This baby ate my brain.
Yeah, this one. If you have any maternal or paternal instincts I imagine you’re thinking “No wonder she went off the rails! That looks like a high-maintenance little cutie pie.” And if you don’t, perhaps you’re thinking “Yep, that sure is another new human all right. So, about that tadoku?”
About that tadoku.
I found out I was pregnant on a weekend trip to Seattle. I had taken a couple of my favorite Zorori books with me and I still haven’t finished them. It was my first pregnancy and not only did it take a lot out of me it required a lot of reading in English as I educated myself on what form of fruit the fetus might be compared to each week, exactly what pain management options were available during childbirth and how I would be keeping the resulting infant alive afterwards. I’ve been lucky, as my pregnancy, birth experience and time with the baby have all been smooth and altogether the happiest time of my life. It’s only since the end of December, though, that I’ve been regularly getting a full night’s sleep.
Somehow that sleep is the difference between a Liana who has vague ideas of doing things someday, perhaps when I’m in the nursing home, and a Liana who might actually get some reading done. I feel like myself again for the first time since I started this adventure! It’s not that I have had no free time, it’s more that, you know how you get in a flow state where it’s like everything is coming together and you’re concentrating and learning and having fun? Being on call with this little guy constantly creates the opposite state of mind.
When I started extensive reading, my goal was to read a million words, and I estimate I got to 370,000 or so. I felt like I was somewhere between a second and fourth grade reading level, and I’d started tackling a few more difficult books. I don’t feel like I can pick up where I was immediately, so I was thinking I’d try a warmup with some picture books from Ehon Navi. When I first wrote about them there were maybe 350 books available, and now there’s 813! There are probably libraries in Japan that don’t have 813 picture books. It’s an astonishing resource, and I’d like to use it to warm up and make it a little more accessible to beginning readers at the same time. Before, I wasn’t able to read them because of their system requirements, but now it seems that Firefox on the Mac will let me. (There is also a file floating around with screenshots of some of the books. Out of respect for the awesomeness of the website it only seems fair to me to read them online if I can, but if anyone else is having problems…)
I’m feeling ambitious now that I’m caught up on sleep, and there’s so many other things I want to do, but for now I’m going to try reading and writing about some of these Ehon Navi books. Long-term, I’d like to change the whole format of my site, I don’t think it’s very easy to sort out information with the way it is now. But in the short term I’ll settle for reading a couple of picture books!
So I went into the tadoku contest having read 231,226 words, and I ended it with 352,166 words. That is, I read 120,940 words this month, or a full 12% of my million word goal. I read 8 level 1 books, 7 level 2 books, 52 level 3 books, 3 level 4 books, 1 level 5 book and one graded reader volume, for a total of 72 books. I had hoped to read more level 4 books this month, but I kept opening them up and feeling frustrated, so in the end I stuck to level 3 books after all.
As far as the actual contest goes, I came in 14th overall and 8th among Japanese language learners, with 3511.45 pages, 3040 of which were from books and 471.45 of which were from videogames, mostly Mother 3. I finished Mother 3, and I just loved being able to play through it in Japanese, but I felt that I couldn’t help but remember my English experience of the game, which meant I didn’t have to rely on my own skill to understand everything. So I think the next game I play will have to be something I’ve never played before.
I first read about the tadoku contest when I was researching extensive reading, and I thought, meh, not really my thing — but then months later, after I started my blog, I connected with other people who were doing it and because I liked them I decided that I may as well try it as well. I’m really glad I did! I know that not everyone goes by (or knows about?) Sakai-san’s three golden tadoku rules like I do, but still it was exciting to be part of a group of people all focused on my particular obsession at the moment. I was really happy to watch all my friends just read and read and read, and I hope everyone got something out of it and keeps going! It also made me more aware of how much time I waste doing inconsequential things like reading Metafilter out of habit; I’m going to try to use my time a little more consciously in the future and to stop doing things that are amusing, but don’t help me learn or do something interesting or useful. There are two months until the next round, so if I practice picking up a book or watching something in Japanese online every time I want to load up a non-essential English website, I should have broken the habit by then.
What I want to do now:
1) Keep on reading, of course – but probably dip back down into level 2 books for a little while. Nikkei Bunko has a ton of picture books, and I haven’t even started looking at them. Plus, after writing that vocabulary post, I feel like I ought to take my own advice – in my experience, I generally feel like I get more out of level 3 books because they’re more complex and rich in information, but I learn more basic vocabulary from lower-level books because of the pictures and the lower level of words. So I will see how that little experiment goes.
2) Listen to more Japanese in general. To my surprise, I’ve found that my completely neglected listening ability has improved since I’ve been reading: the words that I’ve seen often enough to recognize them without conscious thought also seem to be easier to understand through my ears, and since I know more words now I can hear them. I’m not trying to say “Do tadoku and your listening ability will improve too!” My guess is that it’s reasonable to think that massive visual input could be linked to the ability to recognize spoken words, especially for a visual learner like me, but the fact is, my listening skill has always been absurdly bad, and although I’ve spent so much time reading and writing, I’ve spent so little time trying to improve my speaking and listening skills that it makes sense that any sort of exposure to Japanese is bound to have some effect.
3) Practice writing more. There was a point in my life where I wrote constantly, about my life, my thoughts, my memories… I can’t seem to do that right now, so what I might try to do instead, at least for now, is practice writing structures that give me trouble. I’m always forgetting how to produce the most basic things — how to ask people for things, how to say I have to do something, anything to do with passive or causative construction. Plus, I want to review some intermediate grammar structures that I only have the most tenuous hold on, and I think framing grammar practice as writing practice is the only way I’m going to actually do it these days. We hates the textbook, yes we do, especially when there are so many pretty books stacked up all over the apartment… I’ll be doing this at my Japanese blog, most likely.
I usually write short reviews of the books I read, too, and I completely neglected that this month! So I’ll have to catch up on that too.
I made another trip to the library recently, and I was faced with a daunting realization: I’m running out of the level 3 and 4 books that I like. At the rate I’m going they’ll start getting harder soon; I can certainly read harder books, but not as quickly or fluidly as I’d like…
When we moved from Michigan to Washington State, we didn’t initially have a very clear picture of where we would settle down. Seattle? Tacoma? Olympia? Bremerton? Bellingham? I admit it: “quality of the library system” was an important criteria for evaluating potential places to live — would you believe I had a dream that we moved somewhere with no interlibrary loan system — and I scoped out several different libraries even before we moved. (Later, when looking for apartments, “proximity to library” was another important qualification.)
Of course, I was most impressed with the Seattle library system’s Japanese language selection. We ended up moving to Tacoma, but it’s been in the back of my mind ever since that a Seattle library card could be mine for around $80. After all, there are more than 600 Japanese children’s books spread out between the various branches — that puts the 125 children’s books held at the Tacoma library main branch (no direct link, but you can search for JAJ) to shame. I just love any excuse to take the train up to Seattle, so getting there every so often wouldn’t be a problem… I was going back to look at exactly how much a prized Seattle library card would set me back ($85 per year, incidentally) and I saw something that hadn’t registered when I looked at that same page back when I lived in Ann Arbor: the Seattle public library has reciprocal arrangements with various other libraries in the area. Tacoma’s not one of them, but Pierce County is, and as it so happens, Tacoma and Pierce County have their own reciprocal system, where someone living in Tacoma can get a Pierce County card and vice versa.
So the question was this: are library cards transitive? I’ve never before in my life felt the need to have three separate library cards, but that was before I started running out of appropriate books. The day I suspected that this might be possible, I went out and got a Pierce County card — just in case. As it turns out, even though I’m from Tacoma, that Pierce County card and a valid picture ID with my current address qualified me for a Seattle library card after all! I called ahead to ask, then took the train up to Seattle the very next day. I returned home with 26 books♪ I had been to the main library before and had been duly impressed by the rows of Japanese children’s books, but I didn’t truly appreciate their value until I started extensive reading and had to start looking not just for any old book, but for books at a certain level.
If you happen to be in Washington State, take a moment to see if you qualify for a Seattle library card. For an extensive reader, it’s worth the trip. If not, are there any major libraries — public or part of a university or college — in your area with some Japanese books that you might be able to get access to? Hopefully, this may be a possible path to gathering more resources for other extensive readers as well.
Incidentally, the Pierce County library system has enough Japanese books to have made it worthwhile for me to pick up a library card in its own right. My parents live in Pierce County, and when we stayed with them for two weeks after moving while figuring out where we wanted to live, I borrowed my dad’s card to check out a couple of books. (He handed it over, and then, with some embarrassment, handed over a $20 to pay his fine. So that’s where I get it from, I thought. It hasn’t escaped my notice that getting books from three different libraries opens me up to three times the potential library fines…) Actually, a shiny new library in University Place, which is part of the Pierce County system and about 20 minutes away from me, opened in February. Had it been open when we moved to Washington, that might have bumped University Place up a few notches in my potential destination calculations!
By the way, the reason I divide my book reviews not just by level, but by library, is that I hope to be extra useful to other readers in the area and perhaps even to put together an extensive reading group at some point. I should have started that already, but to be honest I’m extremely shy. If you’re in the area and interested in something like that, feel free to e-mail me and maybe that will help me become more motivated!
I learned about extensive reading from a few of my friends on Lang-8, and I’ve been trying it myself to some extent for a few months now. Writing a blog about it seemed like a fun way of keeping track of my own reading and sharing information with other Japanese language learners who might be interested in book reviews and so on!
I started learning Japanese in college in 2002 and studied formally for three years, but after graduating from college, my devotion to Japanese studies has been sporadic at best; I’m not likely to really spend much time in the country, so it’s something of a hobby at this point. Still, I remain fascinated by the language and culture and have continued to study off and on. Extensive reading caught my interest as soon as I heard about it, although it’s been difficult for me to let go of the dictionary, and although I haven’t really been applying myself I’ve already increased my reading speed and fluency and broadened my vocabulary just by reading a lot of kids’ books in Japanese.
My goal is to be able to read in Japanese as easily as I can in English. My more attainable goal is to read all 125 of the Japanese kids’ books in the Tacoma library system. (I’ve been starting with the easy ones, but I’ve been very bad at keeping track of them, so I can’t say yet what number I’m up to.) I’d also like to put together a modest library of books that are particularly good for extensive reading in Japanese and maybe create an extensive reading group in this area. As far as this blog is concerned, I’ll probably write reviews of good books for people doing extended reading in Japanese, keep track of the Japanese books I’ve read, write a little about the books I am reading in English about Japanese and maybe try to write some things in Japanese as well.
I live in Tacoma with my husband and our two cats, and my other major hobby is drawing paper dolls. I also like to play videogames (I have a particular fondness for retro RPGs), cook and watch movies.
- Extensive reading is known as 多読, or tadoku in Japanese. To try it, start with very easy books (ones with no more than two or three unknown words per page), and follow these principles:
1. Don’t look up words in the dictionary while reading.
2. Skip over parts you don’t understand.
3. If you aren’t enjoying one book, toss it aside and get another.
Find something to read!
Hundreds of free books and stories online
Local bookstores and libraries
Buying new and used books online
For more information, read "What Is Extensive Reading?" and "Classification System."
To learn more about Kunihide Sakai, who developed the three principles of tadoku and has worked to popularize it in Japan for years, read this interview with him.
Finally, for more than you ever wanted to know about why I believe extensive reading is worth your time, read my tadoku manifesto.
Superfluous StatsBooks read: 303
Word count (since starting the blog): 380,500
- About Myself
- Books from my own collection
- Classification System
- Detailed Reviews of Graded Readers
- Detailed Reviews of Level 2 Books
- Detailed Reviews of Level 3 Books
- Detailed Reviews of Level 4 Books
- Detailed Reviews of Level 5 Books
- EhonNavi Books
- Extensive Reading Basics
- Extensive Reading Materials Online
- Extensive Reading Paper Summaries and Notes
- Extensive Reading Resources
- Illustrated Reference Books
- Japanese Language Learning Resources
- Mini Reviews of Level 1 Books
- Mini Reviews of Level 2 Books
- Mini Reviews of Level 3 Books
- Mini Reviews of Level 4 Books
- Mini Reviews of Level 5 Books
- Mini-Reviews of Level 6 Books
- Nikkei Bunko Library Books
- Picture Books
- Pierce County Library Books
- Reading in a Foreign Language
- Seattle Library Books
- Short Stories
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- Tacoma Library Books
- Tadoku Contest
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