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!
- 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
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