JLPT BC 151 | Vocab Bulking through Reading

JLPT BC 151 | Vocab Bulking through Reading post image

I celebrated Christmas a little early again this year. The 23rd is a holiday here in Japan. (It’s the Emperor’s Birthday). It is the one day that we officially have off and get paid for it, so it tends to be the day my family and I celebrate Christmas.

Yes, I know it is a little bit of a bummer to not have Christmas off, but that is one of the things you have to deal with when you live in another country. I could ask for the day off, but I’m greedily hoarding my days off for much larger vacations.

Christmas in Japan is usually a lover’s holiday, which is why if you go out with your family to a “Christmas Dinner” you’ll most likely be surrounded by young couples. I used to do this a lot with friends actually until, yeah know, I got married. And the thing you are suppose to do if you are married with a family is get a great big bucket of fried chicken from KFC or as it is called here “Kentucky.”

This seems to be a bit of a thing in Japan, where major trends are created by a company to drum up business at certain times of the year. KFC happened to be lucky enough to fill in the gap for Christmas, earning them big bucks every year I’m sure.

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to getting some hard earned time off this year. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to go to the States for Christmas due to money and time not really working out for us this time. But it looks like we will be making our way across the Pacific sometime next year instead. This year, I’ll be doing the traditional Japanese thing of sitting around with family for New Year’s.

Read and Listen to Review

So, I have been working my way through Harry Potter. This is the second time I’ve tackled it and I can pretty easily get the main idea of what is going on and only get tripped up in a few minor spots. But this time, I want to absorb all the vocabulary instead of simply just having a brief notion of what things mean, I want practice them a few times and overlearn the material. The theory being that this will make it easier to read and over-learn the next book and the next book until reading any book becomes a cinch.

The biggest problem is keeping up with Memrise at the moment. And I’m trying to decide whether or not I should care about that or not. Should I just keep re-listening/re-reading material to understand all the vocabulary or should I drill to death? Do a combination of the two? At the moment, I’m trying to do both, which is working out quite well if I had the time to feed the drilling beast, but my free time to study is so patchy it is hard to maintain a regular pattern.

Anyway, what I like most about this method is that I get to study while I am walking. At first, I couldn’t be bothered to listened to Japanese day in and day out. I was tired after work, or tired in the morning and just wanted to listen to music or listen to one of my favorite podcasts. But, after listening to it a few times, my brain relaxes a bit and it has become a lot easier to follow everything while I’m walking. If my mind does start to wonder, I can pretty easily get back on track, because I’m so familiar with the book at this point. In some parts I know it so well that I can mouth the words as I listen, kind of a walking dictation practice.

This is great but what about material that doesn’t have audio?

I started reading a paper for junior high students. At first, I thought it would be really easy to get through, almost too easy. And there are some articles that are below my level. But, a lot of them are written to be just difficult enough for me to learn some valuable new vocabulary. It doesn’t seem to suffer from being dumbed down too much like NHK’s web easy news. It contains a lot of useful facts and articles about interesting, topical stuff like Ebola or space.

The biggest problem, again, is that I don’t have much ‘sitting-down’ time. I’m usually walking somewhere or sitting on the train. When I am home, I have a variety of stuff to do with the family, so it can be hard to get some quiet time alone when I can read and I am not too tired to concentrate. So what to do?

Well, my current method is asking my wife to record the articles that I want to read, so then I can listen to them while I’m walking to and from the station to go to work. This allows me to review while I’m doing something I have to do every morning – walk. For some reason, I have a pretty easy time of staying focused while I’m walking.

Reading this newspaper and reading Harry Potter has led me to start stockpiling a ton of vocabulary. I’m currently adding about 100 to 200 words a week and I’d like to do even more. What has been a big boon is the whole new app available for Memrise on the Android platform, which I’m sure will get ported to iPhone pretty soon as well.

The new app allows users to practice any course, big or small. This is great practice. Before I had to do my big courses at home, but now I can do any course on the road. I have a feeling I’ll be racking up a lot more points with this new app. I hope it makes it too iPhone soon as well.

SRS is not a cure all

SRS, Spaced Repetition Systems, can be pretty addictive. They are easy to just plunk down in front of and start drilling away and you can easily see the number of words you know, some systems even give you detailed reports of how well you are doing and your efficiency of studying. Memrise adds gaming to the equation with points and weekly/monthly/all-time leaderboards.

All of this can keep you studying and digesting more and more vocab, but it isn’t a cure-all. You aren’t finished with it, if all you do is drill the words. You need a little something more. You need context in order to really glue those words in and keep them glued in. Context can also provide you with extra information that you really can’t learn from a flashcard like the connotation of the word or its appropriateness in certain situations.

Reading gives you a great context for the use of these words and provides something meaningful and interesting to consume instead of lists and lists of words. In my opinion, it also helps you remember it more, because you can see the object or action taking place in the story, instead of just some dead word on a list.

I’m hoping that this winning combo of reading and SRS pushes me through to the higher level of the test. Reading through the comments from the first reactions post a few weeks back. It seems like reading interesting native material is a big key to absorbing sentence patterns, grammar and vocabulary and using and understanding it automatically.

Have you been doing some reading lately?

What are some good books to read to practice Japanese? What some good manga that you have read in the past? Let us know in the comments.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Thomas December 30, 2014, 8:52 pm

    Currently have a few books to work through. My teacher loaned me Japanese versions of “Little Bear’s Visit” by Else Holmelund Minarik and “My Father’s Dragon” by Ruth Stiles Gannett, which are a 50 page picture book and a 100 page short novel respectively. Currently half-way through Little Bear’s Visit at the moment (called Grandfather and Grandmother in Japanese). Agree with you 100%, on every page I’m whipping out my phone to look up something new on imiwa. It’s a great way to learn.

    My host mother in Japan also loaned me some older Japanese picture books from the 60s, 70s and 80s which I look forward to reading – “A Lucky Hunter – An Old Japanese Tale” by Teiji Seta, “The Winter Wind – Old Nursery Rhymes from Japan” by Yasuo Segawa, “Ma, Do You Hear Anything?” by Toshiko Kanzawam, “Little Daruma and Little Tengo” by Satoshi Kako, “A Pleasant Walk” by Hisakatsu Hijikata , “Hippo’s Boat” by Eriko Kishida and “The Story of a Pussy” by Momoko Ishii.

    What I would love to read is a children’s book that talks about the Shinto and Buddha religions in Japan.

  • S January 2, 2015, 6:21 pm

    Good for you with the newspaper! I read the children’s version. My Japanese teacher brings the jhs versions to class for me to have for free, but I find them too intimidating without the furigana. He once plunged into a jhs newspaper article with me–utter disaster. I did know enough vocab and kanji, and couldn’t understand the main ideal. I think I could have done if he were a better teacher and did preliminary teaching. (he is a volunteer, so I can’t complain to him.).
    I’d like to read Japanese women blogs and message boards. I need to find some I can handle.

  • Victoria January 5, 2015, 2:40 pm

    Another good alternative to NHK’s Easy News – at least for listening practice and learning new vocab from audio – is NHK’s Shuwa News (sign language news). It’s not dumbed down, or slowed down, or an odd pitch or pronunciation, but there are nice big pauses between sentences which I find helps me keep up with the more natural speed audio. There isn’t text on the website, but there often is text that closely matches the report in a vertical subtitle on the right of the screen, and many kanji have furigana.

    Altogether I find it much more useful for study than the “easy news”, which just seems to make things more complicated but in a slightly patronizing way. Along with NHK’s Koukou Kouza high school videos, Showa News has found a place at the core of my study program.

    • Victoria January 5, 2015, 2:42 pm

      P.S. Not Showa, Shuwa! (手話) Predictive text for the FAIL.

  • James g January 9, 2015, 4:42 pm

    Thanks to all the above. The mythology of Shinto is easy enough to find, but history is sadly very poor (Tsunoda’s document series which is invaluable for prep for Uni gives some ideas why this is and of the history). Temples have some histories I am sure the Todaiji temple have a version of their story in Japanese and English, I could only find the English version at home now.

    In general think that when reading it is important to be able to make progress with the text and secondly that you value what you have. Not being in Japan or having easy access to a critique I would make slower progress on novel writings. I read some dialogues from Haruki Murakami at one end of the “difficulty” spectrum, and Babapapa and children’s fact books at another. What I always get out of this is how often and widely used things are which don’t really survive translation, and often correct your ideas of what they meant better than your teacher did!

    i agree that it can seem you are making little progress with the anki/memrise , but repetition has its benefits. I have poor visual recall usually which may be a factor, never, ever had the phenomena before of staring at a word and knowing I know the pronunciation from the sight in the word and being able to say out the word from somewhere behind my conscious thinking, the difference between thinking of language as a quiz and really accessing that little things that stop us somehow. I have been doing anki every day for a year now and I like the way you can just run your own lists for yourself and how you never let yourself off. I didn’t like Memrise because the N3 lists asked me to do a kind of typing that doesn’t relate to my wapuro so it felt entirely unnatural to see the romaji tsu coming up full size in words instead of the double consonant and getting points for multiple choice outside a test just felt a bit cheap. It isn’t all about winning and speed: with anki you can acknowledge you need to study the kanji in the word and do the research before pressing a button and no-one cares or puts up a little caption…

    Next? Miyazawa Kenji and bilingual work for a bit and then I have Hitch-hikers in 2 languages

  • Andrew January 11, 2015, 6:45 pm

    I bought a ton of manga (ケロロ軍曹、ラブひな、聖おにいさん、東京喰種、クロマテイ高校、etc.) while i was in Japan, all of varying difficulties (furgiana and non furigana, vocab/grammar difficulty, etc.) which proved very useful in not letting my proficiency slip while I finish up my last year of college here in the states. I’ve made my way through just about the 100 or so volumes i bought, and i’m almost done reading the Japanese version of Holes (穴), gotta love Shia LeBouf haha. I also read blogs like アメーバ daily (I may or may not have fallen in love with a few of the female celebrities while I was there haha) and check out NHK once or twice a week, it’s good way to get your reading skill up (especially with NHK articles) and learn slang (from blogs), but may be a bit difficult if you don’t know a lot of kanji

    To me, I find that reading manga is a tad easier because there are pictures, so I read the novels to really challenge myself. If any of you are in Japan, i HIGHLY suggest stopping by a Book Off store, where they sell manga and novels ridiculously cheap. I was honestly surprised the first time i went in there because the same manga i used to by for 13 dollars as a middle schooler in the states was 108 yen in Japan!

    Happy studying!

    • Clayton MacKnight January 12, 2015, 6:06 am

      Yeah, Book Off is the greatest. It is kind of like a library for me, I buy books, read them then sell them back and buy other books. By the way, they buy back books at absymal prices, but at least they are going somewhere and I’m too lazy to list them on Yahoo Auc or something.

  • Thomas January 12, 2015, 7:45 pm

    I finished Ojiichan to Obaachan (sorry I don’t have Japanese installed on this computer!) which is a lovely book, and it’s one in a series of five so I must read the others. It was well suited to my level (N5/N4). I worked through the chapters myself and then read them again with a Japanese friend on skype, which was a great way to learn.

    I am currently reading White Rabbit Japan’s Japanese Graded Reader, Level 1 Volume 1. It’s a beautiful collection of easy to read short stories, including the story of Hachi the dog, and Urashima Tarou. I’ll definitely be continuing with this series (which comes with a cd).

    I have a few more books from the WRP site – two books of short stories (I bought the first year ones) which seem to be moderately difficult for my level (I suppose the problem when you step up from a picture book to a novel or short stories, is trying to absorb the vocabulary) and a book called, roughly speaking, “How Science Works”, which looks like an interesting read.

    I also have My Father’s Dragon to work through which could take a few months but I’ll try to read a bit each week (that I can go through with my teacher).

    I have a mountain of vocabulary accumulated on Imiwa on my phone that I need to transfer to Anki. I’ve split them into two lists, “Common” and “Vocab”. The common lists are words that I think I might want to use myself, so need to know best, and vocab are words that I would just like to recognise when I come across them. I think making a bit of an effort to read now will go a long way in the long run.

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