Reading is one of the least glamorous language skills. It really doesn’t get the fame and fortune that speaking and listening does. There is something about opening a book and I mean a real book not manga, that just doesn’t set a person’s world on fire.
Reading is often kicked to the side like a dusty pair of tennis shoes left to waste away in the bottom of your closet.
But, it can come in handy and it is an essential part of the higher levels of the JLPT. It doesn’t have to be boring. You can actually learn a lot by reading through a few books. Some people say that if you read 10 good-sized books in a foreign language, you’ve got it mastered.
So, why read in a foreign language? Well, I’m glad you asked because I have ten good reasons.
10) You can read anywhere
You can take a book on the train, plane or automobile. They are portable, and believe it or not, don’t require batteries to operate. All you need is a bookmark and you are ready to go.
As a matter of fact, most Japanese books are designed to be extremely portable. Either they are shrunk down to be crammed into a bag or purse, or they are split into two volumes (上・下). This is because a lot of people in Japan read on the train where giant Stephen King novels are not always handy to have.
9) You can kill two birds with one stone
There is a wide variety of books available out there. So why not combine another hobby with your Japanese? Do you like golfing? Pick up a book about golfing in Japanese. How about travel? Instead of picking up a travel guide in English, why not one in Japanese?
8) A sense of accomplishment
Books can range from 100 pages to 1000 pages and there is nothing like that feeling when you finally reach the end of a good book. Reading books can give you a visual benchmark of how much studying you are doing. This may not be for everyone, but it might help you stay motivated.
7) They are a pretty cheap resource
You can pick up books at recycle shops for as little as 100 yen. If you are outside of Japan, it might be a little more difficult to pick up books at a reasonable price, but they can still be quite reasonable compared to a study book. If you have friends that are about your level, you can even create a mini-exchange for your books.
6) There are plenty of tools to help you read
If you are reading online you can use Rikaichan and Furigana Injector to help you read text online quite easily. This makes it a lot easier than having to stop and look up every word you don’t know. You can zip through an article without too much trouble.
5) Portable dictionaries make it easy to look up words
Most electronic dictionaries allow you to look up words by doing your best to write the kanji on their touch screens. The iPhone has a great free app called Imi wa? that you can use the Chinese keyboard with to write in kanji or if that doesn’t work, you can use the multiradical look up. If your an Android user, I’ve heard Aedict is pretty good and free as well.
4) You can ‘rewind’ easily
If you miss something while you are reading, you can always go back and re-read it. You can also underline the passage, so that you can ask your teacher, tutor, or Japanese friend about it later. You don’t have to bother writing it down and getting it mixed up.
3) You can read at your own pace
You control the speed of your reading, so you can read as fast or as slow as you want. This gives reading a bit of an advantage over listening because if you stumble upon a particularly difficult section of the text you can slow down and work out the meaning of the sentences, which can be close to impossible with listening.
2) You can take notes
When reading a book, you can take notes in the margin about the words you don’t know or new phrases that you learned. Interacting with the text (even if it’s just to write something down) helps you to comprehend and retain the information better. If you are reading online, you can use a FireFox Add-on like Floatnotes to do basically the same thing.
1) You can use reading to practice other skills at the same time
If you read out loud, you can practice speaking and even listening while you are reading. This seems like something so simple, but it really does work, and it helps you to retain the information you are reading. Think about it, you are reading, so you are seeing the word, you are saying the word, so you are practicing speaking, and you are hearing yourself say the word, so you are practicing listening.
I would recommend practicing reading silently though, for the test. Reading out loud will slow down your reading speed, and you’ll need pretty fast reading speed to make it through the N3, N2, and N1 reading sections. Also, you’ll probably get thrown out if you are talking during the reading section of the test.
So, that’s it. Your 3rd grade English teacher wasn’t lying to you. Reading can actually be quite useful. Actual cool people are reading things every day. So, why don’t you join them? I think you’ll find that it is a great way to learn a foreign language if you are at the intermediate or advanced level. But, what do you think? What kind of books do you find useful?