Studying Japanese via Reading - A Guide

Hey everyone! 

I've been looking into various ways to up my Japanese level, and when I asked around a LOT of people recommended me to spend more time reading. In the past, I've read books up until the 3rd grade level, which basically means I have the reading skill of an 8 year old. To challenge myself, I took the plunge and borrowed a novel from my friend.  I also headed to a local bookstore and picked up a book about design that looked super interesting!

Japanese books can be super intimidating to those who haven't read much in Japanese, so I wanted to show my method of studying via reading, and how to really benefit from the time you spend hitting the books.

P.S: I've actually just hit 10k total views for this blog! Thank you to everyone that keeps up with my little blog!

P.P.S. I apologize in advance for the crappy photos, the lighting in my apartment is cruel and unforgiving. I've done my best!!

1. If you're worried about plot comprehension, read a book you've already read!

If reading an entirely new book intimidates you, try reading a book you've read before! A big problem people can run into is not being able to properly piece together the plot. Try tackling young adult/ kid novels if this is your first time diving into novels. I was thinking of reading the book 'Coraline' in Japanese as practice, but some other recommendations are graded readers, Magic Tree House, etc ! If you look online, you can find a lot of Japanese versions of books originally published in English, so make sure you scour Amazon and Ebay.

2. If you're a visual learner, try reading manga

If you're more of a picture book, casual speech kind of story lover, manga might be the route for you. The great thing about manga is that it can improve your reading, while also exploring a niche topic without being too intimidating. For example, if you like cooking but cooking books seem a bit too advanced, the photos and dialogue of a cooking manga might be easier to understand! Manga is also super accessible for early readers, as a lot of children's manga is available online in PDF or Online Reader format. Some recommendations for simple, fun manga are Yotsubato, Doraemon and Chibi Maruko Chan.

3. Don't do Harry Potter on the first try

When you're excited to read, you might try to give yourself a big project. I recommend starting out smaller, with books that are a few chapters. Aim to make your first real novel less than 150 pages, and it sets a small, accomplishable goal! It's important that you set small goals that you know you can accomplish, and maintain morale. This also helps you feel more comfortable as a reader and not overwhelmed by too much content.

4. Keep track of new words

It's imperative that when you read, you attempt to somehow keep track of the new words you encounter. This depends entirely on what kind of learner you are. I like to keep a new words journal where I can jot down the kanji, kana and meaning. Then, I take those words and add them to a Chrome extension that quizzes me once every 15 minutes while I'm online! However, I highly recommend taking an SRS approach and compiling all the new words you gather from each book into a study set using a program like Anki or Memrise.

Another great way to keep track of words is to simply write in the book. I know some people are very opposed to this, but it's up to you! I'm currently doing this for another book I'm reading and I find it helpful. Here's an example:

To use this method, I first scan the page for any kanji or words I may not know. I underline all the words and, using a dictionary app, I research them. I then write the English meaning, add the word and it's japanese reading to my new words book, and continue looking for more words. Then, I read the passage as a whole. Another good method would be to write the kana instead of the English, and read the passage aloud!

I find that reading aloud is super helpful for making sense of things. Sometimes when you read something in your head, it doesn't make much sense. However, once you say it outloud the pieces can come together a little better!

5. Love what you're reading

This seems like a no brainer, but it's super important! Pick a book that sounds interesting to you! You'll learn lots of new vocabulary about that topic, and be able to use it in your everyday life. If you're a quarter way through the book and don't like it, that's okay! 

We have these experiences with books in our native language as well, so there's nothing wrong with finding something else to read. Make sure that learning via reading is always an enjoyable experience. Don't rush, take breaks if you need to!

As always thanks for reading!


  1. I recently started using reading to learn Spanish. I love the tips you've given! Most of my books are not with me now, which is really driving me crazy because I don't have access to any bookstores in my small town. But I do have one book that was written by Spanish students, so it's lower level but helped me learn a lot. I'm thinking about reading it again, but this time I'll keep track of new words! That's not something I did last time, I just sort of fumbled through it. Thanks for the tips!

    1. Glad you liked the post! Spanish is such a beautiful language!! With starting new languages it's also a good idea to read baby books and work your way up. Some of them are pretty cute and helpful too 😂👏 no shame in some cute books!

  2. Great advice! I've been working on learning Korean the same way! Always great to start with kids books and work up! Thanks for sharing!

    1. thank you for reading!!! best of luck with Korean, I would love to read a blog post about your studies!!

  3. best of luck, studying a language on your own can be hard, i tried with Czech and it was oh so difficult!


  4. I actually did this as a kid when I was learning English. In Norway we start at a really young age, but I didn't do so well, so when I was around 12 I bought Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone. My primary teacher would be so surprised if she found out that I actually got so good that I managed to complete a masters degree in Wales in my 20s.

    1. That is AMAZING! That's so inspirational, thank you for sharing!


Post a Comment