Knowledge of languages is the doorway to wisdom - Roger Bacon
For a beginner who is embarking on the journey to learn one of the toughest languages in the world - Japanese - it may be a good idea to start with a book to start reading to improve Japanese comprehension. But beware! Don't just pick up any random book or light novel (the manga in Japanese) or it may prove to have disastrous results for you.
Japanese characters, the script and vocabulary are beautiful, yet complex. It may prove to be a little intimidating and overwhelming for a beginner if you try to tackle the dual problem of Japanese reading and writing in one go. For example, there are more than 50,000 characters in Japanese kanji. But can you learn all of them? NO. And the good news is that you don't have to.
You'd be glad to know that most native Japanese speakers only use two phonetic scripts and approximately 6,000 kanji characters. To learn Japanese reading in a relatively shorter amount of time, you need to be able to prioritize the sections of study carefully.
You may not have to learn everything, but you do need to know the basics without which it will be hard to get by. Getting the guidance of a Japanese tuition teacher may be a good place to start.
Japanese comprehension practice can help expand your language vocabulary and build your understanding of Japanese language grammar. If you know how to read and write hiragana, katakana, and kanji, then you have won half the battle.
When you improve your Japanese comprehension, you can easily practice and review words that you already know. You also learn to apply grammar rules and kanji in spoken Japanese.
The Basics of Japanese Comprehension Practice
To learn Japanese reading, you have to be able to read and write the three unique writing systems- hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Learning about the Japanese language, however, is incomplete without the knowledge of romaji. The latter is Japanese written in the Roman script.
Unlike the English language where you can use the vowels in multiple ways, in Japanese Romaji, the use of vowels is pretty standard. This means-
- a sounds like a in master.
- e sounds like a in disease.
- i sounds like ee in fit.
- o sounds like oa in coat.
- u sounds like oo in wool.
Most Romaji characters would use an ' to distinguish syllable boundaries. For example, in the word shin'ya, there are three distinct syllables, viz,
- shi (し)
- n (ん)
- ya (や)
Doubled consonants also have a huge significance. The presence of one indicates a long pause which may result in two completely different meaning. For example, sakki means just now, while saki means prior. Japanese being a metical language, each syllable is almost the same length as one another. This, however, excludes vowels. If you practice reading Japanese by breaking down the syllables, it will help you get a better flow and prepare you better to pick up hiragana and katakana.
Great Tips to Learn Japanese Reading
Tip 1: Start with the Words
If you are just starting out at reading Japanese, start by memorizing the words. There are apps that actually help you do that. You can use them to
- Learn a new word daily.
- Learn new words in the least amount of time.
- Learn Japanese reading with real sentence examples.
- Improve Japanese comprehension through native audio books for better pronunciation.
Tip 2: Read the Local News
You can improve Japanese comprehension practice by reading the local news and articles in Japan. You don't necessarily have to be a master at hiragana, katakana, or kanji. But you should start learning them nevertheless. The articles can be found in Romaji or kanji or any other Japanese language form. Download a Japanese news app to,
- Read short news articles daily.
- Learn Japanese reading in Romaji or Kanji.
- Get English to Japanese translations (and vice-versa).
Tip 3: Listen to Audio Books
Get in the habit of learning through listening. In order to read and write in Japanese, you also need to improve Japanese comprehension first. You can do this by,
- Listening to short audio tutorials.
- Conversing with your Japanese tuition teacher.
- Learning through apps that have integrated pop-up definitions and vocabulary lists handy.
Tip 4: Use Visual Aids For Japanese Comprehension Practice
Look up online resources like podcasts and video tutorials to learn Japanese reading. There are customized apps to help you with routine lessons like reading the train schedule or hauling a cab in Tokyo. Videos are a great way for all levels of learners.
Expedite Japanese Comprehension & Understanding
The capacity to learn is gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice - Brian Herbert
When you are learning a new skill like a foreign language, you have to empty your cup and be open to take in the new inputs and perspectives. Otherwise no new information will go in and your learning process will remain incomplete. A few simple methods can expedite the process of Japanese comprehension practice.
- Start with the basics. When you're learning a new language, it is a good idea to revisit your childhood. This helps to let go of inhibition and increase your learning orientation. Begin with books that teach you the basics of hiragana and katakana before moving onto the complexities of kanji. Pick up children's books from Disney, for example, translated into Japanese and do a comparison with its English counterpart to understand the differences and to grasp the words better. Mari Takabayashi is a celebrated Japanese children's author and she writes entirely in hiragana. Once you cross this hurdle, try moving up to manga.
- Build your grammar skills and work your way up to sentence structure. The trick to decoding the Japanese sentence structure is to remember the SOV (subject-object-verb) format. For example, the English sentence "I drink water" would be written as "I water drink" in Japanese. Also, the Japanese language uses particles to break down sentences. And the particles are placed immediately after the words they are used to refer to.
- Don't overcomplicate and overcommit. You can only do so much in a given amount of time. Don't kill yourself in getting past the first phases of learning too quick. You won't make it. Choose your topics wisely. Invest time in subjects you like so they become an interesting read even in Japanese.
- Focus on building your vocabulary instead of perfecting your pronunciation. You can't fully learn Japanese if your primary goal is to read and write properly. Focus instead on expanding your command on the vocabulary rather than impeccable pronunciation.
Useful Resources for Japanese Comprehension Practice
One of the best resources for Japanese comprehension practice is a children's book. Easy to read and comprehend, these books are written in simple grammar for easy comprehension and use either hiragana or katakana and very little kanji. Ghibli's picture books are a must-read if you're a beginner in this. The price may be a little on the higher side, but every page is worth it.
Ghibli's movie books are also a great choice for a beginner. But make sure you buy original and avoid counterfeit versions.
If you are looking for books to learn manga for beginners, Yotsuba is a great choice. The main protagonist is a child which makes the read simple and enjoyable. It is about everyday life, so the stories are relevant to real-life scenarios. If not this, Shiro Kuma Café is another great choice. It is a comic books based on the life of a polar bear who owns a café!
You can also opt for books in bilingual manga, but only if you have a good grasp on the basics of the Japanese language comprehension. Note that most bilingual books in Japan are published with the purpose of helping native Japanese speakers learn English. But over time, they have proved to be a great learning resource for non-native speakers as well.