In this post, we will look at some of the best ways to get reading practice for intermediate learners of Japanese. As a beginner, finding good reading material can be a challenge. This is because almost everything available is outside your skill range.
As an intermediate learner, though, reading becomes a lot more fun. This is because you now know enough Japanese to read all kinds of interesting things. I call this the “free-form immersion phase” of language learning.
As I write in my book on language learning:
“Fluency is mostly about getting lots of high-quality input in our target language. The free-form immersion phase is where most of this input happens, in the form of tens of thousands of target-language sentences. During this phase, you get to learn languages by spending time doing the stuff you love: watching TV, reading comic books, and listening to stuff on the radio.”
Manga (as you can tell by our website) is one of my favorite ways to get Japanese reading practice for intermediate learners.
Some benefits of manga:
- Lots of images. Images give context, which helps you learn when certain expressions are used and what they truly mean.
- Furigana on all the kanji. Easier manga titles have furigana spellings on all the kanji characters. This makes it much easier to look up words in a dictionary.
- Everyday language. Instead of boring textbook-speak that you will never use, manga (if you choose the right titles) uses language that real people use in everyday life. That’s much more helpful for reaching fluency.
- It’s fun! A lot of us fell in love with the Japanese language because of manga and anime. You learn more (and study harder) when it’s something you love, so reading manga is a great way to stay motivated.
Video games with furigana
Another under-appreciated tool for finding reading practice is video games. Video games, if you choose properly, can be great for reading practice.
In particular, you want to look for Japanese video games that meet the following criteria:
- They have lots of text (duh). If your goal is to practice reading, then you should (obviously) avoid games without much Japanese text. This means choosing visual novels, detective games, point-and-click adventures, etc. of action or fighting games.
- They have furigana. Some games come with furigana. Most do not. You want to choose games that are (a) not too difficult to read and (b) have furigana on most of the words that you see.
- They use ordinary language. Again, like with manga, you want to pick games that use language that is similar to what people use in real life.
- Games you enjoy. Remember, when it comes to language learning, fun is the secret ingredient! Choose games that you can still enjoy while you learn. What kinds of games would you play in English? Use that information to help you choose games to play in Japanese.
Light novels as Japanese reading practice for intermediate learners
Though not as good as manga, another way to practice reading are “light novels.” These are young adult books meant for middle school and high school students. They often share themes with popular manga and anime, and some of your favorite anime shows may have been adapted from light novels (Spice and Wolf and Toradora!, for example).
If you are advanced-intermediate, you may want to give reading light novels a try. These books still come with furigana, but they do not have as many images as manga. This makes it harder to figure out what is going on.
I recommend switching to light novels when reading manga starts to feel too easy. If you can read light novels and understand them, this is a sign that it is time to stop calling yourself an “intermediate” and consider yourself an advanced learner!
Blogs and social media
Some sites recommend the NHK blog and news sites for reading practice, but I am not a good fan. When I was learning, I could never focus on these, and they made me dread reading blogs.
I prefer to read more casual blogs written by ordinary people. FluentU has a list of blogs you can visit here.
When reading, I recommend using a pop-up dictionary browser app like Rikaichan (for Google Chrome) or Rikaikun (for Firefox). These will show you a definition when you mouse over words, which is a huge time-saver. There are also apps that will automatically generate furigana for the webpage you are reading
What I like even more than blogs, though, are social media sites, particularly Twitter. These give you bite-size Japanese, which is less intimidating than having to read a whole blog post. You can flip open to an SNS site on the train or bus and get a few minutes of reading practice in.
Japanese people are very active on Twitter. Personally, I am a fan of Japanese comedy, so I follow a lot of comedians on Twitter. For example (from memory), a few people I like:
- Matsumoto Hitoshi (@matsu_bouzu) – A member of the comedy duo Downtown.
- Mimura Masakazu (@hentaimimura – A member of the comedy duo Summers. Known for their casual style.
- Miyasako Hiroyuki (@motohage – Another famous Japanese comedian and talented singer.
If you watch Japanese dramas or listen to Japanese music, chances are that your favorite artists and actors are also on Twitter. Many of them tweet regularly, so this is a way to follow the people you like while also getting Japanese reading practice!
You can use the same addons you use for blogs here to look up words. You need to be careful here, though. As it is with English, people write on the Internet very differently from how they speak in real life. So, while it is ok to supplement with Twitter and other social media, it is also important to get more “real” reading practice from other sources.
The most important thing
Whatever reading material you choose, the most important thing, I think, is to make sure you remain interested and engaged. When it comes to reading practice, do not pick something that bores you because some internet expert told you it was good. Follow your own interests! Reading stuff you do not like is a guaranteed way to make yourself dislike studying Japanese.
Cheers, and happy reading!