So at a certain point, I ran out of level 3 and 4 books from the Tacoma library; there were a lot of level 2 books left, but I thought “I am so sick of picture books that I could just pick them all up and throw them clear across the room.” That’s when I got my Seattle library card and read about two dozen level 3 and 4 books. After that, I felt like I could go back to the picture books — I did vow to read every last one, after all, and I thought I’d just like to get them out of the way. (You’ll note I’m not vowing to read all the children’s books in the Seattle library.)
When I started reading in Tacoma and keeping track of the words, reading one in a day every couple of days was a good pace, and my total word count increased by two hundred here and three hundred there. Now, it takes less time to read a level 2 book than it does to make the Amazon link and think of something to write about it. The surprising thing is that I don’t know exactly what changed. Level 2 books used to be harder to read, but not that much harder; they had more unknown words, but not that many. It feels more like my eyes are changing than anything else. I keep thinking of something one of my friends who does extensive reading once said: that language comprehension is just pattern recognition. At that time, I was trying out extensive reading, but just couldn’t put down the blankety-blank dictionary and trust myself to actually read. But now, the easier patterns are starting to settle in place.
Now, I’m picking up books and thinking “This looks interesting and within my fluent reading level,” then running them by my classification system and thinking “Hm… Long… Lots of words… Not many pictures… Less furigana… Wow, this is a level 5 book!” The one I just finished, “Suzu and Rin’s Secret Recipe!” was perhaps just at the border of my ability, but still within my fluent reading level. I even took a stab at a level 6 book, and although I put it back down after a little bit, I was able to glean some very interesting facts about お歯黒. This fascinates me: it’s not as if I’ve been working on grammar (I know, I meant to, but I was right in predicting that it would be the first thing I’d jettison if I got in the least distracted by any other shiny thing), and the only other Japanese-related activity I’ve been doing since I started extensive reading back in Ann Arbor has been writing diaries on lang-8; I know my experiences with that helped me read much faster than I did when I started writing diaries in October, as comments and messages that once took me all day to decode became much more manageable after about four months of frequent writing — but even still, when I started extensive reading I had already been using lang-8 for several months, and I still found level 3 books extremely intimidating. I mostly stuck to level 2, relying a lot on the pictures to be sure I understood what I was reading, and I had to really train myself to stop using the dictionary all the time. And now here I am, with a new attitude of “Level 5? Sure, that’s doable!”
I really do think my rather rapid progression has a lot to do with the many vocabulary words that passed through my mind as I played dozens of video games; I went through this cycle with every game where I first looked up all the words that I didn’t know and made dutiful little vocabulary lists out of them, then got impatient and skimmed all the text, then got hopelessly lost and annoyed at having missed too much detail and started over with another game. It was a fun method of vocabulary building, but in terms of actual results it was slipshod and frustrating; I can’t recommend it. Still, I think that many of these words are already in my head somewhere, they just didn’t get reinforced until now. As I read, many of these half-remembered words came back to me, and that in turn made me better able to fill in a lot of the blanks left over by completely unknown words, as well as makes it easier to remember the word the next time it comes up. That’s just my own perception of my situation, though.
It makes me wonder, maybe I should do some extensive reading in French next? I’m often surprised by how much French I retain — it is really unfair that even now French is still easier for me to skim than Japanese, although I understand Japanese much better. (Reading Japanese feels like switching to another mode; written French looks so similar to English, in contrast, that it doesn’t cause the same feeling.) In practice, my French is so rusty and muddled up with Japanese that I can’t claim to know the language, but it’s still in my head somewhere. I bet I’d do pretty well if I spent an hour a day reading French… Well, it’s a thought, anyways. (As much of a thought as studying Japanese grammar is.)
By the way, I hit 100,000 words! The book that put me over the top was, coincindentally, the picture book I dislike the most because the illustrations are so creepy. Now I’m at 117,746 words, and I suppose the next meaningful number will be 250,000 words, or 25% of my goal. I also got my patio all set up; we moved in at the end of summer and haven’t had anything out there except for a bird feeder all this time, but now I have a little herb garden, hanging flowers and a pair of comfortable chairs. This is where I sit and read now, wrapped up in a blanket usually (because it’s still a little cold here). Having a nice spot like this does wonders for my concentration!
- 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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