Practical Tips to Facilitate Early Reading

As discussed in Optimal Reading Immersion - Narrow Reading, being able to read for your own personal enjoyment is one of the best ways to acquire a language.

However, especially when it comes to Japanese, there are quite a few obstacles in the path of a beginner that may seem insurmountable. Unlike most other languages, with Japanese you not only have to contend with grammar and vocabulary, you need to think about Kanji and their phonetic oddities/readings as well (See: Onyomi and Kunyomi).

A tip I like to give beginners that are trying to get into reading is that you should not worry about kanji. In the past, kanji were a very big obstacle for Japanese learners because we used to read on paper books. We did not have the technology and tooling that we have today, so we had to rely on actually cramming and stuffing a lot of kanji in our brains before we could even consider reading a book. We had big bulky dictionaries and even reading a simple sentence could take hours of flipping the pages back and forth.

Thankfully, this is not the case anymore. There are ways for you to jump straight into reading manga or (digital) books, you just need to use the right tools for it.

Yomitan

Yomitan is an amazing browser extension that every single Japanese learner should install. Let me repeat: you NEED to get this.

By just moving your mouse over a word you don’t know, it will tell you the reading, pronunciation, meaning, translation, and a bunch of other details about it. By clicking a button you will also be able to export not only the word but the entire sentence into your Anki deck if you have set it up using ankiconnect.

There is a great explanation and set up guide on this page that goes into more details about the whole process. Alternatively, this one or this one are also great. Give them a read.

NOTE: It used to be called “yomichan” but the project has been renamed to “yomitan”. If you are confused with old links referring to “yomichan” just be aware it’s the same thing, just an old name.

Kindle + Highlights

Ever since I started reading books on kindle, my Japanese reading life has changed significantly. Now, I know I sound like an ad, but it is simply true. Nobody is paying me to say this (unfortunately). There are other ebook readers out there, but I haven’t used them so I can’t speak too much about them. I will, however, write a bit about Kindle and more importantly its highlights feature.

First of all, let me clarify. I am talking about the physical kindle device. Not the android/iOS/PC/Cloud app. There are unfortunately some problems with those apps when it comes to Japanese. They are tricky to set up with custom dictionaries and they do not support verb deconjugation. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry about it, but understand that it makes it harder for you to look up words you don’t know.

The physical kindle device, on the other hand, is great for learning Japanese. You can look up words by just tapping on them. You can install custom dictionaries to your preference (I recommend getting started with this one), and you can make highlight notes for every new word or expression you want to keep track of.

I like using the highlight system to keep count of new words I learn as I read, and then use a tool like this one to bulk import all my highlights automatically into Anki cards for review later.

Jidoujisho

Jidoujisho is a fully-fledged “immersion helper” app for Android. It encompasses a set of tools and utilities to help reading ebooks, manga, websites, and even watch anime, videos, and all other types of media on your phone. It integrates well with yomitan and anki mining and if you are the kind of person that enjoys consuming Japanese content on your phone, I strongly recommend getting this app.

Textractor, Game2Text, and Yomininja

If actual novels aren’t your cup of tea, and you’d rather read visual novels or play video games, there are also tools to help with that. This page goes over all you need to know about setting up a tool called textractor to be able to automatically extract and look up text from visual novels.

On the other hand, if you prefer video games, or the visual novel you want to read does not support textractor, there is also another great tool called game2text that I strongly recommend.

Yomininja is also another amazing alternative to game2text for automated OCR

Manga with Furigana

While manga is my number one recommendation for a beginner to get into reading Japanese, it also presents a problem that ebooks and visual novels don’t have: in manga pages you cannot easily extract text to look up.

There are some small sites like bilingualmanga that try to offer you a platform where you can copy and paste the text in balloons, but the amount of stuff you can read from them is very limited, often has typos, or gets taken down as it’s copyrighted material.

On the other hand, a lot of manga aimed towards younger audiences (which makes it great for beginners too!) has Furigana for every single kanji. This makes it easier to read and look up words, and you will not need any fancy tools to do so. If you can buy physical manga as well, it can be quite nice to read on the couch away from all technology and distractions. Just you, your manga, and your dictionary. If you are interested, I have a few manga recommendations in Beginner Japanese Immersion Material#, and most of them will have furigana too.