What is extensive reading?

Extensive reading is reading as much as possible, for your own pleasure, at a difficulty level at which you can read smoothly and quickly without looking up words or translating to English as you go. In other words, instead of spending a half hour decoding a tiny part of one book (also known as intensive reading), you read many simpler books that are at or slightly below the level at which you read fluently. This lets you get used to reading more complex sentences with ease, reinforces the words you already know and helps you learn new words from context.

What are the principles of extensive reading?

Start with stories that are well below your fluent reading level, and while reading, follow these principles:

1. Don’t look up words in the dictionary.
2. Skip over parts you don’t understand.
3. If you aren’t enjoying one book, toss it aside and get another.

(loosely translated from Kunihide Sakai’s tadoku.org)

Finally, keep track of your progress: I estimate the number of words I’ve read. You could also keep track of page counts or number of books read; a service like 読書メーター (Reading Meter) will let you do that for free.

Why start at such a basic level?

  • It helps you get used to reading quickly; since you should know most of the words already, you hardly have to think about them.
  • The sentences are simpler, so you can understand them immediately, and as you start reading more complex sentences you’ll have an intuitive sense of how they fit together.
  • It helps you learn to use the information in the text to figure out unknown words, instead of a dictionary.
  • You get a sense of where your fluent reading level is, so as you improve you can tell when a book is too hard or too easy.
  • Words that are part of basic books are basic words themselves, and as you see them over and over, you learn them quickly; when you progress to more advanced books, you’ll know those basic words without having to think about them.
  • You can finish books in a reasonable amount of time, so you don’t get bored with one book.

Why not use a dictionary?

Stopping to look up a word, even if it doesn’t take you very long, breaks your concentration, but if you read many basic books without a dictionary, you gain the ability to figure out words from context almost instantly and read quickly.

How do you find books at the right level?

First, get familiar with the classification system: once you know what your fluent reading level is, you can use it to tell almost immediately if a book is at the right level for you. A good rule of thumb is to read a page and count all of the words you don’t know. If there are more than three or four, try a simpler book.

Is it boring to read a lot of easy books?

No, not at all! Each book, no matter how simple it is, reinforces something you already know and teaches you something new. I hope to compile lists of particularly good books for adult readers, as well.


58 Responses to What Is Extensive Reading?

  1. tadoku.orgのrenewalを計画しています。

  2. Liana says:


  3. [...] what’s Tadoku? Well, leave it to the Japanese to have a word which means extensive reading! Liana’s Extensive Reading Journal explains the three main [...]

  4. Juichiro says:

    I love your blog, Liana! Why isn’t this method more popular? :(

  5. [...] a leaderboard) for reading extensively in your target language. Here’s a great blog post about extensive reading for anyone who’s curious. I didn’t set up a specific goal at the beginning just because [...]

  6. eka sustri harida says:

    thanks for the writing…

  7. al says:

    The info may be found somewhere, but I thought I’d ask. What level does one have to be to even begin with the easiest Japanese Reader? Just knowing hiragana and katakana isn’t enough to be able to read a book.

    I’ve been studying Japanese for over a year, (including seven horrible months with Heisig’s “Remembering The Kanji.”) So, I picked up a Level O graded reader and I can’t even read the title. What do I need to do?

    What steps do you recommend before being able to start todoku?


    • Robert says:

      1 year!? I have been in Japan and studying for 9 years.
      You need to study kanji symbols, kanji meanings, vocab all in conjunction. I still read a VERY low level.
      And Hesig is amazing. There is simply no way you are going to learn 2000 joyo Kanji as an adult any other way. BUT you must apply Hesig to other methods. Hesig just put the symbol in your mind. But what is the Japanese for that symbol? You need to learn that at the same time. For me if I just study Japanese to Kanji the kanji all blend together in my mind and I never remember them for a long time. If I just study Hesig (Kanji to English) then I just know a bunch of single kanji and their English meaning which isnt all that useful. Combine the two methods and your memory will thank you. It will take YEARS! If you really really push you can probably learn all 2000 joyo kanji in two years. I am at about 1200 after starting over (from a 3 year break) and it took me about 8 months. But you slow down the higher up you go. 800 is a huge roadblock. After that your mind begins throwing out some kanji to make room and gets harder and harder to cram more in. I find that the more and more I learn, the more and more I miss and have to start over with them. At 1200 my foward progress is much much slower. So I estimate another 1 year to hit 2000.

  8. cicih says:

    Thanks a lot for the information!

  9. tserendolgor says:

    reading extensively is the best way to spend my time efficiently. I read your work and loved it. it is really useful for me. Thanks a lot

  10. chrispen maduze says:

    wow this is really great you helped me doing my assignment on extensive reading….thanks

  11. faith paul says:

    Please, I want to know the techniques for teaching extensive reading? I await your response.

  12. M.D. says:

    Thank you for the article about Extensive Reading! It’s VERY helpful and has the very necessary information in simple understandable words!!! I am cherished!!! Keep producing such articles!!!
    M. Dzhalilova

  13. [...] found Ehon Navi via Liana’s Extensive Reading blog.  Extensive Reading is the language learning strategy of, basically, reading a ton in your target language, at or below [...]

  14. shadab says:

    Somewhat, it’s noteble but u should have given
    examples of books ( as comics, magazine joke, lovestory)as well as u should have coded some core point of reading skimming, skipping , monitoring the comparihension, recognizing story structure etc.

  15. Lordson Anyrator says:

    I like this blog. You have really helped me on my assignment on Extensive reading. I am grateful.

  16. Marian Mensah says:

    Thanks soo much fine helping me out with my assignment

  17. Banii says:

    really, i’ve learnt something about extensive,,,keep it up! thnk u

  18. [...] و الالتفات بالمعاجم رغم لحظات قصيرة يثير عدم التركيز، و قراءة الكتب الأساسية مع عدم الالتفات بالمعاجم تمكن القارئ على فهم المفردات من السياق سريعا. (http://joechip.net/extensivereading/what-is-extensive-reading/). [...]

  19. [...] and cultural awareness. Additionally, it is a form of extensive reading (more on extensive reading here and here) which helps build reading speed and vocabulary. And perhaps most importantly, it’s [...]

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  22. yuni says:

    very good explanation , thank you. it is easy to understand :)

  23. Aishat Tukur says:

    great you help me doing my Assignment on the difference between intensive and extensive reading.thanks keep it up.

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