As it turns out, the Tacoma public library main branch has enough Japanese books that I don’t have to go all the way to Seattle or spend a lot of money to find authentic material, and my goal is to read all the Japanese children’s books in the Tacoma library system. (It’s an attainable number — TopCat tells me there are 125 total — and besides that, I’m cheap.) Most of the ones I’ve been reading so far are rather below my level, to be honest, but I figure that if I’m going to read all of them, I might as well start with the picture books for three-year-olds. Besides, I like to think that each book, no matter how easy, reinforces sentence patterns and vocabulary just that tiny bit more, and I usually learn at least a couple of new words from every book. Call it the low-hanging fruit approach – I’ll catch up to my level soon enough.
Many Japanese people who practice extensive reading in English pick out new books and keep track of the number of words they’ve read using guidebooks that catalog popular books and graded readers by level and word count, but there’s nothing like that for English-speaking learners of Japanese that I’ve found, so I’ve tried to classify the books I’ve read according to the system devised by Claire Ikumi Hitosugi and Richard R. Day in their paper Extensive Reading in Japanese, as well as roughly estimate the number of words.
I’ll update the pages with the mini-reviews as I read more books, but as of today I’ve read 26 books. That means I have 99 to go… Of course, many of those remaining 99 are probably about as long as all of these books put together. Still, that’s just two digits!
Assuming, say, 150 words for the book about the runaway polka dots I couldn’t find, all in all the Tacoma library has provided me with around 13,170 words worth of reading. Many extensive readers have a goal of reading a million words, so that’s about 1.3% of the goal.
My reading level is about level 3; that is to say, that’s about the level where I can really read fluently. I personally define “fluently” as far as reading goes as being able to read most sentences in a book and being able to immediately comprehend their meanings as easily as if I was reading English, with the few unknown words becoming almost immediately clear through context. (That is, it’s a pretty high bar.) With the one level 4 book in this grouping, I found that as long as I knew the words I had no trouble with the sentence structures, but there were too many words I didn’t know and I ended up resorting to the dictionary and making up a vocabulary list. To be specific, I estimate that book had 1,100 words, and my vocabulary list was 61 words long, so I didn’t know 5.5% of the words. When I think about it that way, it doesn’t seem like too many, but they’re all the pivotal words! However, this also speaks to my own issues with using the dictionary as a crutch and not being comfortable with the unknown; I’ll write more about that sometime. In any case, it seems that most picture books are level 2, and then there’s a bit of a jump up to level 4 books. I am tremendously bored of picture books at this point, but a little scared of frustrating myself with books just a couple shades above my fluent reading level.
Out of curiosity, I estimated the number of words in one of my books that is essentially aspirational for me at this point, a version of 三国志 (Records of the Three Kingdoms) written for kids. I’d put it at level 6, and it has 156 pages and probably around 17,800 words. I can tell that a book at that level is easier now than it would have been before I started extensive reading (which, technically, was when I lived in Ann Arbor), and I could read it if I was willing to spend a lot of time decoding. I want to wait, though, and enjoy it!
- 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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