From the monthly archives: December 2013

One thing I worry about, as the tadoku contest becomes more popular, is that beginners will take a look at who’s participating and what many of the top scorers are reading, and conclude that tadoku is for people who are reading at a high level already. I think the format implicitly supports this, even though it’s just trying to make things fair, because if you say that a screen of game text or a page of manga is worth so many fractions of a book page, then it follows that a worthy book page is a book page with a lot of text on it. So if you read books with pictures and not a lot of text per page, it might even feel like you’re not being fair to people who are reading more difficult stuff.

Ideally, I think a tadoku contest based on word count, not pages, would be the most accurate and inclusive (and BlackDragonHunt would still whip us all!) but using pages makes a lot of sense because they’re so easy to keep track of. But please, if you want to try tadoku and participate in the fun, don’t hold back because you think the books you could read aren’t impressive enough, and don’t push yourself to read a book you can’t read fluently.

The way I think about it is, if you’re just starting out and you read 100 pages of picture books with 5 words per page, that’s every bit as awesome as an intermediate reader like me reading 100 pages of a book with 50 words per page. I’m not working ten times as hard as someone who’s just starting to learn Japanese — heck, that beginner is probably working ten times harder than me! I remember what it’s like to start putting everything together and reading native-level material, and it’s not easy. You’ve got to remember all the words you learned in all those Anki sessions, figure out what new words mean without constantly running for the dictionary, understand what the sentences mean without having a translation to check, and, if it’s really early on in the process, go from decoding one hiragana at a time to reading words, then phrases at a time. You couldn’t pay me enough to go through that again. (Those of you who continue on to Chinese or Korean after learning Japanese, I salute you.)

I’m reminded of the parable of the widow’s mite, where the tiny amount of money the poor woman donated was worth more in God’s eyes than the huge amounts of money offered by rich men, because for her it was a true sacrifice. Someone who’s already read a lot is used to a lot of sentence patterns, can read hiragana and a lot of kanji automatically, commands a decent amount of vocabulary and should be good at figuring out the meanings of unknown words without even consciously thinking about it. So readers like me are coasting along on our metaphorical riches, while the beginning reader is just starting to jingle a few coins together. But the reading that beginners are doing is proportionally as challenging for them as a more advanced book is for an intermediate learner, and it deserves respect.

So even if you’re just reading ぐりとぐら*, as long as you feel like you’re getting something out of it, you’re challenging yourself and, most importantly, you’re enjoying it, then I believe that you’re doing wonderfully and you ought to be proud of yourself. We all learn to read by reading, so whatever level you’re at, getting used to reading fluently can only be a benefit for you. The contest aspect of the tadoku challenge is fun and all, but in the end we’re all in it not to prove something to each other, but to improve ourselves.

Tadoku is for everyone.
Don’t wait until you’ve finished learning every kanji.
Don’t spend an hour trying to piece together one page of one book.
Don’t be embarrassed to practice by reading easy books.
Just get on Twitter, type @TadokuBot #reg, then find something fun on Ehon Navi.
Let’s start 2014 off right with some reading!

Looking for some suggestions?
あるひ こねこね (One Day, *knead knead*, 45 words)
I really think everyone ought to read this one, because who doesn’t love stories about aliens making funny noises? But at 45 words, it’s suited for beginners.

あかにんじゃ (The Red Ninja, 200 words)
This surreal story of a shape-changing ninja is a step or two more difficult at 200 words.

かもとりごんべえ (Gonbe the Duck Hunter, 450 words)
This whole dang book is an excuse to set up an atrocious pun.

* ぐりとぐら (Guri and Gura) is the story of two little mice who do some cooking. It’s a picture book that’s probably as familiar to most Japanese people as “Goodnight Moon” is to Americans.