How to Read Novels in Japanese

When it comes to language learning, and reading in general I suppose, people tend to mention two different reading styles. You can either read intensively or extensively.

Intensive Reading

This is the slow way of reading. A person who uses this style would focus on understanding the passage 100%. This is someone who looks up every single word and taking notes. This style can help you examine new information that is presented to you in the passage.

The focus in on grammar and vocabulary learning.

Extensive Reading

This is the faster way of reading. A person who uses this style would work through the book without supportive resources like a dictionary. Using the knowledge that they currently have, they go through the book and try to guess/infer meaning. These readers focus on trying to achieve overall understanding. This style can help increase your reading speed and reinforce previously studied knowledge.

The focus is on enjoying and reinforcing the language.

My style

I tend to lean towards intensive reading. More so then being interesting in finding and memorizing the exact meaning of the work, I tend to be motivated by checking to make sure that I am using the correct readings for the words. While I do like to check the meaning out for a few seconds in a Japanese monolingual dictionary, I have been moving away from making SRS cards for every unknown word. I used to do this, but my SRS card reviews got out of hand and I feel that I wasn’t retaining the vocabulary as well as I could have been. Recently I have tried to avoid the urge to make card excessively. I aim to add maybe 5 vocabulary cards a day at most. I find that this helps me to really remember the cards that I create.

For the other words I encounter, I just leave it up to constant exposure to gradually let the words meaning soak into my head. I feel that the more often that I see a word, the deeper my understanding of the term grows with each different contexts it is used in. But for the readings… I am still working at learning how to intuitively guess the readings for new words. Reading are something that I feel i need to confirm or look up often as I don’t want to reinforce the wrong reading each time I see the word.

Never look up grammar points while reading. At first, this was just because grammar points felt so much harder to look up then vocabulary terms. But now that I have finished studying N2 grammar, I don’t think I really run into any new grammar.

I only read extensively if I find the book to be an easy read for me.

Overall, reading intensively makes me really feel that I am getting value out of the novel that I purchased. I usually end up spending around $10 for each novel. If I read extensively, I would finish the novel too quickly and end up spending more money on books. I also find that taking my time and pausing once in a while to reflect on word and grammar use helps to improve my spoken Japanese. I just do feel like I get enough out of novels when I just read them to read them. Pausing also helps me to really think about what is happening in the story and get more out of the reading experience in general. I look forward to moving back to Japan and having better access to used book stores and libraries.

Combination Method

It is possible to use a combination of both in the same book to help to keep yourself from burning out while studying. I have heard that intensively reading the first few chapters of the book is a helpful habit to form. This habit will help you get a solid foundation of who the characters are and what the setting is. Most authors tend to have vocabulary terms that come to fit in with different themes in the plot, meaning that these words are often repeated thought out the whole novel and possibly within the novels by the same author. After the first few chapters, the novel becomes much easier and it can feel like a reward from having invested time in the beginning of the book.

Another option is to switch between both styles depending on your mood.

Which one is right for you?

If learning Japanese is a hobby for you I recommend trying to make the process as enjoyable as possible. For most people, I think this would mean extensively reading. But if you are someone who find more joy in gaining skill or likes to have a more reflective experience, then intensive might be a good fit as reading novels is one of the best ways to advance your level within your target language.

How do you read novels in your target language? Lets talk about it in the comments!

Author: Kuri

I love reading Japanese novels and have seen that many people want to read them but don't know where to start. I have decided to share my experiences to help people reach their literacy goals.

2 thoughts on “How to Read Novels in Japanese”

  1. I remember starting out reading intensively, but I couldn’t keep it up, after looking up just about every word on the first 4-5 pages I just didn’t feel like I was reading a story any more so I put the book away for almost a year. Even though I wanted to read it, I felt tired thinking abouy having to look up every kanji etc. After a year I decided to just not look up words and read through it like I usually do with novels, if there are words I don’t exactly know, then I guess from the context or well, just ignore that part if possible lol. So I am definitely an extensive reader now, and I will only look up a word if I think it is crucial to know or if I notice it pops up a lot.

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