I’ve been in Japan long enough to have taken the JLPT multiple times; in December 2015 I came away with (barely!) passing the N2. Upon discovering this, students of English end up asking me what my secret is. How do I study?
The honest answer? ….I don’t. I am terrible at studying. I get into ruts where I won’t touch a textbook for months.
What I do do, however, is play.
I’m a bookworm at heart; in America I’ve got multiple boxes of childhood books I hope I’ll never lose. Since my time in Japan I’ve gotten well over a hundred books on my Kindle and multiple bookshelves worth of books, despite my efforts not to buy too many physical paperbacks. I have memories of spending my days at summer day camp in fifth grade curled up in a corner reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.
It’s only natural that, upon coming to Japan, I had a goal in mind language-wise: to become literate in the native language.
As I said, I don’t go to textbooks for practicing reading (unless I have a test or am really stumped about a grammar point). Here are some of the things I have done to practice my reading.
- NHK’s Easy News. For those of you wanting to read current events and practice reading short essays, this is a good bet. All of the kanji have furigana and are easy to look up, the stories are short and simple, and many of the stories have audio you can listen to while you read. They also have an app version of the site for Android gadgets.
- 児童書、 or children’s books. The kids here have to learn how to read all of those crazy kanji too, y’know! Walking into a bookstore or library, the staff should be able to help point you to the right corner. Go for elementary school books if you want to get a feel for your actual level. If you’re N3 or higher, you should be able to tackle a junior high school level book. Many foreign books have been translated into Japanese, from Matilda to Lord of the Rings, so you can start off with something familiar to you before you dive into something entirely new.
- Comic books. If you enjoy reading manga or western comics, this is a great place to start. You get the pictures, of course, to help you with the context of whatever’s going on, and just like with regular books there’s a crazy amount of options out there depending on your interests/reading levels. I was working on the new Sailor Moon when I was around N4 level, but I feel like as long as you have a grasp on hiragana and katakana you should be able to settle in and work your way through. Please do note that for more “adult” comics they won’t use furigana as much, though, so check your comic before you buy/borrow! Again, starting with a series you’re already familiar with can help a lot.
If you’re actively studying Japanese in school, ask your teacher(s) if they have more resources to check out. I recall struggling through the Hiragana Times when I was in university and it helping me, as well.
Best of luck in reading!