Top 5 Things to Improve your Reading Today

Top 5 Things to Improve your Reading Today post image

We are closing in on the big day. What are some final tips that might be able to push you over the edge? Well, reading seems to be something that trips a few test-takers up, so here are 5 things you can do to improve your Japanese reading your reading score on the test.

5. Reading the Right Material

There is really two different kinds of reading, intensive and extensive. Intensive is where you read something that is more difficult than your level, where you have to look up a lot of words or re-read parts to understand it well.

Extensive reading on the other hand is reading material that is slightly easier. The whole point is to increase your reading fluency and just well have fun with reading. Even if you know most of the words, you can still challenge yourself by trying to read it faster. And it simply helps to just be comfortable and used to reading in a foreign language.

4. Follow the Organization of a Passage

When you are reading a passage for the test, be on the look out for road signs that connect ideas together. The so-called “ko-so-a-do” words like この, その, あの, and どの, that can be used to reference other things in the passage. As well as all the usually connectors such as でも, しかし, つまり, etc…

You might want to even go so far as to mark them while you are reading so that you can clearly see the flow of the passage. This is something that can help you see the forest before you start looking at all the individual trees.

3. See the Forest than the Trees

Try to get the whole picture before diving into the details when you are reading. Your ability to recognize and comprehend vocabulary is greatly helped by first knowing the topic of what the passage is about. In a way this switches your brain over so that it starts to expect certain words and phrases. Also, you can use your experience in your first language to guess at new words and phrases that come up more easily if you know the overall theme and context.

In real life, you have titles, photographs, drawings, and other cues for a particular article or story that clue you into the main topic. On the test, you’ll have to perform a quick scan of the text and look for common words to help you guess the overall topic. Do this before you read for comprehension so that you are better able to guess at word meanings and read faster.

2. Know the Type of Questions

The questions on the JLPT are meant to test your ability to comprehend the passage, as well as test your grammar and vocabulary a little bit. Even at the lowest levels they don’t take it easy on you. They won’t for example ask too many literal comprehension questions:

Bob is Suzy’s brother.

1. Who is Suzy’s brother?

They are more likely going to ask questions that involve reorganization of the information in the passage. This is a fairly basic skill so they like to ask these questions at the lower levels. An example of reorganization might look like this:

The bread store is next door. The greengrocer is on the other side of it.

1. Which store is closer?

These also come up a lot in the listening section as well.

Another type of question is inference. These tend to pop up more and more starting at the N3 level. It essentially involves reading between the lines. They are questions like ‘なになにと あるが、 ここで言いたい ことは どんなことか?’ (I’m paraphrasing from an N3 practice test question), but a rough translation of this would be ‘the author said XX, but what did he want to say here? In other words, what is the author implying here?

There are also some prediction questions the pop up in the higher levels as well. Where they might give you a list of examples and ask you which one fits what the author is talking about. They are not as common as reorganization or inference questions, but they are on the test.

1. Making it Automatic

Quick reading comprehension depends heavily on making things automatic. This is where you no longer have to really look the word up in your head, you just know it naturally and can use it without hesitation.

There are a lot of ways to make things automatic. The most common is reading or listening to material that is right at your level, not too challenging and not too easy. The quantity is more important than anything else really – lots of just hard enough material.

I feel like although SRS is very useful and can really assist you in becoming automatic, it isn’t the only thing you should be using. Mainly because an English (or even Japanese) definition will never really be 100% accurate. You really have to ‘feel’ the word, and internalize how and where it is used. SRS serves as a great crutch, but you can’t run with crutches.

What do you do to improve your reading?

Do you have some tips of your own? Let me know in the comments!

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Chad October 28, 2013, 9:12 am

    Personally, I like reading bi-lingual books and manga. As long as you are strict about banging your head on the Japanese first, and only then going back to read the English, I find this better than “intensive” reading where you spend far more time buried in your dictionaries than reading anything.

    I find three distinct advantages in doing this:

    1: The English translation solves about two thirds of my single-word failures. Either it triggers recall, or I learn a new jukugo built from kanji I was already familiar with. I only have to look things up when the kanji are mostly unfamiliar to me or I fail to remember the readings.

    2: The English translation will tackle idioms, which are nearly impossible to look up.

    3: The English translation keeps me globally on track, so that I don’t get completely lost due to a combination of subtle mistranslations.

    Normally I read paragraph or so in Japanese, and when I start to feel I am losing it due to a combination of unknown words and misunderstandings, I go back and read the English. Then I read the Japanese again, after which I will look up any words that are still stumping me. I find this a lot more effective than stopping constantly to look up any word I am unsure about.

    PS: While I am not a particular fan of manga, one major redeeming quality for Japanese learners is that manga is one of the few places where you can find very native, very rough, very contracted, very slang-filled Japanese written down. It’s nothing like the textbooks, but it is stuff you will often hear and is good to know.

    • Clayton MacKnight October 28, 2013, 11:51 pm

      This is great, sound advice.

      I think there are a lot of hardcore full immersion enthusiasts out there that always encourage pure immersion, but this form of reading a paragraph in the language you are learning and then in your native language is immensely useful. I used to do it a lot with Lifehacker articles, but it sounds like it is worth while to pick up some bi-lingual readers.

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