adult extensive reading, and not just because there is an adorable picture of an upside-down baby seal: it’s nice to follow a baby seal’s life and learn something new at the same time you’re practicing Japanese.

 

This is an incomplete list of all the Level 1 books available from the Pierce County Library; it’ll be updated as I keep reading them.

From Extensive Reading in Japanese, the definition of a Level 1 book:

Level 1: Hiragana and katakana only. The text is very short, and has one-word sentences, phrases, and some complete sentences. There are plenty of visual aids to help convey meaning. Japanese native readers would be three to six years old.

I’ve added Amazon.co.jp links for the benefit of having title images and just in case anyone wants to subsidize my reading, but if you’re interested in ordering any of these, I’d also recommend you look them up on Kinokuniya’s website and compare shipping costs, because it’s likely to be less expensive that way. Also, all title translations are my own unless otherwise indicated, names are family name first, then given name, and 作 and 絵 mean “author” and “illustrator,” respectively.

I haven’t actually read any yet, so this is basically a placeholder.

 

I’ve been unusually busy this week, but have been reading even still and am up to 75,000 words. Level 3 books are starting to get boring, and I look hopefully at my level 6 books — ah, but not yet, if I am honest with myself about the number of unknown words per page.

Two things have particularly brought me joy this week as far as extensive reading is concerned… Emmie, another extensive reader who I met through the tadoku.org boards, collected and sent me sixteen kids’ books from her and her other friends with grown-up children. I won’t be getting them for a while, because I went with the cheapest shipping option — but I can be patient! (Yes, really. I do have that capability…) Thank you again, Emmie — I’m looking forward to it so much! I really can’t wait ^^

The other thing was a trip to Powell’s, a famous bookstore in Portland that sells new and used books. Brian and I are visiting Portland with two of our friends from San Francisco, and our hotel (from which I write this entry, as a matter of fact) is just a couple of blocks away. There’s an aisle of Japanese books with grammar books and dictionaries in English as well as books for adults, lots of manga and kids’ books. The last time I was at Powell’s (which would have been a good couple of years ago?), I certainly looked at the Japanese section, but I don’t think I bought anything. That is, even the kids’ books were pretty much beyond me, and I didn’t feel like wasting more money on books I couldn’t read… This time, thanks to extensive reading, there’s so many books I want to buy! Since all the kids’ books are used, they’re generally between just $3 and $10. (Although there’s a couple of the Narnia series that are $15 — the darned things are cheaper new at Kinokuniya.) So I’ve already picked up a hefty stack of books, and I’m going back for more tomorrow.

Brian jokes that I’m like a werewolf — instead of turning into a wolf when there’s a full moon, I turn into a wolf when I run out of books. Luckily, I don’t think I’m in danger of that for now!

I’m going to try to start writing diaries at lang-8 again… I just haven’t had the time or desire to do so for several months, but lately I rather miss it. If you want to follow my writing, feel free to add me as a friend; I tend to write diaries that can only be seen by my friends these days, unless I particularly want a lot of comments for some reason. Using words that have been reinforced through reading really helps cement them in my mind, and besides, writing is fun in and of itself for me. (As you may have noted?)

 

I’ve had a lot of time to read lately, since this month I’m only scheduled to work starting next week. I was getting discouraged by the dearth of appropriate books in the Tacoma library; at the moment my fluent reading level is around 3 or 4, and most of the remaining books are either level 2 (which I am so, so bored of) or level 5 and 6. I can feel that higher-level books are starting to be within my reach, but I’d prefer not to rush it and feel frustrated. As I wrote before, that’s what prompted my Seattle library trip, and now the situation has changed completely.

I brought home 26 books all at about my reading level, and I’ve been reading one or two of them every day. I find, too, that such abundance makes me feel less compulsion to use the dictionary: I made a deal with myself to only look up words after I’ve finished a book, and I find that the more books I have available the less I want to look up words — I would rather just move on to the next book! Such abundance also makes me feel less urgency about updating the blog. I’m actually up to 65,000 words, and have written down little starter bits of information about every book I’ve read, but I haven’t quite gotten around to fleshing them out and posting them. It takes time, and reading the next book instead is always just such a tempting idea!

I am also understanding better the importance of weaning myself off the dictionary; even with unknown words, as long as the book is at an appropriate level I really have started to read much faster than I could when I started. I even find myself gradually moving to the headspace I find myself in when I’m engrossed in an English book: I hardly notice the individual words, I just want to get to the next idea. Of course, then when I run into a word I can’t figure out for the life of me, that happy flow comes crashing down…

I wonder about my progress with vocabulary: I feel like I’m absorbing some words, but others, even when I kind of intuit the meaning from context, seem to go in one ear and out the other (in one eye and out the other? Oh dear). The fact is, for me, looking up a word, attaching kanji to it, storing it in a tidy little vocabulary list and, ideally, writing it down a couple of times is really what begins the process of anchoring it in my mind; the word is then reinforced by seeing or hearing it in a few different contexts, then eventually I can draw upon it when writing. Skipping those first steps makes me feel like I’m missing a lot, and I wonder if I’ll actually be able to actually expand my vocabulary, or if this is more like reinforcing the piles of words I already have somewhere in my head but don’t really know well yet. If a book constantly uses a word that’s new to me then it has a good chance of staying in my head, but if a new word shows up just once in a book with a thousand or two thousand words, then there’s not much chance of it making an impression. Between that worry and my determination to take the JLPT later this year, I decided to start a course of self-study, following the textbook I used in my third year of formal study — for another thing, there is a lot of grammar I’m embarrassingly shaky on. I’ve got enough time for it at the moment, so I don’t feel like I’m cheating myself out of reading opportunities. (But who am I kidding, if I get short on time the grammar will be the first thing to go.)

Incidentally, grammar studies go better when I alternate reading and textbook exercises. I almost have to, because I can’t just concentrate on grammar anymore when there is a book at hand!