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How to Learn Japanese Through Reading: A Survival Guide

Reading Japanese
I was looking through some resources to help answer someone else's question when I found this guide. It is a handy breakdown of why it's a good idea to learn by reading Japanese, with tips on what to do, and not to do when preparing to read and when reading. At first, I just skimmed through it, and realized that it had some great pointers. So, I wanted to share it with the rest of you ^_^

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June 26, 2017



For beginners I would suggest Japanese graded readers (レベル別日本語多読ライブラリー) by ask:


or the iPad version:


These are stories from very simple, short ones using less vocabulary, simple grammar and rarely kanji (with furigana) to more longer ones, using a greater vocabulary, more kanji and more advanced grammar.

The subject of the stories varies, there are stories for children, fairy tales, stories out of daily life in Japan and there are also adapted stories from famous writers and more.

Additionally there are very professionally produced audio recordings of every story, spoken by professional actors. It is a must have for beginners and it is fun to go ahead in this series. My absolutely favorite story is 野菊の墓, last story in Level 4, Vol.1).

If you are a beginner, you´ll feel like you can read and understand Japanese (and you do!).

Here are some sample pages with sound:



White Rabbit Press also does graded readers. I have one of them on the iPad - they are nicely made.


Shame there's no Android version, most people be able to use it.


This was a super motivating article to read! I've been thinking about finding some short things to read in Japanese, but I was hesitant about my ability to actually read them. But this solidified my determination, thanks so much for sharing! :)


Try the manga Yotsuba. The main character is a toddler so she talks in very simple language and it's funny too!


I wonder if the author is right about avoiding translated materials - using those (like Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland etc.) has worked well for me in studying other languages.

Are translations into Japanese really that bad?


I don´t really know, but I´ve read 星の王子さま and あのときの王子くん (The Little Prince) and I love it more than any other translation (also German). May be the french version may be better, but I am not able to read or understand any french.

And translated material is common in Japan, i. e. ガフールの勇者たち (Guardians of Ga'Hoole). I wouldn´t say, that translated material is so bad at all. And it may be interesting to read something, you already know in your own language (as it was in my case with The Little Prince), so that you can recognize things more easily. But you have the choice to choose also real Japanese stuff.

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I don't think it would matter significantly, at least at a basic level, as per the article, some kind of bi-lingual solution is suggested anyway. Going both ways helps to understand, but I'd usually prefer native materiel, as it is the source of the target language, and thus, has not been filtered.

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That's some pretty solid advice. That's pretty much exactly what I did.

The first time I tried to read anything entirely in Japanese, it was 「よつばと!」. Despite being oft-recommended for beginners due to its simple dialogue (with ふりがな), episodic nature, and accessible and endearing story and characters, it probably took over an hour for one chapter. I was certainly lacking some knowledge at the time.

Really, I know kanji might scare a lot of you, but they aren't so bad. If you haven't realized it by now, the lack of kanji is often Even more confusing. Even easy texts are hard at first, but it gets easier, and you really can't get into kanji too early.

The following might be going a bit overboard for absolute beginners, but it's almost certainly going to come up before long.

It can be a bit more intensive, but I recommend trying to fit some manner of frequency-based study in. Balancing it can be troublesome because common words may use relatively rare kanji, for example, but knowing the most frequent words and kanji in priority can help. This will often align well with kanji by grade.

Frequency is a useful tool in any language, it's just more complicated with Japanese.

2001.Kanji.Odyssey has been a popular course that tries to layer knew knowledge upon existing knowledge gradually, starting with more frequent elements. It might not be entertaining, but it seems to be effective. This is very simmilar to Duo in approach, but much more annoying to navigate. It's an old standby though.

When it comes to cementing kanji into the mind, Heisig's Remembering the Kanji has worked for many, or at least the methodology, which is essentially going from simple to complex kanji, with mnemonics, as complex kanji almost always contain simpler kanji. As long as you understand the principle though, you can take the jouyou kanji and bushuu ("radicals") from lists, order them in a spreadsheet by stroke order and start from the beginning, or export that to Anki, etc.

That has its own problems in that simple kanji to write are not always commonly encountered. It's really for remembering how to write and recall, not so much read and recognize, but being able to do so does help, and it can still help to prompt the memory.

For those that need more and have somehow not come across it by now, there are a lot of powerful tools for Anki specifically for Japanese that can help in being efficient with combining everything. It can take some work, but it can definitely be worth it if that it your thing. There are a lot of decks already that may be enough for some things, but don't expect to not have to do anything yourself.

There are plenty of apps too that have a lot of kanji and vocab already present and ordered. Obenkyo, Tsukiji, Kotoba, Kanji Tree, and Mondo may be of interest for those on Android at least. Obenkyo and Kanji Tree have writing practice too (but don't neglect paper entirely). These are all free, as I imagine a lot of potential learners may be young or just strapped for cash, and are things I personally have experience with.

Just remember that nothing alone is perfect. A lot of the above can get seriously overwhelming if you allow it and might not be fun. It's probably better you have some fun and go slower than to burn out.

However you learn, just incrementally add things for review to your software of choice that you've encountered "in the wild". You'll figure out your pace eventually. I'm of the opinion that Japanese isn't that hard relative to other languages, but studying it in a sensible manner can be overwhelming as it is so different from English or romance languages.


Maybe is not for beginners (jlpt 5) but if you want to read the news in Japanese with furigana, you can try News Web Easy from nhk: http://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/easy/index.html They have political news, cultural news etc explained in an easy way.


Awesome, thanks JadenPotatoes! :D


Thank you for this! I posted not too long ago looking for recommendations for content to begin reading, and this article has some helpful links and is very encouraging!


I might have been trying to find reading resources for you when I found this. I was originally trying to locate a reading series my sensei back in uni loaned me. But, I was unable to find them :( So, I'm glad that you found this post useful at least. :)


When I started to learn Japanese I had fun with the stories on Botさんのおはなし


It was very funny and it is real Japanese.

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