Jess Rose đź‘‹

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Published on 06/05/2024 14:25 by Jessica Rose

A friend recently asked how my Japanese reading skills were so good, while my spoken grammar lagged a bit behind. 

Generally when we read for language learning, there are a lot of chores that start and stop us on the way. We’ll be asked to identify and look up words we don’t know, take notes on grammar and maybe answer some questions to check for comprehension. In pedagogical terms, this sucks¹. Extensive reading asks us to abandon all of this to have a nice time.

Broadly, extensive reading is the practice of:

I’m a huge fan of extensive reading because it asks us to view language and grammar in context, wedding our expanding understanding to the content we already understand while also letting learners have a nice time. When learners encounter a new piece of grammar or a word they don’t understand, there’s the opportunity to possibly intuit the meaning through the larger context. But if you don’t understand a new word, that’s also ok. If the word is important enough to come up again in your reading or future study, you can pick it up later. If you never see this word again you probably didn’t need it.

What should I read for extensive reading

Children’s books are often recommended for extensive reading, but I haven’t found a lot of success with these. While children’s books are easy to read, they’re not often as fun or engaging for adult learners as other types of material. While I can read and understand that the happy rabbit is having a tea party, I’m not that emotionally connected to how this tea party is going to turn out.

You should read what you like! Just try and find something that’s much, much easier than you think you should be reading. Microblogging and social media posts, comics and graphic novels are some of the materials I see used most often and most happily amongst my peers who use extensive reading. 

My cheat sheet for extensive reading at different levels is below, but I’m always looking for more suggestions:

Upper beginner (A1-A2ish)

Intermediate and upper Intermediate(B1-B2)

Tools to support

By definition, extensive reading shouldn’t need any tools or apps or notetaking systems. But in practice, I often find myself wanting to capture a cool word or jaunty phrase in a lightweight way that lets me get right back to reading. I keep a large newsprint pad near me while reading at home, so if I must take notes, I can do so and get right back to reading. I’ll then transfer these scribbles to Anki as flashcards.

Next steps for learners after extensive reading

My big goal for Japanese was to successfully read some novels by Banana Yoshimoto, who writes beautiful, ethereal and complex short novels that focus on the inner lives of young women in urban Japan. And my Japanese language skills…well, they’re not at an ethereal inner lives level. To move past the gap between my goals and language level, I moved from extensive reading to guided reading with a tutor².

For complex reading where I care deeply about the full understanding, I’ll read the material first by myself and not worry too much about understanding everything. I’ll then bring the same section of text to a tutor. I’ll read the text line by line and then explain in my target language what I think is happening in the passage, using English to support my explanation when needed.

My tips are to be explicit with a tutor about what you’re looking for and what kind of correction and direction are helpful. Be ready to try a few different tutors to find someone who is a good fit, as the limited demand for guided reading tutors seems to impact the availability of experienced guided reading tutors.

Âą For learner motivation. It also just sucks in practice.

² My Japanese tutor is Oyoshi-sensi and can be booked here, she’s amazing.

Beautiful photo Science library of Upper Lusatia in Görlitz, Germany by Ralf Roletschek, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Written by Jessica Rose

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