Breaking into reading Japanese

At the very beginning, reading can seem like an impossible challenge. No matter how many words you memorize up front, you’re essentially guaranteed to see something unfamiliar within moments of trying to read your first book. Looking up every new word and grammar point will grind you to a halt, but trying to maintain momentum can leave you feeling totally lost.

How do you strike a balance? How early can you realistically start reading without it feeling like a complete struggle?

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Thoughts about Wanikani

Wanikani has been with me since the very first month of my Japanese-learning journey, and I was a big fan for a long time. Over the years my opinion of it has gradually changed, and at this point I feel like I can’t recommend it in good conscience without some heavy disclaimers. I don’t think it’s a bad platform by any means, and there’s a lot to like — I finished the whole course and I’m quite certain it helped me avoid some common pain points — I just feel like if I’m going to say “wanikani worked for me, it’s pretty good”, it’s only right that I be able to point to a list of criticisms to temper that recommendation.

I’ll also be laying out the strategy and schedule I used to get through the second half of the course quickly and efficiently while also working full time.

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My best-guess approach to learning Japanese

I’ve been learning Japanese for a while now, but whenever someone asks me “how long has it been?” I always feel the need to say something like “between five and three years”. While I fully embrace the fact that language learning takes a long time, I also feel like I could have reached my current level of proficiency in much less time than it actually took me, just due to a years-long false start and lots of wasted effort before I had any idea what I was doing.

This is the guide I wish I could have followed from the beginning, compiled with the benefit of hindsight after much trial and error. It’s likely imperfect, and likely won’t work for everyone, but it’s essentially everything that worked for me without all of the stuff that wasted my time. I hope you find it helpful.

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Calibre read next plugin

After becoming increasingly frustrated with the multi-column-search plugin, I’ve taken the script from my calibre “read next” query and turned it into a tiny plugin of its own. It adds a button to the toolbar which will mark all books with the “readnext” label when clicked, bypassing the need to open up MCS, load an existing query from the difficult-to-read menu, execute the query, and finally close the window again.

The plugin package can be downloaded here.

I didn’t really like 火葬場のない街に鐘がなる時

I don’t usually write in-depth about manga series but I just had to process through this one I guess. I gave this series a try a little while ago after getting volumes 1-3 for free and there was something about it that made me want to keep going. This inexplicable feeling of “it’s not that good but I want to read more” continued through the entire series, and here we are. This isn’t really a proper review, just a bunch of thoughts I had upon reaching the end of volume 14.

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Book review: 愚者のエンドロール (Fools’ Staff Roll)

I guess I never wrote a review for 氷菓. It’s been so long at this point that I can’t imagine what I would say if I tried to write about it in retrospect, but I’ve always felt disappointed about how it turned out. The anime is one of my all time favorites, and a big part of my motivation for reading it in the first place (as my first-ever Japanese novel) was the idea that I would catch up with the end of the show and be able to see the rest of the story, but I didn’t enjoy myself at all and pretty much gave up on the idea.

That was two years ago (almost to the day, come to think of it), and I’ve often wondered if the reason I had a bad time was just because I was new to reading and everything was a struggle back then. While this always felt somewhat unlikely (after all, I thoroughly enjoyed my second-ever novel, 夜市 despite surely being at nearly the same skill level), it’s something that I would think about from time to time and feel kind of insecure about.

Well, having now finished the second book in the series, I feel pretty vindicated. While I did warm up to it around the second half, it was only barely enough to bump it up from a two- to a three-star rating, and all of my gripes with the writing style and characterization are unchanged. If nothing else, it’s nice to know that the reason I bounced off 氷菓 is because I didn’t like it, not because I wasn’t good enough to read it.

In terms of the actual story, what is there to say? The actual mystery is not really very interesting. This is the volume where える gets drunk on whiskey chocolates, which is a scene I liked in the anime, and it was just as funny here. There were some entertaining sections presented as chatroom logs, which featured some neat wordplay (I was tickled that える’s chat name was just “L”) and 変換ミス jokes.

I also listened to the audiobook throughout the whole process as part of my readalong experiment, and the narrator (土師 亜文) was quite good. She made several small tweaks to the dialogue to convey nuances in the text that would be lost with a straight read, and her delivery and characterization was great. It seems she’s the narrator for the whole series, so if I do decide to continue in the future it’ll be nice to have the consistency.

I’ll probably give the next volume a try at some point in the near future to see if the upwards trajectory continues. My ideal outcome is that book 4 (the last one covered by the anime) is good enough that I’ll be excited to keep going. We’ll see if that happens.

My rating system

Whenever I read something (novels, manga, etc; really anything that I track in Calibre), I always rank it on a five-star scale to indicate that I’m done with it. I know some people like to use half-stars or even hundred-point scales and I’ve always found that to be too granular for something which is ultimately not really all that objective or scientific.

The main purpose of this scale is to help me a way to help me decide whether to continue a series, recommend it to friends, etc. I’m posting it here so I can link to it in other posts where it might be relevant.

Without further ado…

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