Interview with Kunihide Sakai: tadoku in Japan, the tadoku community, tadoku and language learning and so on
I learned the basic principles of extensive reading (tadoku) from some of my Japanese friends who had been following this method for several years, but it wasn’t until after I started this blog that I learned more about this particular method’s history and became acquainted with Kunihide Sakai, who developed and popularized this form of tadoku. He was kind enough to answer several questions that I had for him about extensive reading in Japan and other subjects. If anyone has any more questions or any opinions, please feel free to post a comment so we can keep the discussion going! You can also contact him directly through Twitter.
About the history of tadoku in Japan
What initially sparked your interest in extensive reading?
‘Sparked’ is a bit off the mark, really, because the realization was gradual rather than instantaneous. The biggest moment seems to have been around thirty years ago when an American colleague at a university where I taught English came to the common room one day with a black eye. She told me by way of explanation that ‘bump into the door’ is a euphemism suggesting domestic violence but that she really ran into the door. I gave up my research on English literature at that moment. I decided studying literature in a foreign language would be pointless unless I know the language well enough so I would know that ‘Bump into the door’ could suggest domestic violence. I decided also then I should read a lot before I’d be able to do anything worthwhile regarding a foreign language, let alone ‘to teach it’!
I could tell you more experiences like this one, but my answer is long already.
You said in the other interview that you had been trying to make extensive reading work for 25 years, but it wasn’t until you came up with your three golden rules that it really took off. How did you come up with those rules, and what had you been trying before?
Eleven years ago, I was in England for one year with my family. I watched my kids acquire English at an alarming rate from scratch. (I had not taught them English myself before my family arrived in England.) I thought maybe the same thing could happen if my university students mimicked the way kids acquire a foreign language. It did seem like a crazy idea at the time, but I had been fed up with failures of all kinds
of teaching methods that I was willing to give something drastic a try.
I started experimenting with eight 18-year old students at Denki-Tsushin University and, lo and behold, two of them started to read ‘grownup’ books after 30 weeks of what I since recognize as ‘tadoku’. I experimented a little more with a few more students and by and by the observation became the base of the three golden rules. They didn’t seem crazy at the time any more.
In Japan, is the word “tadoku” always associated with the kind of reading you advocate? (That is, fluent reading for fun without dictionaries, starting from a low level.) Or is the term used for other types of reading as well?
Not really. The term 多読 has been around for, say, a hundred years at least. Its revival is certainly largely due to what I started to advocate ten years ago, but there have spawned many interesting interpretations of what 多読 means. Many people now only know the term 多読 and don’t know the three principles I proposed. I think it’s quite natural that when something starts to spread widely it undergoes some kind of change or another.
Are there different schools of thought about extensive reading in Japan? That is, even if people agree on the basics of tadoku, are there disagreements on the details, or about the best way to teach or study English through tadoku? If so, what are some of the more notable differences?
Yes, differences abound. Even the basics of tadoku are forgotten in some cases. In one high school in Tokyo, for example, I hear students were given homework whereby they translate ten graded readers a year (like Oxford Bookworms Library books) into Japanese.
Also there are differences of opinions even where basics are supposed to be agreed on, like ‘Should we teach basic grammar first?’, ‘ Should flash cards be used?’, ‘Should we test comprehension?’.
What groups are there in Japan that work to promote tadoku? In what ways were you involved with them, and are you still involved with them now?
There are now a number of groups that have a website to promote tadoku in English. Most prominent would be the SSS group, the oldest and most widely referred to since its launch in autumn of 2001.
I was one of its founding members and tadoku owes the site a lot at its earliest stages. I’m not involved with the SSS group now because they have now reverted to traditional ways of learning English. They now advocate some degree of use of dictionary as well as teaching of grammar and use of tests. Other groups may have different principles but they are not very clear about where they stand. They seem to be simply providing information on books to read or online format to record tadoku progress.
Can you write a quick summary of each of the books about tadoku and language learning that you’ve written or been a major contributor to? How were they received?
「どうして英語が使えない？ 学校英語につける薬」（ちくま学芸文庫, 1993）
Lays the foundation for tadoku, I was hoping, by explaining how flash cards are detrimental to language learning. I also ‘denounce’ in this book the course books certified by the Ministry of Education as presenting ‘unnatural’ English. Total number of copies printed would be around 30,000? I’m not really sure. Sorry.
This is the first book that presented the three golden rules together with reading suggestions to pave the way from picture books to books for adults. Total number of copies printed would be 40,000?
「教室で読む英語100万語」（Co-authored with Kanda Minami, 大修館書店、2005）
All about introducing tadoku to classroom, with 19 examples of classroom practice from kids English classrooms to high schools to university. Total number of sale, 4000?
「どうして？」was in a way a criticism of English-Japanese dictionaries.「さよなら」takes a hard look on grammar as taught in schools according to the Ministry of Education guideline. Sad to say the worst seller of my books… less than 3000 copies sold? Intellectually exciting and truly eye-opening?
Liana, let me recommend you 「快読100万語」if you want to read my book. It’s the most readable, I hear. Don’t bother the latter half of the book if you are not into grammar, though. I hear it’s hard-going.
Are there any other books about tadoku that are particularly popular?
Yes there are a number of books that seem to be popular. Off the top of my head, 「今日から読みます英語100万語」is the second book to appear on the market after 「快読100万語」and it is still popular because there are a lot of brief reviews of books that are suitable for English tadoku. You can see how tadoku is liberating to the people on the street.
Do you think tadoku will ever become a major part of mainstream English education in Japan?
I doubt it. It is so counter-intuitive (that an adult can learn a foreign language in the same way as kids do), it seems unlikely that schools and universities will embrace it, especially in Japan where rote-memory and test scores mean so much.
Some people likened tadoku to Chinese medicine in that the effect is not so visibly clear except it builds your basic life functions in the long run, so to speak. (it seems to me the effect is much quicker than Chinese medicine.)
Is there still an extensive reading class at the University of Electro-Communications now that you’ve retired, or will it revert to a more traditional English class?
Er…m… (Sigh) I still teach two tadoku classes at UEC as part-timer. But no Japanese teachers are interested in tadoku so there will be no more tadoku class once I quit next March.
To be frank with you, Liana, Japanese teachers of English are the hardest to see the merits of tadoku. But let me grumble later if you want to know why. The topic is so depressing.
(Note: I asked why, and he posted this comment on another page on July 29, 2011, which I’m adding here.)
1) Why Japanese teachers of English are the hardest to convince about the merits of tadoku.
This is a big topic which would need a few thousand words if discussed in full, so let me just enumerate some of the problems teachers have with tadoku.
* Teachers of English are the hardest nuts to crack because they have semi-instinctive resistance to tadoku, which is against everything they have believed in all along: use of a dictionary, translation into Japanese, vocab building through sheer memorization, focus on grammar, evaluation by tests and exams, among other things.
* They think they are proficient in English thanks to the conventional methods described above, and they expect their students to follow their own steps. We all know the kind of disaster that results, don’t we?
* Most teachers blame students for not achieving the proficiency they think they themselves have reached. Very few think that it’s not the students but the conventional methods that are at fault.
* So, tadoku is only accepted by teachers who have tried everything in their arsenal and have seen no visible improvement in their students.
Are there any similar classes at other universities or schools that you’re aware of?
Yes, there a quite a few schools and universities where tadoku is available to students. I guess the number is somewhere between 50 and 100 in all of Japan. You see, there ARE some oddballs among teachers of English in Japan.
I find it very satisfying to work with such teachers and my diary since April is full of visits to schools to help with their tadoku classes.
What kinds of materials are available to Japanese speakers who are interested in doing tadoku in English?
A well-stocked school will have about 10,000 books and picture books for its tadoku classes. They are mostly material for native-speaking kids from K to 12 but some are graded readers that are written in controlled English with contents for high school to adult audience.
Is interest in tadoku continuing to grow, or do you feel like it’s waning somewhat?
At the moment, it is still growing, growing strong even, it seems. Signs are in a lot of places if you know where to look. (That is, the trend is not that obvious.)
I have a feeling that in five years’ time the tide will change either for the better or for worse: I suspect it will be basic soundness of tadoku principles against the staying power of traditional thinking.
I understand that the 日本多読研究会 (Japanese Graded Readers Research Group), the group that produced the only Japanese graded readers currently available, was organized (I think?) by your wife. How did she come to be interested in extensive reading for Japanese learners?
I asked my wife who is roasting 秋刀魚 now. She says first she was not happy with the traditional 読解 teaching method, second she was impressed by the success of tadoku in my English classes.
What else does that group do?
The group teaches Japanese language classes in Tokyo, holds seminars for teachers of Japanese as a foreign language, and has workshops for writing, rewriting and editing of Japanese Graded Readers.
About the tadoku community
You host discussions over Skype a few times a week: can you explain a little bit about what those chats are like and who can join in?
Those chats started about nine months ago and finally the number of sessions per week started to grow. They have been successful, I think, because they bring together tadoku lovers around Japan for friendly and relaxed chatting in English. I have found Japanese people being very unwilling to make mistakes so, to lower the threshold, I ask them to use Japanese whenever they get stuck in English. This might seem bad for learners with 根性 or determination and guts, it has proven successful so far, getting more and more shy people to talk in English.
I am hoping to invite more Japanese learners like yourself to one of these sessions so please be alert to notices in Liana’s blog and my blog at tadoku.org. I invite anyone who is learning Japanese to contact me and join the おしゃべり会。
People who are into tadoku in Japan do offline meetups as well; what are those like?
They have been extremely successful and I believe they contributed to the success of tadoku in general in a big way. You see, it seems to me that three elements that meant a lot to the success so far are The three golden principles, the great amount of easy tadoku material and the tadoku community.
The number of tadoku lovers is so small and they are usually separated far from each other, they needed the Internet to make sure they are not alone. And off-line meetups may have enhanced the sense of this minority community.
What sort of experience do people learning Japanese have with tadoku?
I’ll have to ask my wife for this question but she has already gone to her computer, I’ll ask her later but I believe it’s roughly the same as English tadoku lovers. Tadoku let them enjoy Japanese rather than toil at it, thereby taking them very far along the way — farther than learners have had any inkling of sometimes.
Do you ever hear from people doing tadoku in languages besides English and Japanese?
Yes, I do, but they are all of them Japanese and had done tadoku in English before they started tadoku in other languages, like German, Chinese, French and Spanish for example. They all complain about the scarcity of easy tadoku material. In some languages, manga in the target language seem to be useful and easy to get hold of.
About tadoku and the learning process
Why do you consider it so important to stop using a dictionary?
I know this goes against the grain of serious and deermined learners of any foreign language. But I have observed literary thousands of English learners in Japan and the experience has shown me that at the end of the day the less you use your dictionary the quicker you get the gist of that language and get more efficient.
Do you think that learning a language primarily through tadoku is effective?
Err, yes. Please note that I base this affirmation on my observation so far. Actually by the same token, it seems to me now that the operative word here is ‘primarily’, if you want to enjoy the process of acquisition itself. If you want to go the hard way or if you enjoy tackling the dictionary or translating, stay clear of tadoku.
Have some learners particularly benefited from spending time on structured vocabulary and/or grammar studies along with extensive reading?
I doubt it. I’m not saying this categorically, though. I’m trying to find out the impact of conscious vocabulary building and/or grammar learning, but the jury is still out at the moment. My guess is that vocabulary building and grammar learning may have adverse effect on ‘(simulated) natural acquisition’ of a foreign language.
One of the most common criticisms I see of tadoku is that it’s good for reinforcing previously learned vocabulary, but it isn’t as efficient a way of learning vocabulary as other methods are. How do you address that concern?
They must be talking about ‘proper books’ rather than picture books at the first stages of tadoku. Pictures help enormously, you see. I have seen people with next to no knowledge of English getting quite proficient in recognizing and understanding hundreds if not thousands of new words.
I could go on writing about dozens of examples in this respect but it will take another three days at least writing non-stop. So more examples made available on request:).
Are there students who were turned off by what they felt to be childish or overly basic materials? Were they able to succeed with tadoku anyways, and if so, how?
Luckily my students at Denki-Tshushin U. are almost all of them fed up with the English course books with difficult topics and more difficult English. That helps a lot when I show them hundreds of picture books that they are asked to enjoy. They think my courses are veritable ‘Mickey courses’ as you say?, and before they know it, they get hooked by tadoku through Curious George books and Frog and Toad books for example.
It is my thinking that really serious authors of picture books tend to take their job quite seriously and do their best to entertain or to be informative to children and themselves. Forget childish pride in being a grown-up!, I say.
What are some other common criticisms of tadoku in Japan, and how do you address them?
There are so many, Liana, it beats me how I should start enumerating… And they also depress me. So some other time, all right?
One thing though. Have your heard of Bernal’s Ladder? If you haven’t, please read an article in my blog: http://tadoku.org/sakai-note/archives/2009/07/29_1059.html
You will see, I hope, tadoku is slowly overcoming the countless criticisms and misunderstandings.
Do people studying on their own through tadoku usually start with graded readers, or do many people prefer to start with authentic materials?
I do not know the percentage but there are both. In the early years definitely more people started with controlled ‘graded readers’, but authentic materials like Oxford Reading Tree series are now easier to get hold of since public libraries have begun to stock them. I am pushing toward more libraries having authentic tadoku materials.
Was there any sense of competition among your students, or among people doing tadoku on their own?
Not that I am aware of in my classes at U.E.C. Though they tend to hide such urge to compete. My guess is that very few have a sense of competition.
In secondary schools, where class members are more ‘childish’, I have seen competition going, but it’s not all that bad as an initial driving force toward bulk reading. Problem starts when you keep on reading for competition too long. After all, tadoku is pleasure reading in a foreign language. Sense of competition gets in the way of sheer enjoyment, don’t you think?
What genres of graded readers did your students most like?
Let’s say, 70% fiction and 30% non-fiction? Both in picture books and proper print books. Fantasy is favourite of many students, detective stories are another popular genre, and very easy science books with photos are very favoured by many.
Did you ever help develop any English graded readers?
I was asked to be editor-in-chief of the easiest-level graded readers by Oxford University Press once, but the idea didn’t strike me as good and nothing came of it. I greatly regret my obtuseness.
What do you prefer to be called in Japanese and why? (Any particular preference in English?)
Just call me Sakai or Sakai-san. I have just retired and I’m savouring the sense of freedom, you see.
What was your personal history with learning English?
Let me first make clear that I did NOT learn English through tadoku, which is my ‘invention’, if you like, at age fifty-five or so. I wish someone had come up with it before I started learning English.
I started learning English at age thirteen as any other Japanese in those days. (No English classes for kids in elementary school.) I was into grammar in a big way in high school. Then I began to collect dictionaries in undergraduate and graduate school days. The highest I paid for a dictionary was 100,000 Yen for the second edition of Webster’s International. Can you believe it? I sell it to anyone willing to pay good price for it.
Then I bumped into the episode of ‘domestic violence’ and washed my hands of dictionaries. I am still in love of grammar though. I’d like to make clear to myself what the structure is in any language, something like universal grammar? I don’t know but I enjoy making hypotheses about it.
Have you spent a lot of time studying abroad or living in English-speaking countries?
I don’t think it was ‘a lot of time’ but I lived in England on two occasions for one year each and another three months lecturing on English-to-Japanese translation.
Now that you’ve retired, where are you focusing your efforts in terms of promoting tadoku?
Three areas: Schools, the tadoku.org website, and one-on-one supporting of tadoku lovers in small and private classes.
How are you using Twitter these days?
I hadn’t expected much of twitter, as a matter of fact, but I had hopes for it as a way to write a lot in the target language, and it is working fine with some Japanese learners of English. I hope more people will realize the potentiality of twitter as opportunity for expressing themselves in their target language. The threshold is so low with twitter, and you can expect some kind of reaction from your 多読仲間.
Were there any English books that you particularly wanted to read when you were starting to learn English?
That was when I was thirteen years old, Liana. And I had no idea what English or American literature was like. No, I didn’t have an 憧れの本. I wish there had been a book like Harry Potter, though.
Do you have a favorite English book now?
Yes, many. Let us talk about them later.
Can you recommend any Japanese books that you particularly liked as a kid and/or ones that you think might be especially interesting to those of us doing extensive reading in Japanese?
Ah! That’s a brilliant idea, Liana. I’ll ask my friends in tadoku.org to come up with a Japanese book they enjoyed.
As for my own choice, I still think Eleanor Farjeon’s The Little Bookroom could be an excellent choice for tadoku lovers in Japanese, because it’s written in beautiful and readable Japanese and its stories are all of them fairly short. No kids’ stuff, I guarantee.
What do you think about the tadoku contest? (http://readmod.wordpress.com/)
Sorry. I didn’t have time to look at the site. So give me a rain check for now. (Does the term ‘contest’ play a big role there?)
Is there a story behind the penguin avatar?
Not really. One of my students at the UEC came to me one day about a year ago and showed me several animal versions of me. I liked the penguin version best and it turned out a lot of other people like it too. So it’s going to stay with me for a long time to come, I suppose.
20 Responses to Interview with Kunihide Sakai: tadoku in Japan, the tadoku community, tadoku and language learning and so on
- 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
- Society and Culture
- Tacoma Library Books
- Tadoku Contest
- Weekly Updates
- Extensive Reading group
- Goodreads Tadoku Group
- Overview of the "Start with Simple Stories" method
- Read More or Die
- Reading in a Foreign Language
- Tadoku Livejournal Community
- tadoku.org (in Japanese)
- Talk to the Clouds
- The Extensive Reading Foundation
- The Extensive Reading Pages
- 日本多読研究会 (Japanese Graded Readers Research Group)
Japanese Language Learning Resources
Wow Liana this is a great post! Very informative! I’m a big believer in the 3 golden rules as well. Letting go of the dictionary has been pretty hard though, but I’m getting used to it more and more! I still feel like even with some easy books I’m reading a little above my reading level and need to go easier =/, but I definitely enjoy it and I think that’s the best part of 多読, learning to enjoy acquiring a foreign language instead of as Sakai-san puts it “toiling at it”!
One thing about the ReadMod contest, I noticed in the very first one we had last year, that after the contest is over there is a huge drop in motivation because the intrinsic reward of enjoyment is replaced with the extrinsic reward of competition. I felt I pushed myself pretty hard and then stopped reading for several months because of that. So this time around I’m just trying to have fun and not “win” hehe, I can’t compete with the hardcore readers anyway. I’m glad the contest Lordsilent started is helping to spread interested in extensive reading though!
Thanks! ^^ I had a heck of a time letting go of the dictionary too. I wrote a post about it at one point, and I really did sequester myself in the bathtub quite a few times to finish a book without succumbing to temptation ^^;;
I’m enjoying the contest because I have a tendency to spend too much time reading English websites that are interesting but not really what I want to be doing *cough*metafilter*cough* so it’s like, oh, yeah, maybe I’ll go read a book instead. Selfishly I’m glad that a lot of the top readers in English are tadokists ^^
It’s quite understandable that you can’t let go of dictionaries easily because there are close to nil easy Japanese books suited for tadoku, I’m afraid. There are some terribly easy books like ORT for learners of English, http://www.oupjapan.co.jp/gradedreaders/ort/
It starts with just one or two words in the title but none in the story. How could I look up a dictionary when there is only one or two words?
We don’t recommend using dictionaries simply because dictionaries won’t allow you to read many books, but not because dictionaries themselves do lots of harm to your learning…
The situation isn’t as dire as that, I think — it’s true that there’s nowhere near enough structured material (graded readers and so on) at the moment for someone to learn Japanese from the very beginning through tadoku alone, but I think someone with a decent grasp of basic vocabulary and grammar could do pretty well with picture books (level 2 books by the system I’m using) that are on the easy side. So it shouldn’t be impossible by any means. Expensive, though, and hard to do alone — there’s no denying that!
I am actually having a lot of success with these online resources. I still enjoy reading a physical book, for sure, but I think it is certainly possible to do for anyone with just internet access. I didn’t get to do much reading or Japanese in general the last week or so because my kids wear me out so much (I have fibromyalgia), but jumping right back in today has been easy enough after a full night’s rest. There’s certainly just as broad a range of material online as far as reading levels go as there are in physical books, it’s really just a matter of being able to find it and sort through it, and that’s a problem I feel has been solved.
My question for Sakai-sensei, though, is why he feels flashcards are actually detrimental to natural language acquisition? They certainly aren’t as fun as reading a book, and I definitely understand the argument against memorizing words completely out of context. I also realize that flashcards without putting in lots of time reading will never lead anyone to fluency. But my observation has been that people who do both lots of reading and sentence cards of some sort seem to have the fastest gains in comprehension. Of course this is all anecdotal and non-scientific, which is exactly why I am interested in his opinion. Thanks.
Oh, on a side-note, I got a reply from http://bit.ly/lj8DyQ (the International Children’s Digital Library) today regarding my request for more books in Japanese. I’ll copy and paste the contents of their reply below:
“Thanks for your interest in the ICDL. We are only able to offer the different languages because of volunteers. If there are no Japanese translators willing to volunteer, then we can’t have new Japanese books. If you know any Japanese speakers, please have them volunteer.”
So, any Japanese speakers out there willing to volunteer their time to shoring up the contents of the ICDL, this would be a wonderful contribution both for Japanese children and of course English speaking Tadokuers.
This could be a great idea, e_dub_kendo. Could I re-post this to the BBS at tadoku.org? Or I wonder if you have the time to post this yourself. Either in Japanese or in English.
Thanks for your question, e_dub_kendo. There are two objections: one is that it is not enjoyable to most, and the other is that there is no real correspondence in the words that are on either side of a flash card. One Japanese word and and its English ‘equivalent’ do not coressopond to each other perfectly, so if you remember an English equivalent of ANY Japanese word, there has got to be misunderstanding of one kind or another. Let me give you an example. I suppose the flash card for ‘climb’ will have 登る on the other side, wouldn’t it? Well the two are different. By the same token, 顔 and face, 頭 and head, 唇 and lip, 鼻 and nose, and 眼 and eye sometimes point to different parts of our body or their connotations are widely apart. I could go on and on and on like this almost any word on English-Japanese dictionaries, or Japanese-English one. The only flash cards that might just be immune to this dilemma would seem to be those with scientific neologisms.
Once taken in, it is very, very difficult to get rid of ‘false’ flash-card couplings I described above. Ideally, we shouldn’t mix our mother tongue and the target language. My own understanding of English still shows what I would call ‘the flash-card syndrome’. You can also find examples of the syndrome in any E-J or J-E dictionaries.
I welcome further questions, everyone.
I see, so your problem with flashcards, besides that many find them boring, is with single word flashcards. ie. English word on one side, Japanese word on the other. I agree these are problematic, and for even more reasons. For example, you might learn the English word “construction” and the English word “place” and combine them as “construction place”, when what you really want to say is “construction site,” “construction place” would sound odd to the native speaker’s ear, and might even be misunderstood. In other words, these single word cards don’t teach you any collocations, or anything else about actual usage.
However, I am very interested in what you think about “sentence cards.” These are flashcard which include a sentence or sentence clause on it, rather than individual words. Because the cards have some context, there is typically not the problems with collocation and connotation mentioned above. Early on in a learner’s studies, the “answer” side of the card might contain a rough translation of the sentence which isn’t to be memorized but rather just to check whether the learner’s understanding of the sentence is similar. Later in the person’s studies, the answer side would only have definitions for any new words, and ultimately these definitions would change from definitions in the learner’s native language to definitions in the learner’s target language.
This is the type of flash card promoted by people like Khatzumoto from http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/ or the guys at http://www.antimoon.com/. I’m wondering if you feel these still have the same problems, or if these could actually be a useful tool, in your opinion, for those who have a reasonable tolerance for them. I think any tool which makes you hate the time you spend studying should be avoided, regardless of how useful it is for other people. But of course some people don’t mind spending a few minutes with flashcards each day, and a few rare birds even enjoy them. Do you think for these people, cards like I describe could speed up the process of language acquisition without compromising naturalness?
Thanks for your question, e_dub_kendo.
First, two disclaimers:One I’m not a learner of Japanese, so I’m not really a good judge of alljapaneseallthetime.com; Two, I can only answer on the basis of what I have seen in Japanese learners of English.
The disclaimers notwithstanding, I am fairly certain by now that sentence cards may not be as effective as they are expected to be, expecially if you live in an environment where Japanese does not abound around you. The reason is that the Japanese have had books of English sentence collections for decades, yet I don’t think they have had much impact on how much they acquire English.
I have had a glance at the other site, antimoon.com, and it seemed like a dejavue to me, I’m afraid. The site looks like a collection of conventional learning methods, which have had very little effect on actual acquisition of English language in Japan.
Re sentence cards, the problem seems to come from the same lack of situation and/or story as word flash cards. If your Japanese is so good that you can tell what the situation is behind those sentences, you may not need sentence cards in the first place. If you can’t imagine when or where to use those sentences or clauses, wouldn’t it be very hard to memorize them? It would be another matter if you lived in an evironment where you hear or use sentences like 時間です all the time and be constantly reminded of what you have stashed in your memory. (時間です may not be exactly the same as ’It’s time.’, you see. The problem is roughly the same as 頭 not being the same thing as ‘head’. So there may be another complex issue of understanding a foreign language through your mother tongue.)
Which brings me to my suggestions. There are two.
One, how would you like to collect sentences and clauses from books or manga you like so much that you know you will enjoy them time and again. That way, you will know the situation and the story behind each of the sentences you record on your flash card, right? You might feel like relying on a collection some expert has selected for you, but my bet is on sentence cards you make from your own reading pleasure.
Two, you could also experiment with tadoku for, say, three months, during which time you stick to the three golden rules strictly and rely on nothing else (so the effect or non-effect of tadoku may be apparent). It will take a leap of faith but it won’t kill you. See if you like what you gain and how you gain it.
I have always thought learners of Japanese are at an advantage because there are manga, anime, and video games, which should make tadoku a lot of fun.
Liana, I will answer your questions as soon as possible but not before around this time tomorrow. So please be patient a little longer!
Er… The last but one sentence in the first paragraph of my answer should read
I could go on and on and on like this about almost any word in any English-Japanese dictionary or Japanese-English one.
Shall we have a Skype conference(!) on this point, Liana? Or is it too complicated to organise?
Sidestepping the flashcard discussion (I think I’m going to write about how vocabulary acquisition through tadoku has and hasn’t worked for me, but my opinions about flashcards are not terribly strong)…
e_dub_kendo, that’s awesome that you thought to contact them! I’ve been aware of that site for ages and never thought to do that. What a lazy site user I am ^^;; I wonder what they’re looking for in terms of content? That is, would they accept books that are out of copyright, if they were all scanned and whatever necessary metadata was provided? I can’t translate anything into Japanese (properly ^^;;) but I can keep an eye out for books that might be old enough…
Sakai-san, I bet a Skype conference about extensive reading in Japanese would be a lot of fun — I wonder who else would be into it?
Kunihide Sakai, not sure if you’re still checking up on the comments here, but if you are, I also have a question for you. I have no doubts about the effectiveness of extensive reading, and the joy students can get out of it, and I’m doing it myself as well. However, I see extensive reading being promoted as a central language acquisition technique even in the early stages of second language learning. Intuitively, I would think that this is not a good idea at all, because in most languages spelling and pronunciation are not entirely consistent, and there’s no way to decode prosody, rhythm, contractions etc. from texts. If you’re starting out like this, aren’t you messing up your pronunciation? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to start with ‘extensive (graded) listening’, and add extensive reading to the mix only after quite a long time of becoming familiar with the language, it’s pronunciation and usage? I’d be interested to get your view on this (and your’s, Liana, as well).
This is such a good question, I’ve been thinking about it since I saw it ^^
It seems to me there are two questions here:
1) How useful would tadoku be as one’s primary method of learning at the beginning of the language-learning process, given that a focus on visual learning may interfere with pronunciation and intonation?
2) Theoretically, which would be better for a beginning learner: massive comprehensible input through extensive reading or massive comprehensible input through extensive listening?
Before I try to answer those, there are a couple of things that inform how and why I write this blog and how I study that I should mention.
First, I assume that most people who come across this blog and the idea of tadoku won’t be interested, some might be mildly interested but don’t ever really quite get around to giving it a shot, a small number will actually try it out and of those, some may actually stick with it — and of that number, the ones who do it exactly the same way I do it is probably going to be pretty darn low! So I assume that if someone wants to try out tadoku, they’ll add it to whatever they already do, or take the ideas from it that work for them, and I assume that their own studies will probably include some form of speaking / listening practice.
Second, I personally concentrate on doing tadoku and writing about it for two reasons:
1) I’m really motivated by the idea of learning to read and write, but learning to speak and listen feels more like a chore for me; this is mostly because of my personality and goals. That is to say, I’m extremely introverted, and I don’t have plans at the moment to do something like move to Japan. Many other people interested in tadoku are also proponents of 多聴 (extensive listening) and shadowing (http://learnanylanguage.wikia.com/wiki/Shadowing) so in the larger tadoku culture that I’m aware of, I don’t think listening and speaking are ignored as much as they are on this blog.
2) I’m such a visual learner that learning through listening is nothing but misery for me! The reason I don’t mention things like shadowing and extensive listening is basically because I myself am learning in a totally lopsided, lazy way and don’t do them, and so I don’t know very much about them. I do actually do some speaking and listening, but it’s nothing so great and novel I feel the need to write about it. I’m proud of what I’m doing with spreading the word about tadoku, but probably every Japanese learner I know could give me pointers about speaking and listening practice.
First question first…
I know exactly the problem you’re thinking of, because I encountered it in my first language! I learned to read when I was extremely young and read constantly, and since I didn’t consistently hear or use many of the words I ran into, I applied whatever internal logic I had to their pronunciation. “Beethoven” became “Bee-thee-hoh-ven,” for example, and I didn’t pronounce “conspiracy” and “burial” correctly until I was a teenager. Later in life I met other people who had learned to read around the same time I did, and it turned out they’d done the same thing.
Of course, the problem mostly corrected itself while I was young, because I was immersed in English, got my pronunciation corrected by people around me and so on – generally my guesses at pronunciation just had to catch up to what the rest of the world was using.
In terms of studying second languages, I had three years of formal instruction in Japanese and so I got an idea of how to deal with pronunciation (and it certainly helps that it’s so regular compared to English). I’ve flirted with the idea of learning Chinese in the past, and about a week’s worth of taking a stab at it convinced me that I’d need to take a class or find a tutor if I was serious, because my best efforts at following along with the CD voices were just not cutting it. So absolutely, I think that someone starting to learn a language who only read and hardly got any aural input would have some serious problems with speaking and listening, later on.
Even I wouldn’t have wanted to do nothing but tadoku from the beginning! When I say I wish I had done extensive reading from the beginning, I am thinking from the context of what my beginning was actually like — that is, formal classes — and I mean something more like, I wish I had been able to add extensive reading to what I was already doing. I doubt there would be too many formal classes that focused only on reading; that was the case for Sakai-san’s tadoku courses, but those students had already been studying English to some degree since middle school, so that’s rather different. In a situation where someone was doing self-study and focusing on tadoku, I would think that person would be well advised to pay attention to introducing at least a little balance in the form of podcasts, conversation partners, TV or whatever other resources he or she had access to, because getting acquainted with the various patterns of pronunciation, intonation, etc. earlier on would help you get them right from the start and not come up with your own ways of dealing with them.
I’m curious about this now, and I’m going to ask my friend Tsubasa who teaches English through tadoku to kids. I’ve got more thoughts about the subject, but I feel like all I really have is my own experience and an ability to make educated, but still extremely speculative guesses, which I generally don’t like doing, so I will hold off for now and think about it a little more.
Incidentally, I’ve seen the opposite problem in a handful of the TOEFL essays I’ve scored: people who seem to be learning English without any sort of exposure to the written language. In these cases, there may be a basic idea behind the essay and the underlying grammar may even be about a low 2-level, but the spelling is so consistently warped that even with the most charitable reading it is so impossible to understand that it can’t get anything beyond a 1 (the lowest score). It’s really rare, of course; I couldn’t say I’ve run into more than a dozen essays like this, and I’ve been scoring for some time.
2) Theoretically, which would be better for a beginning learner: massive comprehensible input through extensive reading or massive comprehensible input through extensive listening?
Ideally, I’d say “both” but that’s a cop-out, so assuming it has to be one or the other, I think it would depend entirely on the listener’s personality and learning style. I’ve certainly read advice something like “Immerse yourself entirely in the spoken language for a month before you even start trying to learn a language” (not even comprehensible language, but normal spoken language, songs, etc.) and it’s an intriguing idea but personally, it would drive me around the bend because, again, I’m such a visual learner. I like listening to podcasts about Japanese sometimes, and it’s useful for listening comprehension practice, reinforcing words, hearing the language used and cultural tidbits, but as far as new vocabulary or grammar goes, I absolutely can’t learn things like that without seeing them written out. (That holds for English, too.) So I can say that my listening ability has risen naturally as I’ve learned words from tadoku, but it may be just the opposite for other people. I don’t feel like I have enough experience or data to say anything more definitive than that.
I often think that my ideal learning situation, given the level of knowledge I have right now, would be living in Japan in a little apartment next door to a big library for a year. For someone else at the same level, perhaps their ideal learning situation would be a sink-or-swim situation, something like a year at a job where they’d have to learn to communicate verbally to get along and get a lot of immediate feedback. That kind of setup would send me home every night in tears!
Of course, I think it would be rare for a learner to start out with just one or the other – or even to start out with both and nothing else. (I can’t help but think that starting out with both would be rather fun…)
I can’t really say “I hope that answers your question” because it’s just my opinion. But I do hope it’s been interesting for you to read. I, too, am curious about Sakai-san’s opinion, and I hope other language learners will add theirs, too.
Hi Liana and Bakunin-san,
I’m not enough positive that I understand what you’re talking about thoroughly, but there seems to be some misunderstanding about tadoku approach. We, tadoku doers and teachers, encourage everyone to not only tadoku but also tachou, extensive listening, from the very beginning. English can’t mean anything if not with sounds or rhythm, right? whereas Japanese kanji can be deciphered from its shape.
There are lots of easy books, which accompany audio CDs. In my own case, I started to enjoy English with my daughter when she was around eight and I read aloud her terribly easy picture books at first. Children tend to enjoy the same story again and again, so she remembered all the sounds in the books naturally while listening my reading repeatedly. If there is no one to read aloud to you, then CDs become a big help. She’s now sixteen and her English scores exceed other students amazingly even she’s not studied English hard other than small number of English classes at junior high, where English is compulsory.
I believer if you want to be a fluent and good user of English, tadoku, reading various kinds of books, I mean not only books for adults, but also children’s books or manga, and tachou, extensive listening, are simply indispensable. It doesn’t matter which comes first, both are necessary.
Haha, I think your answer is better than mine ^^;;
I am a Japanese studies librarian and a big fan of tadoku. I have been collecting Japanese language books for myself and my libraries for thirty years now. I have lots of suggestions for you on good books to read and have a friend who is a Japanese language instructor. Together we have created a group in GoodReads called Rakudoku 楽読 where we can keep track of good books for language learners. I would love to share experiences with others looking to do tadoku in Japanese.
Thirty years, wow, you must have a lot of wonderful suggestions! I looked up the Rakudoku group on Goodreads, but I couldn’t find anything. Is it a private group? I’d love to check it out. There’s also a tadoku group on there already, if you haven’t seen that.
I’m really glad to have stumbled on this site. I’m quite curious to see how many people have had success with this method, how far they’ve gotten, and how long they stuck with it. I’m going to do some more research into this. It’s really quite a good idea.
I must say the bit about “experiment with tadoku for three months . . . it won’t kill you” was priceless.
That’s just what I’ll do, but first (I hate to say it), I have to finish inputting my current book of Japanese grammar into Anki. But once that project’s done, I really am going to stop all of my current methods and focus on giving this a full-on 3 month trial, to see how far I can get. I live pretty close to a Japanese library, so it should be a piece of cake.
Thanks for a great post.