I’ve been thinking a great deal about the classification system used in “Extensive Reading in Japanese” – it’s not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s more that I’m never satisfied. The two major criteria are kanji and furigana use and pictures; that leaves a lot of room for variation within the levels. Picture books are usually level 2 — unless they’re like 鉄のキリンの海わたり, with over 1,000 words and some fairly advanced kanji and vocabulary. And what of books like くんくまくんとおやすみなさい that are technically level 2, with no kanji and pictures on every page, but are at least four times longer than most picture books? How about my manga history book about the Meiji period? There’s lots of pictures on every page, meaning that it couldn’t be scored higher than level 4, but its vocabulary level is certainly much higher than that of メル友からのメッセージ, which is also level 4. There is no real value in changing the system, since it’s nice to be able to look at a page from a book and be able to slot it into more or less its appropriate level immediately. I’m merely curious as to what a more complex classification system would look like.
When I’m thinking about a book’s complexity, these are the kinds of things I keep in mind:
- How is katakana handled?
- What kinds of pictures are there?
- What kanji, if any, are used?
- How much furigana is used?
- How advanced is the vocabulary?
- Are there chapters?
- Are there spaces between words?
- What is the font size?
- How many pages does it have?
- How many words does it have?
Assign a scale to each variable and add numbers, and theoretically, you could come up with a tidy little scoring system. Possible example:
- No words in katakana (1)
- Words in katakana have furigana (2)
- Words in katakana stand alone (3)
Properly calibrated, this would allow readers to determine a book’s relative complexity just from a review. (Improperly calibrated… well, my first stab at such a system gave こまじょちゃんとあなぼっこ and 鉄のキリンの海わたり the same score.) In a perfect world, then, you could perhaps go online and search for every fictional book that falls between 20 and 25 points, and wind up with all sorts of great books exactly at your reading level.
At this point I am talking to myself more than anything. The six-level classification system has made it a lot easier for me to pick out the right books, and there’s really no need to change it at this point. Instead of coming up with complex rating systems, I really should just be reading more! Still, it’s on my mind…
- Extensive reading is known as 多読, or tadoku in Japanese. To try it, start with very easy books (ones with no more than two or three unknown words per page), and follow these principles:
1. Don’t look up words in the dictionary while reading.
2. Skip over parts you don’t understand.
3. If you aren’t enjoying one book, toss it aside and get another.
Find something to read!
Hundreds of free books and stories online
Local bookstores and libraries
Buying new and used books online
For more information, read "What Is Extensive Reading?" and "Classification System."
To learn more about Kunihide Sakai, who developed the three principles of tadoku and has worked to popularize it in Japan for years, read this interview with him.
Finally, for more than you ever wanted to know about why I believe extensive reading is worth your time, read my tadoku manifesto.
Superfluous StatsBooks read: 303
Word count (since starting the blog): 380,500
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