I read over 1200 pages for the tadoku contest this last month! Not bad for the mama of an 18-month old, especially considering I just started a new job. It’s thanks to the hundreds of hours my husband and I put in establishing the concept of “bedtime” and “naptime” by rocking the baby to sleep. At 18 months, he goes to bed at 7 and wakes up at 7, and he usually has a nap in the morning and a nap, or at least a quiet play time, in the afternoon. This gives me time to read, do housework, work or do nothing much at all. (It may be hard for those of you who haven’t gone through feeding a baby every two-three hours for months to understand how mind-blowingly awesome this is.)
I started translating for Cookpad at the beginning of this month! Cookpad is the largest Japanese recipe site, and they just started an English version. In practice, I proofread and edit other people’s translated recipes more than I translate myself, both because I think that I do a good job with that, and because I’m a slow translator. (Well, it’s not so much that; it’s more that I get caught up on maybe one or two things that confuse me or get distracted by something interesting in the recipe. Since I’m paid by the recipe, these side trips are costly.) So that, of course, has affected my tadoku time, but it’s also made me excited about improving my Japanese.
The tadoku summary:
1) I read the new articles on NHK’s News Web Easy every weekday morning while I had breakfast. I had started doing this shortly before tadoku started up, actually. I’m at the point where they’re well within my fluent reading level, and they’ve been awesome for reinforcing vocabulary I only encounter a little bit in books. I’d like to branch out, but the other news sites for kids I’ve seen seem more like regular news with furigana added, and I’m not quite there yet.
2) I watched a lot of drama. I use an app called J-Drama Master to download Japanese drama to my iPad, and then I watch it while I’m at the gym. Not all of the offerings have subtitles, but plenty of them do. I’m pretty lousy at understanding spoken Japanese without subtitles, but during Tadoku time I can pretend it’s reading practice! I ended up watching a lot of different shows, but I’m particularly taken with ごちそうさん.
3) I took a tentative step into the world of manga. I’m actually kind of intimidated by manga, because there’s so many to choose from that I don’t know which I’d actually like (I’m pretty picky), the ones I do want to read are still too hard, I have a hard time figuring out who’s talking sometimes, I can’t deal with the teeny tiny handwritten notes and all the sound effects, and I often feel like I’m missing something, like when sentences are left unfinished, people are being vague and so on. Ciao, a manga magazine for young girls, has the first chapter of its stories available on its webpage, so I did a sort of… manga boot camp? My findings are that the ultimate Ciao manga setup involves dogs, a heroine with a cute name, handsome boys, super-elite schools and transfer students. Mix those five things together and you’ve got a hit! Anyways, I read 29 of the first chapters available on the Ciao homepage. I can’t say I liked any particular one of them enough to actually go buy the collected books, but I enjoyed the feel of reading a phonebook manga, if that makes any sense. It’s annoying reading them on the computer, though, the characters are too small and I can’t read the furigana half the time.
4) I read a bunch of books. I actually have a big backlog of books from when I was studying and ordering books, before I got pregnant, so I read through a fair amount of those. I’m amazed at how some books that were pretty hard for me when I started tadoku have become much easier to read. I haven’t been the most diligent learner — now that’s an understatement, considering I completely abandoned Japanese studying when I got pregnant — and I sure haven’t done much to study besides read.
5) I played one game, a GBA game called “Sparkling Nurse Story” ピカピカナース物語 which was kind of like a simulation game, where you take care of patients, do mini-games and make choices in how you interact with people. I got the worst ending because I wasn’t able to raise one stat, and when I went online to look for a walkthrough or something, the first hit was a blog post basically saying “It’s impossible to raise that stat!” After some digging, I found a post saying that you have to force the minigames to appear more often by getting the patients almost well, then leaving and coming back another day. I didn’t have the patience to try again, but hey, maybe someone else will play this sometime!
Before the next round of tadoku in January, I want to get my Japanese books sorted out. Once upon a time, I had all of our books in some semblance of order, and it was great, but then we moved, then we moved, then we moved, then we moved cross-country, then we moved to our current house and now I’ve got Japanese books upstairs, in the living room, in the bedroom, in my study… My goal is to get them all together, read the ones that have become easy for me and then, by tadoku time, challenge myself with some books I’ve wanted to read for a while. See you all then, tadokists :)
So I went into the tadoku contest having read 231,226 words, and I ended it with 352,166 words. That is, I read 120,940 words this month, or a full 12% of my million word goal. I read 8 level 1 books, 7 level 2 books, 52 level 3 books, 3 level 4 books, 1 level 5 book and one graded reader volume, for a total of 72 books. I had hoped to read more level 4 books this month, but I kept opening them up and feeling frustrated, so in the end I stuck to level 3 books after all.
As far as the actual contest goes, I came in 14th overall and 8th among Japanese language learners, with 3511.45 pages, 3040 of which were from books and 471.45 of which were from videogames, mostly Mother 3. I finished Mother 3, and I just loved being able to play through it in Japanese, but I felt that I couldn’t help but remember my English experience of the game, which meant I didn’t have to rely on my own skill to understand everything. So I think the next game I play will have to be something I’ve never played before.
I first read about the tadoku contest when I was researching extensive reading, and I thought, meh, not really my thing — but then months later, after I started my blog, I connected with other people who were doing it and because I liked them I decided that I may as well try it as well. I’m really glad I did! I know that not everyone goes by (or knows about?) Sakai-san’s three golden tadoku rules like I do, but still it was exciting to be part of a group of people all focused on my particular obsession at the moment. I was really happy to watch all my friends just read and read and read, and I hope everyone got something out of it and keeps going! It also made me more aware of how much time I waste doing inconsequential things like reading Metafilter out of habit; I’m going to try to use my time a little more consciously in the future and to stop doing things that are amusing, but don’t help me learn or do something interesting or useful. There are two months until the next round, so if I practice picking up a book or watching something in Japanese online every time I want to load up a non-essential English website, I should have broken the habit by then.
What I want to do now:
1) Keep on reading, of course – but probably dip back down into level 2 books for a little while. Nikkei Bunko has a ton of picture books, and I haven’t even started looking at them. Plus, after writing that vocabulary post, I feel like I ought to take my own advice – in my experience, I generally feel like I get more out of level 3 books because they’re more complex and rich in information, but I learn more basic vocabulary from lower-level books because of the pictures and the lower level of words. So I will see how that little experiment goes.
2) Listen to more Japanese in general. To my surprise, I’ve found that my completely neglected listening ability has improved since I’ve been reading: the words that I’ve seen often enough to recognize them without conscious thought also seem to be easier to understand through my ears, and since I know more words now I can hear them. I’m not trying to say “Do tadoku and your listening ability will improve too!” My guess is that it’s reasonable to think that massive visual input could be linked to the ability to recognize spoken words, especially for a visual learner like me, but the fact is, my listening skill has always been absurdly bad, and although I’ve spent so much time reading and writing, I’ve spent so little time trying to improve my speaking and listening skills that it makes sense that any sort of exposure to Japanese is bound to have some effect.
3) Practice writing more. There was a point in my life where I wrote constantly, about my life, my thoughts, my memories… I can’t seem to do that right now, so what I might try to do instead, at least for now, is practice writing structures that give me trouble. I’m always forgetting how to produce the most basic things — how to ask people for things, how to say I have to do something, anything to do with passive or causative construction. Plus, I want to review some intermediate grammar structures that I only have the most tenuous hold on, and I think framing grammar practice as writing practice is the only way I’m going to actually do it these days. We hates the textbook, yes we do, especially when there are so many pretty books stacked up all over the apartment… I’ll be doing this at my Japanese blog, most likely.
I usually write short reviews of the books I read, too, and I completely neglected that this month! So I’ll have to catch up on that too.
- 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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