I read Japanese manga regularly to help me learn Japanese, but also because I enjoy reading certain subjects.1 If I read my favorite subjects in Japanese, I am more motivated to keep reading, plus I often learn interesting new things. Also, Japanese manga are small and easy to carry on the bus. It gets very crowded during rush-hour and I want to read something while standing up.
But although I’ve been reading manga for years, I struggle with it. I can definitely read better than I did years ago when I started studying for the JLPT, but I still frequently encounter words I don’t understand. This is frustrating sometimes because I will understand the rest of the page, but that one word is important and I have to know it, or the joke won’t make sense.
So, I have developed a simple system for this. It is based on an old post, but I’ve adapted it to my busy lifestyle. For readers who are learning English, I hope the same advice helps you too. 🙂
Anyhow, when I first read a section or a chapter, I won’t understand it the first time. I am not sure why, but my brain still has to “warm up” when reading new material in a foreign language. So, the first time through, I’ll understand the words, but not the overall meaning. In manga like “Saint Young Men”, this is really hard, because humor is subtle, so you have to pay attention. In the past, I wasted a lot of time looking up each word, but this was very slow progress.
So, now, I just read through one time before I use dictionaries or put sentences or words into Anki. The first pass is to get used to it.
But the second time I read, I found that I will usually grasp the meaning (and humor) of a chapter. Now I can enjoy it more, and I can also chose what interesting sentences or vocabulary I want to put into Anki.
So, to summarize, if you’re reading new material in a foreign language, try to read it once first without a dictionary or anything. Just read it to get familiar. If you read it later a second time, you will start to understand it better.
Sometimes though, I still read chapters or paragraphs that I still don’t understand. Even if I read it 3 times, and used the dictionary on each word. It just happens sometimes. In such cases, it is easier to just skip that section and come back to it later. Sometimes if I read it weeks or months later, I will understand it much better.
Anyhow, this is a low-stress way to enjoy Japanese manga (or any foreign language) and still learn something.
P.S. The photo above are two different manga I’m actively reading lately. The one of the left is for young adults, and covers the life of Prince Shotoku. The story of Prince Shotoku is told through a famous comic character named Ryo-san (両さん). The one on the right is the 6th issue of Saint Young Men, which I’ve written about many times. It’s still my favorite.
P.P.S. Kind of a double-post. Lots of interesting stuff I wanted to share. 🙂 Last post was a bit depressing anyway, so wanted to post something positive to balance it.
1 Another tip: find books at a reading level you can do. I read young-educational manga by Chibi Marukochan and Ryo-san because it’s closer to my reading level, plus they are educational. Saint Young Men is somewhat easy to read because they talk in normal, conversation Japanese too. Anyway, don’t be embarrassed. Your reading skills will improve if you keep doing it.