Reading in Japanese is crucial for increasing your language skills. Especially if you are looking to study towards the JLPT, reading in Japanese on a regular basis is an essential habit. Reading speed for the JLPT becomes even more important at the higher levels, where being able to read quickly and pick out the key points is necessary to score highly.
Therefore as an avid reader, I was immediately drawn to the concept of tadoku (多読) when I happened across it some months ago. Developed in Japan as a way of improving English skills for non-native speakers, tadoku focuses on reading as much material as possible without getting hung up on unfamiliar words and phrases.
There are four golden rules for tadoku:
- Read something at your level
- Don’t use your dictionary
- Skip over the words and phrases you don’t understand
- If something is too difficult, stop reading it and read another one
Why is tadoku effective?
- After a while, the context of the text you are reading helps to fill in the meaning of the words you would have wanted to look up in a dictionary. Generally, 80% comprehension is enough to understand the remaining 20% through context.
- You get a feel for what words and phrases appear more naturally in everyday language, or in a specialist field depending on the subject matter.
- Most importantly though, tadoku is supposed to be fun because you only read texts that you are motivated to finish.
Initially, I was skeptical of the idea of not needing to look up every word I did not know, but I decided to choose materials that were easy enough for me to follow but also things that I was genuinely interested in reading. That shift in thinking was enough for me to want to give tadoku a try. Armed with a couple of really useful reading apps, I started looking for things to read.
Finding Japanese reading materials
My first thought was to look for reading materials where I already knew the story. Many people prefer translations of stories they are familiar with in English. I picked up translations of ‘Little Women’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ from Aozora Bunko. I do recommend Aozora Bunko if you are looking for stories in Japanese to read for free – I hope to do a follow-up post on how to make the most of this amazing resource. I do write Author Spotlight posts which tend to feature authors whose works are on Aozora and are appropriate for Japanese learners.
I’ve done a few posts on free online resources for Japanese reading which might help in your search:
- Reading Resources for Japanese Beginners: Part 1
- Reading Resources for Japanese Beginners: Part 2
- Boosting your Japanese skills with super short stories
In terms of physical books, I normally look out for books on eBay or Amazon where possible as used books are usually much cheaper than buying new.
If you prefer digital books, you have two book reading websites with companion apps at your disposal: ebookJapan and Bookwalker. I personally use both and can vouch for the convenience of being able to buy digital books and manga from outside Japan. You can pay with international cards on both websites, and with Bookwalker you can navigate both the website and the app in English.
If you are based in Japan, I would look into getting a Kindle ebook reader to read Japanese books digitally. Similarly, I bought a Kobo reader in Japan and can buy ebooks for the device via the Rakuten Kobo store (I was living in Japan at the time, so I am not sure if this would work for others who are not in the country).
The best thing about these two websites above is that you can try before you buy, by making use of the 立ち読み button, which allows you to read a sample of the book. I definitely recommend spending some time doing this before buying anything because you can assess the registers and the style of language used and see if it is appropriate for your language level.
Keep an eye out for my Manga Recommendation posts which may give you ideas of what you might like to read depending on your current level.
Tracking your reading
If you are using an ebook reader, you will already be able to check your stats on how much you have read. However, if you are reading physical books, you may find using a website like Bookmeter helpful.
Bookmeter is similar to Goodreads where you can put together lists of books you are reading or would like to read, post reviews and get recommendations on books based on what you have already read and enjoyed. The website is all in Japanese so I would recommend this website more for intermediate to advanced learners.
There are tadoku contests if you are planning on trying to read extensively and would like to compete against others.
How have I been getting on so far?
Initially my focus was to try and read as far as I could get on my 30-minute train journey to work. At first, it was quite difficult, having started a new book that was not one that I was familiar with (死神の制度 by Isaka Kotaro, which is a really enjoyable novel and accessible for JLPT N3 and above) and progress was slow. After a few days, I had sped up considerably and was enjoying the book for its content rather than stressing about reading a book in a foreign language, which is a great feeling.
For me, the best thing about trying this method has been to remind me of how far I’ve come with my language learning and how to enjoy native language materials without getting bogged down in the finer details of the language – after all, that’s why I started studying Japanese in the first place! My main goal in the short term is to not lose my understanding of the language and this will certainly go a long way towards making this possible.
Have you tried the tadoku technique? Are there any texts or resources you have found particularly useful for boosting your reading skills? Let me know in the comments.