How much of a piece of material should you be able to understand on your own in order to try reading it?

I’m curious how much of something you should be able to understand (with concentration but without looking anything up) for it to be valuable to try reading that thing. I’m not sure how to tell what (if anything) I’m ready for, since I can’t tell what ‘ready’ looks like.

Is it being able to read or figure out from context everything in the material? Not everything, but enough to be able to understand or at least have a good guess what’s happening? Understand 80%? 50%? Something else I’m not thinking of.

I’m 30 grammar points in to the N4 deck here (N5 is mostly in the Seasoned category, all in at least Adept), and just about to reach level 10 on WaniKani. Most of what I’ve tried to read so far has been example sentences and things like food packing and signs.

I just took a first look at Satori (specifically the first chapter of ジャム屋さん). I felt like I understood most of the grammar and a lot of words, and there were some words I was able to correctly guess the meaning of between context and knowing one of the two kanji involved, but I had to click on a lot of them for definitions. With that, and reading their content notes on expressions used, I feel like I was able to understand (and enjoy) the passage after several rereads without ever looking at the full sentence translations.

I enjoyed the process and would like to continue with it, but I also don’t want to waste good resources on trying to use them before I’m ready and therefore not getting much out of them. If the best thing to do is just stick with studying for another couple of months and try again later, I’m happy to wait.

Thank you!


As long as you’re enjoying the process then it isn’t a waste. I say continue :tada: whatever gets you reading in an enjoyable way. Nothing says you can’t reread something again at a later date anyway. Read what you can now, and if you feel like it later do it again. It’s fun to go back and reread something as sort of a progress check to see how far you’ve come

Reading something with a definitions look up on hand is a legit way to read. Just know that if it starts to feel like a chore, it’s okay to not look up as many words if you don’t feel like it. Take breaks if you ever feel overwhelmed. The important part is to just enjoy


if its just words and looking them up (and you dont mind it) its a great way to start reading early! Definitely continue with satori in that case. If you ever have extreme grammar issues with some texts (where you are looking up like 100 grammar points) then maybe hold off and learn some more grammar on bunpro beforehand


Speaking as someone who has tried to learn Japanese on and off for ten years, there’s never going to be a piece of media that you can like 80% understand, no matter how much raw vocab/grammar that you’ve grinded, without exposing yourself to media you do not understand more than 80% of, so I don’t think figuring out exactly how much you need to understand of something before you engage with it is actually useful.

You definitely need to enjoy what you’re doing to get the most out of it, again my personal experience is that manga is the ‘easiest’ thing to engage with after I read a few graded readers, because it’s a lot more bite sized than things like visual novels, books, or most video games. If you’re struggling to find stuff you’re comfortable with I’d personally suggest starting there over Satori, but I have found Satori to be a good source of light reading lately.

I also have an app I use that I can take a picture of whatever I’m reading to immediately look up words, that’s useful if you aren’t reading on your pc and aren’t super comfortable parsing words yourself.

TLDR is engaging with any native material for the first time will probably feel impenetrably difficult, and you just have to start by taking the plunge and doing a ton of lookups(or embracing ambiguity, which is also useful) and eventually you’ll be able to do that for longer periods of time, I don’t think amount of studied stuff is a useful metric for how much you’ll be able to engage with native content until you do it for yourself personally.


This is actually personal preference.

You could read stuff designed for Japanese learners specifically- like satori reader- and add all the vocab words to your SRS deck.

I read content that I find fun, and don’t look anything up (めんどくせー)

I read manga, watch anime, or watch let’s plays. I ask my husband to watch the anime/play the game in English and then I talk to him about what happened. You could ask here, or it look up online. There’s a lot I can guess from the pictures.

What I actually do- watch one episode of anime a week understanding 95% with Japanese subtitles or 5% of the words with audio only.

The best material is the one you actually read (In Japanese, If you read an English translation that doesn’t count)

What I think I should do:
50% rule.
For every minute spent on ‘Japanese learning resources’ (including bunpro forums), 1 minute doing something targeted at Japanese people

Export anime to MP3 and shadow. Alternatively, I could use subs2srs to make anki cards with the audio on one side and the Japanese subtitle on the other.

make vocab cards with subs2srs with Japanese definitions from weblio for all Japanese words I don’t know.

shadow ‘learn Japanese from small talk’ podcast, it sounds about my level and I need more listening practice

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My simple and general rule is that to me, something is enjoyable if I understand about 60% of it.

This will vary by person. I do look up stuff, but not for everything. It’s very easy to get sucked into the process of learning Japanese, rather than just doing things in Japanese. “Doing” more things in Japanese is one of the things I regret not doing enough early on in my learning.


These are all great ideas and points.
But I’d like to add/suggest that while the 50% rule is a good start, you actually want to be consuming more native content than learning resources, ideally. More specifically, the ratio should favor native content more and more the further you get in your Japanese study. Early on you’ll probably spend more time using learning materials because actual reading will be quite difficult no matter what you choose, but when you’re at the level of reading large swathes of text like light novels/VNs etc you’re better off reading for at least twice as long as you spend on your flashcards, bunpro, etc.
It’s also easier to concentrate on something you enjoy reading, so it’s possible to read for 2-3+ hours in a day, whereas for most people doing flashcards for that long would be quite taxing.


yeah… but currently it’s more like 10% native and 90% anki. I know I /should/ read more but even 50% is impossible for me.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. something is better than nothing.

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I have been reading and watching a fair bit on Comprehensible Input, and most of the “experts” are recommending anywhere from 80-95% comprehension when you pick up a new piece of media.

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SRS is really more of a supplement to help you understand native material more quickly. Not the other way around. A 50/50 ratio might be good for a beginner, but you should really be aiming for more native material than that.

As for comprehension, It does not really matter. If you understand it completely, you are not learning anything. If you are enjoying the process of reading or watching something, and keep doing it, It should be fine to go down to around 50% comprehension.


Natively might be a good resource to check. They have graded readers but also categorize material based on reading levels. So it’s possible to find something at an N5 level, for example, but it’s actually written for a native audience


For some reason this unlocked a dormant memory from like 3rd grade lol - I remember sitting in a presentation with the librarians teaching us how to use the library and they gave us a way to roughly estimate the difficulty of a book. 0-1 words that we needed to look up per page was too easy, 2-4 words per page was just about right and 5+ things to look up per page was generally too hard.

I don’t know if this is a good technique for a language learner, the question just made me think of the experience haha, but might be worth trying it out adapted to like grammar points? Say if you’re running into 5+ unfamiliar grammar points on a page that’s probably too hard versus 0-3 which is probably a pretty good place to be.


i feel like if you have something you want to read, just read it. your comprehension will take a hit probably, but itll be more engaging than reading something aimed at 6 year olds.

probably right but i personally feel like theres nothing wrong with ankimaxxing when you know less than 2000 ish words, since youre gonna need pretty much gonna need everything you learn anyways. i was like 100/0 anki until i reached 2000 words and dont really regret it. if youre cool with just grinding anki i say go for it (until you reach like 2000 ish words than you should prob start reading stuff too).

but even so i say grinding anki a heavy ratio is not too bad, its where a lot of the learning comes from for me. anki is like imo the most time efficient thing you can do to learn a language. every single card you add (as long as theyre not super obscure) is gonna be a card you need until you are an advanced learner, so its not time wasted.

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I would say, when you read/hear a phrase and your cognition is:

  • ____は_____だ

I think it goes without saying that one should come back to this later after studying more. Consuming this now is the same as junk volume when lifting, the best one can get out of it, is pitch accent and pronunciation via osmosis (maybe).

  • 新しい服を_____は______Tシャツ_____

Around here is where you’ll get benefits even if you have to look things up. Because you have some context (soil) for your brain to grow a matrix (tree) out of. It’s slower and more work, and you will forget 80% of things almost as soon as you’ve learned them, but it does make progress. Anything below this level is dangerously close to junk volume.

  • 新しい服を買いに行った___は___が好きな人___ Tシャツがたくさん見た。そのアニメは__人気___?

I find that here, typically, the weak point is grammar. i know enough vocab to piece together the context and rough outlines but I’m not sure about the details because I’m missing grammar. Missing grammar in my opinion takes more energy to assimilate, so I’m going to have to not only look it up but also start studying it and trying to keep an ear out for it, so that it really gets solidified. This to me is enjoyable learning because you are now no longer struggling to see the sketch, you’re beginning to draw out the details and fill in the colors which is way more fun. There’s a playful discoverability here.

  • 新しい服を買いに行ったときは___が好きな人向け Tシャツがたくさん見た。そのアニメはめっちゃ人気があると言うのだろうか

This is the opposite of before where your limiting factor is now vocab. But I find this easier because it’s simple memorization. In many cases you won’t know how the word is pronounced but you’ll still know its meaning because it’s the only meaning that completes the puzzle, so to speak. When that happens it’s even easier to lock it in. You’ll find that you do plenty of this in your native language as well when you come across new words.


I would say as long as the material is within the last three categories it’s good for furthering your goals. The best are the last two, and you’ll find that you’ll oscillate for a bit between the two as your grammar outgrows your vocab and then your vocab outgrows your grammar. Kanji recognition can complicate matters here since you may know the word but not the kanji.

Hope all that makes sense/helps :slight_smile:


~5 month learner here, so let’s take it with a grain of salt. But in my opinion : Do the majority of what makes you learn the most, but still do the other things

If I take my example when I learn english, as french speaking guy, I got fluent by looking at native media. But just watching native media if you don’t have any vocab or any grammar (more like “stylistic” rules), you won’t learn anything. So people sometimes has that bias that since native content made them fluent, you should go straight for it. To me, that’s not true.

People will also take the comparison of a baby learning language. It’s not the same. Babies have parents that help them actively learning a language, based on their level. At some point to learn how to read they follow 1 year of learning alphabet. Then they have multiple years learning conjugation rules, etc etc. You just don’t learn a language all alone, it’s a false promise.

Now, does it mean you need to sacrifice one for the other ? No, because once one aspect gets progress, you’ll start to see that other aspect starts to become more efficient in terms of learning.

So in my opinion, there is no definitive answer to that question, except : What is working the best for you right now ? And you can only answer that if you are actually trying a bit of everything.

I grinded Anki for 2-3 months, 2-3h per day. At some point I noticed I started to know 2-3 “synonyms” but didn’t know when to use one or the other. More importantly, that I didn’t know how to build a sentence. So I started focusing a bit more on grammar (1h/day) and less vocab (30min/day). Then I realized that longer sentence was still an issue, so I added some article translating. Then I realize that all NHK EASY NEWS article are often the same pattern again and again, not learning much except 2-3 words of vocabulary, which I didn’t knew. Boom, vocabulary become the new focus.

Basically, the current focus you should have is a moving target that is in general moving in a different direction than what you are focusing right now. But by being cautious to it, you get more “tuned” to your “learning rate” and you can then do the right adaptations at the right time.

Be careful that inertia is against you : If you do 2h/anki per day, it’s natural you feel scared to do something else. If you just listen to japanese, understand it feels stressed to feel going backward reading. So in my opinion, it’s better to do a bit of everything, because then you just have to tune the amount of time doing what

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I’m reading the question as, since I can only read the piece for the first time once (and then I could read it again, but never again for the first time), WHEN should I read it to get the most bang for the buck, so to speak.

And I would say it sounds like now is the sweet spot. You don’t want it to be so easy you don’t learn any new words/phrases/grammar, but you also don’t want it to be so hard it’s just a “look up this list of words in the dictionary” project. There should be some amount of “reading.” Which is exactly what you described.

Now, if you had unlimited access to new material, then I would say the right time is yesterday no matter how hard or easy.

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I remember feeling that way for so many years! It takes a long time to get past, but I say reading something easy enough to where you can understand the majority of it but still learn some new words would probably be your best bet.

You can read children’s books to get some practical vocabulary from it while also building your reading skills. Don’t be ashamed to do something like this. Even for somebody who has learned all the N2 grammar on Bunpro and who has been living in Japan for 2 years now, I still have a hard time reading certain books from elementary school, depending on what the subject is.

Also, another concept I got from my friend who passed N1 is to be heavily focused on vocabulary. Of course, you don’t want to neglect grammar, but I say vocabulary is going to be the key to building your ability to understand most of what you read. Ever since I switched up my style of studying to be centered around acquiring new vocabulary, my reading and conversational skills have absolutely skyrocketed.

Only you know what works best for you, but lately, my balance of studying has been learning at most 6 grammar points a day and learning 30 new terms per day. You can cut that down to 1 grammar point per day and 3-5 vocab terms per day, or something like that.

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Completely agree with that. Complete beginners (under 2k words) would probably have a hard time reading and understanding much at all. At that point I was mostly reading with furigana just to make sure I did not forget hiragana/katakana…


A lot of people have said some really great stuff already but I also wanted to include my own thoughts here too.

First things first, the amount of material that you should understand without looking things up is going to depend on some factors but to me the biggest one is how much ambiguity you are willing to deal with. That is to say, are you the sort of person who feels the need to completely understand something to enjoy it or are you happy enough just having a general idea of what’s going on. The lower your tolerance for ambiguity the more you should understand going in.

The other big factor is going to be what type of studying are you hoping to do. There are two major types of studying with reading: looking up every word and grammar point you don’t understand and reading without looking anything up. Of course there’s a lot of wiggle room in between these two types where you might find middle ground such as only looking things up when you can’t use context clues to figure out an unknown words general meaning. If you’re leaning more towards looking everything up, then I would recommend material where you understand at least understand the basic grammatical structure and know a good portion of the vocabulary but that still has a good portion of unknowns. For reading without looking things up, you’re going to need higher understanding so that you can still understand the overall picture even when you might not understand a particular word or even sentence.

A final factor that to me is the most important for successful studying is how interested are you in the material. Most people are going have more motivation to study if they are using material that they are invested in.

To showcase how these work, I’ll use myself as an example. I use a variety of different material for different study purposes. I use the Pokemon manga and NEWS WEB EASY for my easier readings without looking much up. Manga, especially kids manga or manga that depict every day life, can be beneficial as through the use of pictures you can increase the context of the text making it easier to pick up on context clues without looking things up. NEWS WEB EASY is also a great source since the articles are written in simple Japanese, are fairly short, include audio for listening/shadowing, and you can toggle furigana. These sources I use as easy material since I can understand about 75 - 90% of the material without looking things up. However, I might still look up a word if it seems like an interesting or useful word, or if I just can’t understand the text without that word.

On the other hand, I am currently reading through some older Japanese literature with my current book being D坂の殺人事件 (Murder on D Street) by Edogawa Ranpo. This book is quite above my level with me needing to look up words about every other sentence. A lot of people would probably say that this is not a good fit for me at my level. However, I am a lover of detective stories and don’t mind needing to look up so many words so it isn’t a big deal for me. I am able to push through even though it is difficult. However, there are a few strategies I use to make sure I am learning from this. First, I only read until I have had to look up 15 new words. This means sometimes I might read only a paragraph. Other times I might even get in as much as two pages! I also add all the words I’ve had to look up into my vocab list for study. I also make sure to go back over what I have already read and read it out loud to reinforce what I have learned.

Ultimately, every person will have to learn their own unique ways of studying especially once you hit the transition into native material. Everyone must find the techniques that work best for them and their learning style, but it is always a good idea to have both material that is within a safe zone and material that pushes you outside of your linguistic comfort zone.