Posts by: Liana

I’m up to 303,626 words, or 18,700 more than last week. I may be getting a little bored, which is not surprising considering that this has been my main project since March. I’m always fascinated by something, but that something changes every so often. I don’t always share my obsessions with the world, so if I ever forget to update this for a while, rest assured I am off doing something else that makes me perfectly happy. “Trust your obsessions,” Neil Gaiman wrote, and I do. But for now it is still tadoku, so I will try to read more next week!

I’ve decided that I’m going to try to write more in Japanese, which I say about once every two weeks and then totally neglect to follow up on. I’ve been writing this long post about tadoku and vocabulary acquisition, and it occurred to me that many of the words I feel like I know really well are words that I kind of sealed in my mind by needing them for a diary entry and remembering them without looking them up. I used to write all the time in Japanese, so it’s not like I lack things to say… I just have to get back into the habit. I started a blog at Ameba, so if I write in Japanese that’s where it’ll be.

 

Tonda Gossa!

… Yeah, sorry, I’ve been playing too much Mother 3, and the only reason I’m not playing it now is that I’m scared of Tanetane Island. Games count for the tadoku contest but not for my weekly word count, meaning that I’m only up to 284,926 words this Friday. That’s just 14,900 words more than last week, meaning I fell well short of my mark. (I also wrote up that blog post about 心の絵本, and I’ve been writing another post about extensive reading and vocabulary acquisition that hasn’t yet reached manifesto length but is threatening to. So I haven’t been slacking too much.) Well, that’s OK, I’m on hiatus next week, and you can probably guess what that means…

I do have one mildly interesting tadoku-related experience to relate. One of the books I read was an adaptation of 若草物語, or Little Women. It was level 4 by my system, 141 pages and about 6,000 words. And I decided, after I read it, that a book like that sort of falls into the Uncanny Valley of literature. Halfway through, I remembered that I had a short, level 3, 900-word picture book adaptation of 若草物語 that I had never read, and I pulled it out and read it halfway through my progress with the longer one. I enjoyed that shorter one so much more, because it didn’t pretend to be anything but a very basic introduction to what the book might be like in Japanese. The longer one, however, felt like it was trying to be a proper book, and because I know what that proper book actually feels like, it was so tedious. (All the more so because nothing interesting actually happens in Little Women — all of the fun stuff is in “Good Wives.”) So yeah, beware of adaptations, if you’re at the point where just being able to finish a book isn’t a huge motivator in and of itself anymore!

By the way, one of my notes is titled “Kanji that look like Space Invaders” and I don’t think I’m ever going to make a proper post out of it, so…

龠 龠 龠 龠 龠 龠 龠 龠 龠 龠 龠
鼎 鼎 鼎 鼎 鼎 鼎 鼎 鼎 鼎 鼎 鼎
鼎 鼎 鼎 鼎 鼎 鼎 鼎 鼎 鼎 鼎 鼎
黌 黌 黌 黌 黌 黌 黌 黌 黌 黌 黌
黌 黌 黌 黌 黌 黌 黌 黌 黌 黌 黌

       亅
  鬥      鬥      鬥      鬥
       凸

Other possible invaders: 黹, 鬻, 鬧… any more? And any suggestions for the UFO?

 

At the moment, Kokoro no Ehon is my favorite site for basic Japanese reading material. It’s a collection of original kids’ stories, most between 150 and 350 words, which makes them the equivalent of fairly basic picture books. Considering that you might pay between $5 – $20 for a real picture book with just as many words and pictures, this is a great find! There are other story collections online, but this one distinguishes itself by the pictures (which are helpful for learners, not just for decoration) and by the fact that these are all new stories, so you’re spared from yet another version of 桃太郎. If you’re new to extensive reading, even if you’re not new to studying Japanese, try some of these stories!

You can see the list of stories by clicking タイトル一覧 or directly through this link. The stories are color-coded by theme, and the themes are not all that important so I’ll leave figuring out what they are as an activity for the reader. There’s an English version of each story, but pretend it’s not there. (All of the titles are the official English ones, though.)

The stories are sorted by the number of estimated words, so to find them search for
the title. There are 24 stories listed here, for a total of 270 pages and 5,464 words.

ポストマン
The Postman
11 pages, 25 words (est.) Level 1

おやすみ やまねくん
Good Night, Little Yamane
12 pages, 40 words (est.) Level 1

まてまて マロン
Wait For Me, Maron
12 pages, 60 words (est.) Level 1

うっき うっき O モンキー
The Eeky Eeky Monkeys
11 pages, 100 words (est.) Level 1

なぞなぞあそび
Riddles
12 pages, 100 words (est.) Level 1

だったらいいな
I Wish
12 pages, 144 words (est.), Level 2

6ちょうめのわんたくん
Wanta lives on the 6th street
11 pages, 165 words (est.) Level 2

らっこのろっこちゃん
Rokko the Sea Otter
11 pages, 165 words (est.) Level 2

まめとすみとわら
Pea, Charcoal and Straw
11 pages, 170 words (est.), Level 2

あらいぐまのクーちゃん
Ku-chan the Racoon
12 pages, 180 words (est.) Level 2

あやのいぬ
Aya’s Dog
11 pages, 215 words (est.) Level 2

ほしずなのうた
The Song of Starry Sand
11 pages, 220 words (est.) Level 2

わんたくんとカラス
Wanta and the Crow
11 pages, 225 words (est.) Level 2

あかどん あおどん きいどん
Akadon, Aodon and Kidon
11 pages, 235 words (est.) Level 2

すーちゃんのなつやすみ
Sue’s Summer Vacation
11 pages, 275 words (est.) Level 2

そばだんご
Buckwheat Dumplings
11 pages, 275 words (est.) Level 2

ねぼすけ クンちゃん
Sleepy Kun
11 pages, 275 words (est.) Level 2

やさしい トントン
The Gentle Tonton
11 pages, 275 words (est.) Level 2

るーぱくんのおべんとう
Roupa’s Lunch
12 pages, 300 words (est.) Level 2

つばめのおんがえし
The Swallow and the Old Man
11 pages, 325 words (est.) Level 2

おつきさまがみてた
The Moon Was Watching
11 pages, 325 words (est.) Level 2

ふたりのなまけもの
The Two Lazy Men
11 pages, 385 words (est.) Level 2

ぼく とびたくないんだ
I Don’t Want To Fly
11 pages, 385 words (est.) Level 2

みかづきいけのカッパ
Kappa in Mikazuki-ike
11 pages, 500 words (est.) Level 2

 

My personal goal with regards to the first week of the Read More Or Die tadoku contest was to double the average number of words I’ve read per week since I started writing the weekly updates – from 15,000 to 30,000. I’m now at 270,026 total words, meaning that I read 38,800 words this week — comfortably over my goal! (Not counting the time I’ve logged with Mother 3 — which has been plentiful. What a game.) So I’ll shoot for 40,000 words this week. I’m working more, but I should still be able to read more than I did this past week – after all, I did spend a considerable amount of time doing non-essential, non-reading activities.

Incidentally, this week put me over 25% of my overall goal, which was the next big milestone I was looking forward to after 100,00 words. As I’ve read, for the longest time, I’ve often automatically translated inside my head to English (not in a structured way, and not on purpose – just like as an unwanted, unconscious running commentary). According to my notes, I felt like I wasn’t doing this as often around week 9, and by now, provided I’m reading a book well within my fluent reading level, I feel like I only do it when I run into a sentence with a meaning that isn’t immediately apparent to me. I also think that – again, provided I’m reading at the right level – I’m starting to read faster than I could read out loud. I’ve always felt hampered not just by the little unwanted English translator in my head but also by the little Japanese narrator taking up space in there too, but I figured that enough exposure to words and patterns would get rid of them. The next milestone will be 500,000 words — and if I can meet my goals for this month, it won’t take me long to get there!

 

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.

「快読100万語! ペーパーバックへの道」(ちくま学芸文庫、2002)
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?

「さよなら英文法 多読が育てる英語力」(ちくま学芸文庫、2008)
「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.

About you

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.

Whee, it’s tadoku contest time! I usually do these updates on Saturday, but today is the first day of Read More Or Die, and I haven’t really started reading for that yet so it’s a good time to write down where I am right now.

Since I started keeping track of the books I’ve read, I’ve read 231,226 words (that is, 23% of my goal) and 158 books (156 on 読書メーター because I couldn’t add two of them). To break that down further, I’ve read 20 level 1 books, 45 level 2 books, 67 level 3 books, 18 level 4 books, 3 level 5 books, 0 level 6 books and 5 sets of graded readers. Since I started writing the weekly updates, I’ve read an average of 15,000 words per week, and my goal this week is to double that number. I’ve certainly got enough material and time to make it happen… The picture is of all the books I got from Nikkei Bunko today. That might be pushing the limits of their hospitality…

Good luck, tadokists, and happy reading!

 

I’ve come across various books that are collections of short stories or essays designed for different elementary school grades, and I think that they might be useful for those of us doing extensive reading in Japanese.

Pros:

  • Because they’re divided by grade, you already have a good idea of how difficult they’ll be.
  • I’ve read two of these kinds of books; they were both level 3 by my system, but both of them had more content than the average level 3 book, which usually has around 1,000 – 3,000 words: “New Stories That Linger In The Heart for First Graders” had around 5,300 words and “Heartwarming Stories for Second Graders” had around 4,700. So at least at the lower grades, one of these books will most likely last you longer than an average book.
  • They seem to be fairly widely available (I haven’t checked every book on my list, but Kinokuniya had both of the books that I’ve read), not too expensive new, and if you can get them used many of them are extremely cheap.
  • They’re divided into different stories by different authors, so one book gives you not just varying subjects to amuse yourself with, but also examples of how short stories in Japanese are written and what different writing styles are like.
  • There are fewer pictures; depending on your reading level this might be a good thing or a bad one, but it does mean that there’s more room for words.
  • There are different kinds of collections: some based on literature, some about science, and even some about ghosts.
  • If you try one book and particularly enjoy it, finding the next book is as simple as moving up a grade or seeing if there are more books at the same grade in a related series; you might also be able to look up other books by an author who particularly caught your attention.

Cons:

  • Of the two books I’ve read, not all of the stories were extremely interesting in and of themselves, and I’d go so far as to call “Heartwarming Stories for Second Graders” boring (and my threshold for being amused is generally pretty low). I am sure that some series are better than others, but I think that these are probably the kinds of things you read to add to your general ability and not so much for their own sake. The books generally felt, to me, like extensions of what kids might read in school, so they had that vibe of “what adults think would be beneficial for proper child development.” That can be a good point if you’re interested in Japanese educational culture or want to try to mimic that experience. (If you want fart jokes instead, my Zorori series review is right this way.)
  • Just because these are for kids doesn’t necessarily mean they’re easy: I would recommend that someone new to extensive reading get some experience reading shorter stories or graded readers before tackling even the ones for first graders, because with less pictures and more text, even the book for first-graders I read was on the harder end of level 3.
  • e_dub_kendo points out that that they have the potential to get pretty repetitive, especially if you pick up some of the more specialized ones like the collections of fairy tales.

I’m going to list as many of these series as I can find, but I’ve only read two of these books: if you read any of them, feel free to send me a short review with what kinds of stories it had, what level it was, the approximate number of words and your rating. Also, if you find any other series like these, let me know and I’ll add them.

I’ve added Amazon links because it’s easier to collect them all in one place this way, I like to be able to see the covers and I certainly wouldn’t complain if someone used the links to order through (as an affiliate I get a percentage), but check around for the most cost-efficient way to buy before you actually order any of these, because the odds are good it’s not Amazon. Click here for suggestions on where to find these books.

新心にのこる◯年生の読みもの
New Stories That Linger In The Heart For 1st-6th Graders
The book for first graders had ten short stories, and the subjects were varied: there were standard pieces of short fiction, a non-fiction piece, some folk tales and a story by Nankichi Niimi, a famous children’s author. (This one: 一年生たちとひよめ. It was unabridged, but had fewer kanji.) Had a soft cover, so would cost less to ship if shipping costs are calculated by weight. ★★★★☆
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


なぜ?どうして?科学のお話 ◯年生
Why? How? Scientific Stories for 1st-6th Graders
I haven’t read any of these, but Kanjiguy highly recommended the one for first-graders. Each story was about 2-3 pages long, so with 183 pages that’s quite a few stories!
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


10分で読めるお話 ◯年生
Stories You Can Read In 10 Minutes for 1st-6th Graders
Fembassist has been reading these, and says they’re mostly short stories from Japan.
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


10分で読める名作 ◯年生
Classics You Can Read In 10 Minutes for 1st-6th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


10分で読める物語 ◯年生
Tales You Can Read In 10 Minutes for 1st-6th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


10分で読める伝記 ◯年生
Biographies You Can Read In 10 Minutes for 1st-6th Graders
This series isn’t completely available yet, but I assume they’ll be going to 6th grade eventually!
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


なぜ?どうして? みぢかなぎもん◯年生
Why? How? Answers to Everyday Questions for 1st-6th graders
Another new series.
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


なぜ?どうして?科学なぞとき物語 ◯年生
Why? How? Stories about Solving Mysteries of Science for 1st-6th Graders
I guess someone has found that there’s really a market for books like these.
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


心があったかくなる話 ◯年生
Heartwarming Stories for 1st-4th Graders
The 2nd grade book of this series was level 3, 158 pages and 4,700 words (est.), and contained 14 stories. The stories were all slice-of-life short fiction, and, to me, weren’t as interesting or varied as the ones in 新心にのこる1年生の読みもの; it is pretty much what you would expect from a book with this kind of title. Hard cover. ★★☆☆☆
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


ほんとうに心があったかくなる話 ◯年生
Truly Heartwarming Stories for 1st-4th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


心にしみるお母さんの話 ◯年生
Mother’s Heart-Piercing Stories for 1st-4th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


読書の時間に読む本 小学◯年生
A Book To Read During Reading Time for 1st-6th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


読書の時間に読む本〈2〉小学◯年生
A Book To Read During Reading Time (2) for 1st-6th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


読んでおきたい ◯年生の読みもの
Must-Read Stories For 1st-6th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


齋藤孝のイッキによめる!名作選 小学◯年生
Takashi Saitō’s Selection Of Classics To Read At One Go for 1st-6th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


齋藤孝のイッキによめる!音読名作選 小学◯年生
Takashi Saitō’s Selection Of Classics To Read Aloud At One Go for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


米村でんじろうのイッキによめる! おもしろ科学 小学◯年生
Yonemura Denjirō’s Interesting Science To Read At One Go for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


日本のむかし話 ◯年生
Tales of Old Japan for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


◯年生の読みものー理科や算数が好きになる
Reading Material for 1st-6th Graders: Start To Enjoy Science And Math
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


おばけ・ゆうれい話 ◯年生
Ghost and Spirit Stories for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.



(There are also older versions of these that are very cheap used: おばけ・ゆうれい話〈1年生, おばけ・ゆうれい話〈2年生〉, おばけ・ゆうれい話〈3年生〉)

科学なぜどうして ◯年生
The Whys and Hows of Science for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


世界のわらい話 ◯年生
Funny Stories from Around The World for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.



(There are also older versions of these, although the used price for them isn’t always better than the used price for the newer ones. 世界のわらい話〈1年生〉, 世界のわらい話〈2年生〉, 世界のわらい話〈3年生〉)

グリム童話 ◯年生
Grimm Fairy Tales for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


アンデルセン童話 ◯年生
Andersen Fairy Tales for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


ことわざ物語 ◯年生
Proverb Tales for 1st-3rd Graders
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(There is an older version of this series as well, which may be cheaper used: ことわざものがたり 一年生 , ことわざものがたり 二年生 , ことわざ物語 三年生 )

イソップ童話 ◯年生
Aesop’s Fables for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


世界の名作童話 ◯年生
Famous Children’s Stories from Around The World for 1st-3rd Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.


親も子も読む名作 ◯年生の読みもの
Masterpieces for Parents and Children: Reading Material for 1st-6th Graders
Click here for other suggestions on where to find these books.

 

もしかしたら名探偵
Perhaps, Great Detective
作:杉山 亮(すぎやま あきら, Sugiyama Akira) 
絵:中川 大輔(なかがわ だいすけ, Nakagawa Daisuke)
Level 3 本, 146 pages, 2,200 words (est.) ★★★★★
Part of the ミルキー杉山の名探偵シリーズ (Milky Sugiyama, Great Detective Series)
Hardcover

I read Akira Sugiyama’s わんわん探偵団 (The Doggie Detective Agency) some time ago and loved it, so when Emmie sent me a picture of the books she was sending me that included one by the same author, もしかしたら名探偵, it made it even harder to wait for them to arrive! When I read it, I found that it was a level 3 book, unlike わんわん探偵団 which is level 4, and better yet was part of a series. Before I was fifteen pages in, I knew this one would be getting its own review.

The series is narrated by ミルキー杉山 (Milky Sugiyama), a struggling detective who’s separated from his wife and has to take odd jobs to make ends meet. In this volume, he tackles three cases: a stolen painting, a lost book and a mysterious cipher. Each story is divided into two parts: the “case” and the “solution,” and if you’re on the ball, you should be able to come up with the answer before Milky does. (I got one out of three, not being particularly perceptive when it comes to mystery stories, even ones for kids.)

Difficulty

I’ve read a lot of level 3 books at this point, and in my experience even the good ones are rather on the childish side, but even though this book is decidedly for children it’s about an adult, so it has a more sophisticated voice — for example, the reader is informed (slightly obliquely) about Milky’s marital and financial woes. The sentences are fairly complex, but they’re sparse and thoroughly illustrated, so they don’t feel overwhelming and unknown words can generally be guessed from the pictures. There are around 2,200 words altogether, which is more than most level 3 books, but the book is just longer than most level 3 books; I think that the generous amount of illustrations and the relatively small number of words per page put it slightly on the easy side of level 3. Still, it didn’t strike me as condescending or tedious, just somewhat simplified and even purposely laconic at times. I imagine that’s not an easy balance for a writer to strike, and if there are many other level 3 books out there that pull it off I haven’t found them yet. Because of the level, length and content, I think this would be an ideal series for someone who was moving away from picture books and towards chapter books. (And I’d love to recruit the author to write graded readers in Japanese…)

The illustrations are quirky and fun, and there’s a lot of writing in the background on signs, posters and so on, so even though there’s not a good deal of kanji in the text itself and what there is is basic, there’s some incidental kanji practice to be squeezed out of the pictures.

Sample text
This is four pages of text; all kanji have furigana in the original text.

おれの名は ミルキー杉山。
たんていだ。
いつもわくわく していたいから、このしごとを やっている。
こんどの事件は、こうだ。
きのう、びじゅつかんから 絵が、一まい ぬすまれた。
ガードマンが ここ一時に みたときには、あったのに、二時には、きえていたのだ。
びじゅつかんには まどがない。
だから、はんにんは おきゃくのふりをして いりぐいちから、はいってきたに ちがいない。
一時から二時のあいだに おきゃくは、四人しか いない。
となると、どろぼうは そのなかにいるってわけだ。

How to get it

Here’s the list of all the books in the series:
もしかしたら名探偵, あしたからは名探偵, そんなわけで名探偵, まってました名探偵, あめあがりの名探偵, いつのまにか名探偵, どんなときも名探偵, なんだかんだ名探偵, かえってきた名探偵, よーいどんで名探偵, ひるもよるも名探偵

Please refer to my post about buying books online for advice. This series seems to be fairly cheap used, if you can get it that way, and some of them are in stock at Kinokuniya (for $16-18) and at YesAsia (for $18.49); there’s always Amazon (watch the shipping and handling fees) and bk1 as well.

You can see if any of them are at a library close to you with worldcat.

I’m posting a day late since I was out of town, but as of Saturday I was at 220,526 words. Didn’t read quite as much as I wanted to during the week, but made up for it on the weekend. Haven’t updated my book lists or sidebar either…. Well, that can wait.

I’m excited that this blog has been getting some attention recently! I think the most logical way to promote extensive reading among Japanese learners would be to try to reach Japanese teachers, since they’re in a better position to create libraries available to multiple students and those of us studying on our own have to fend for ourselves. Still, I get the sense that many of the people who have found this blog through Twitter should do even better with extensive reading than I have, provided they can find enough of the right kind of material. I wish I had discovered extensive reading earlier and spent less time puzzling out texts above my level, but that did mean I was exposed to a lot of words, and although most of them didn’t sink too deeply into my mind at the time, many of them were then later reinforced by extensive reading. My impression is that many other people studying on their own have also immersed themselves into listening, reading and so on, and I bet they have their own stores of latent vocabulary that will be brought to the forefront and strengthened through extensive reading.

I hope I’m doing a good job explaining what exactly I’m getting at… I was mostly writing this blog for my own reference, and it shows, so I should do more to make it useful to other people. I was rather enjoying having a blog that no one read, though. My paperdoll page gets about fifty times the traffic this one does… Not that I am complaining!

Update (June 28): Hey, they’re starting to confirm my theory! ^^ Check out Operation Subarashii: Read More and Extensive Reading meet Incremental Reading, or How to (多読)tadoku without a 日本語 library.

 

I hit 200,636 words last night! I’ve been getting fairly bored of level 3 books, so I brought home books with a wider range of difficulties from yesterday’s trip to Nikkei Bunko. I feel like I’ve been writing about extensive reading more and reading less this last week, so I will probably be fairly quiet this week.

The Read More Or Die Tadoku Contest registration is open, and the contest will start on June 1. The idea is to keep track of how many pages you read by sending the totals to a Twitter bot. I ran across the contest before I even started this blog, but I’m not very competitive so I didn’t even consider joining in. Now that I’ve met some of the people involved in it like LordSilent and Lan’dorien through Twitter, it sounded kind of fun, and I’m in for this round!

Emmie has started a bilingual extensive reading community on Goodreads. If you’re interested in extensive reading, join the group to discuss recommendations and meet other tadoku addicts. I added some topics asking for recommendations of Japanese books, so those may be good to keep an eye on. Take some time to think about all the books, comics, movies and so on that you loved as a kid and add those to the other recommendation threads!

I decided to try to start an extensive reading group through the Tacoma Japanese Language and Culture meetup group. Two people came to the first one, and they were both beginning readers, so luckily the level 0 graded readers I had ordered had arrived by then, and both of the people who came really enjoyed them. Since then, the other levels (which I bought used from Lan’dorien) have also arrived, and I plan to review them for the blog soon.