2008年12月20日土曜日

How to read Japanese the smart way

I've been getting better and better at reading Japanese. It's so bittersweet. Manga is incredibly easy, and novels are incredibly hard. What to do? I could go out and find graded readers, or something at my supposed level, but since care more about interest and not at all about what level I'm at, I figure I'll just read the novels. Which is more or less how I got good at reading manga, doing it even though I sucked at it.

Recently Mentat turned me on to this light novel called 涼宮ハルヒ, which I have in in Aozora Bunko format now. It's looking pretty interesting. The problem is there's a lot of it I don't understand. If I try and look up every word, I'm screwed and barely get very far for a lot of time. Not to mention it's incredibly boring.

But I've found recently that it's possible to follow along and enjoy a novel even with a lot of unknowns. But at the same time, looking up unknown words and putting them into an SRS is a very efficient way to learn.

So instead of stopping to look up every word, I simply copy and paste the sentences that I'm curious about into a spreadsheet and the paragraph into the column next to it. This lets you look up words you're curious about with the original context to aid in understanding. Even if you don't end up using the sentence and opt for a dictionary sentence, you can still put the original sentence on the answer side of your card to remind you of where you got the word from.

The point of all of this is to maintain the flow, maximize the enjoyment of reading and minimize the drudgery from learning. You need to read thousands of pages of Japanese before you feel like you know anything anyway and it doesn't help to be stuck on page 2 of your book frustrated from looking up every word.

Stopping to do this for every word is still a pain in the butt, so be selective here. Only pick sentences that have words you're genuinely curious about, or have seen multiple times and can't pin down the meaning from context. You can't worry about getting all the words you don't know. If you maintain a Japanese immersion environment and read everyday, then vocabulary acquisition simply becomes a matter of "when" not "which".

If you dig on Aozora Bunko format, I recommend txtmiru as a reader. It's the best reader I've run into that lets you select text. I've also been using a program called "perfect keyboard" that defines a macro where I press a keystroke and it copies the selected text into my spreadsheet instantly. Using this also makes the process more streamlined.

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