What were major milestones in improving your japanese literacy?

So, for those more advanced than I, I’m very focused on literacy at this moment and I have some graded readers; I do the reading in the in Bunpro; I’m about level 20 in Wanikani. Progression is happening.

And I’ve definitely noticed improvements, I still regularly hit words I don’t know, but I’ve had a few times now where I was really reading. That is, I was reading a sentence at a time, I wasn’t just translating in my head to English, and I understood what I was reading. It was natural literacy; it was exhilarating.

But, those are graded readers, and those moments are rare. Mostly I’m slogging through, hitting words I don’t know or having to really sit and absorb some particularly long noun-phrase in that way that the Japanese love to do. I’m mostly interested in books rather than manga or whatever.

My first big jump was probably around Wanikani level 10 where I had enough vocab now to do okay. I think I’m hitting another plateau here with grammar as I finish up the N4 grammer here.

When did y’all feel like you reached noticeable milestones in your ability to read?

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Right now I read way more manga than books (I’ve only actually finished 2 non-manga books), but here are some milestones I remember:

In general

  • Actually reading. It took me way too long (~half a decade) to move on from repeating textbook exercises. Luckily you’re already there!
  • Like you’re doing, getting used to reading using graded readers. I originally used Tadoku, but moved on to Satori Reader, which helped me a lot. Started with what seemed easiest and gradually moved up from there. It’s graded readers, so not as beneficial as native content, but it’s helpful for getting used to reading in Japanese. So I wouldn’t dismiss your progress with graded readers!! That’s what they’re for!!
  • Moving on to native content: I started with manga, which isn’t what you’re interested in, but it can be useful since you get context from pictures. If you’d rather not read manga, there’s also:
  • Joining book clubs really helped me with reading native content! I noticed reading with book clubs + continuing grammar study on the side really boosted my comprehension.

Grammar-wise

  • Learning all the N5-N4 grammar here on Bunpro gets you to a good place to start reading easy native material (you can definitely start earlier but this gives you a great set of tools to move on from graded readers).
  • But it’s N3 grammar that really got me understanding everything I’m reading. Reading helped me understand difficult N3 grammar, and N3 grammar helped me understand what I was reading. You can say the same for earlier grammar but I especially noticed it when I got to the N3 stuff
  • So I’d say N5 is the graded-reader toolbox, N4 is the easy native content toolbox, and N3 is the general reading toolbox. (I don’t know what N2+ would be in this analogy since I’m just starting it)

Now I can read slice-of-life manga fairly quickly, and don’t find furigana or unknown vocabulary a hindrance. Wanikani helped me with kanji (especially reaching about level 30) so I really don’t need to use furigana often. And I can easily look up vocab in Jisho — I read on my laptop and split the screen so the book’s on the left and Jisho’s on the right.

The hard part now is reading longer, more complex sentences. Which is one of the reasons I read more manga than prose… But that will be my next milestone :slight_smile:

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Following for interest.

I’m slightly behind you in my learning journey. WK Level 10, and about half way through N4 Grammar here, and finished TheMoeWay N5 and N4 decks.

I feel like things are ramping up in difficulty now though, because I had years on and off just doing a bit of memrise (like duolingo) so I had a lot of the basics down already, but my grammar was (and still is) terrible, and I still often have trouble understanding complex sentences (even if I know all the vocab), and definitely struggle with forming sentences and output in general.

So I’m interested to hear the thoughts of others further ahead than me too :slight_smile:

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I’ve been learning for a little over 2 years and am currently studying N2. I only recently downloaded Hello Talk, and while that app has its issues, actually speaking with native Japanese people has been so much fun and so helpful, and I can’t believe I didn’t do it earlier. It’s daunting, yes, but people are generally very nice and helpful. Getting a kind native to explain a grammar point that’s troubling me has made me learn that grammar point in literally 2 minutes where before I’d been stuck on it.

Other than that, it’s just the general cycle of going from, ‘Oh wow, I’m great at Japanese!’ to, ‘I suck at Japanese and I will never learn it fully,’ which I think every serious learner goes through.

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I’m curious if anyone here has gotten to the point where they’ve attempted reading higher Japanese literature? I really would like to read Endo at some point, and I believe I’m quite far from that.

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I have read about 70% of 海と毒薬 by Endo (currently paused) and I am generally interested in literary fiction. I am currently in the middle of a “back to basics” challenge kind of thing so I am reading simpler things for the moment but feel free to check out my current study log where you can see what I have read and what I am working on currently. After this back to basics thing I will start getting into more difficult fiction again probably and maybe start a new study log. Feel free to drop by whatever study log I have going and chat about whatever though!

I’d also recommend checking out the advanced book club here. Although a novelisation of Star Wars is the current pick I suggested some more literary stuff before and I would imagine that at some point something you may like will be selected (you can join the vote and suggest things yourself, of course).


In terms of major milestones, I can’t say I have had any real ones although I had something kind of click for me at some point around the middle of reading Norwegian Wood where Japanese stopped feeling like something I had to push myself to engage with. Instead of milestones it is more like a lot of small steps which you suddenly end up noticing over time, although this is much rarer for me now. I think the easiest way to notice this progress is by revisiting things you’ve previously consumed and seeing how much easier it is to understand. I played Ghost of Tsushima last summer and I just revisited the opening hours again and it was a lot easier to understand now.

In terms of goals rather than ability, the big mental milestone I have for myself is 250 books read. That is more of a general aspiration than a meaningful number though. Just I think once I have read 250 books then the next 250 should be much easier…(笑)

Anyway, I am happy to chat about literature anytime so if you do crack open something on the more literary side of things then make a post and I will probably reply!

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Dunno if they count as higher literature, but I’ve read a little bit of Souseki, Kunikida, Dazai, and Ango, but only short stories so far (well, Ango’s was an essay, but it’s still short). I’d kinda built them up to be really difficult in my head and thus was scared to touch them for the longest time. They were more difficult than modern stuff, yeah, especially Kunikida since he’s the oldest, but the others surprisingly not so much. I’m less interested in capital-L Literature—modern or otherwise—than other kinds of books, but I’m less scared now of just picking something up and giving it a go even if I don’t know what the prose itself will be like. The worst that can happen is I’ll have to put it down for a while and come back to it later (like that one Akutagawa short story…).

Hmm, I’m not sure if I’ve had anything I’d term a breakthrough. I jumped straight into reading novels (while this was a couple months before I’d started “properly”/seriously studying, I had picked up a fair bit of scattered knowledge over the years—though certainly not enough that probably anyone would think that was a good idea lol. I still managed it though, little by little! I’m not entirely sure I coulda done it if I weren’t already in love with the series though: that kept me going), then switched to mostly reading manga with some novel-reading on the side, then after ~1.5-2 years it flipped, although currently most of my reading is from Animal Crossing lol

Other than Satori Reader for a bit (the audio, grammar write-ups, and customizable furigana are nice), I didn’t bother with graded readers, and the only kids’ books I’ve read are a few middle-grade readers (?) (novels written for ~upper elementary thru middle school age). I really just followed my interests, and I tried to read at least a little bit every day, and gradually my comprehension, reading speed, and especially reading stamina started to improve. I started out only being able to read 2-8 pages of a novel and/or 1-2 manga chapters in a day. I’ve been reading for going on 3 years now, and my current record is something like 150 pages of a novel or 5 volumes of manga in a day, though of course it depends on what specifically I’m reading. I still have to look up a lot of words and stop and think about grammar, but especially with series, or with stand-alone novels I’m further into, there’ll be times where I can go for pages without looking anything up and my overall understanding not taking a hit, which definitely feels nice when I notice it. And that’s with little more than some targeted intensive reading where I feel like I need it; I mostly stick with extensive since how tedious and draining I find intensive reading to be far outweighs my desire to understand everything.

Yeah, I think the biggest thing that helped me was simply getting into the habit of reading in Japanese every day, even if it was just one chapter of manga or a single page of a novel or short story. About this time last year was where I saw the big improvement in reading speed and stamina and I could now read a novel in a matter of weeks or even days rather than taking two months or longer, and the only special things I did were read (very nearly) every day and follow interest rather than difficulty level. I barely even study grammar because of how boring and frustrating it is… (I’m still holding on to the hope I can absorb it via osmosis tbh)

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First was when I learned kanji. I could read the kanji on the taiwanese and chinese signs around. It was the first time I could understand something besides a textbook

Next was I read my first manga. I used the pictures and kanji keywords to help me understand what was going on. I did this with some kanjidamagae and genki 1 vocab

Next I read ingredents lists in japan. with all of kanji damage and katakana I could understand all of the ingredients (except 昆布) (there is no hiragana which I find the most difficult to read)

I played subnautica in Japanese. The first time I could read the log felt magical.

I watched anime in with Japanese subtitles. I when watching “Into the spiderverse” there was a sentence that I couldn’t hear, so I checked the Japanese subtitles and understood what I missed. This was after watching 4 seasons of anime, 2 ghibili movies and Jalup intermediate (equivelent to bunpro N4 grammar and vocab)

I picked up my first novel last week. I experienced the ‘fog’. I didn’t get stuck- it felt more like when I tried to study when sleep deprived and I could read the same sentence 3 times before noticing.

The first time was probably while watching Hyouka using Japanese subs only and then rewatching some parts with English subs. After I read in Japanese 1/3 of The rising of the shield hero web novel using a yomichan (or whatever it was called back then).

I also re-read some light novels. On the second read, I actually realized that I have missed / misunderstood quite a bit.

Something that has helped a lot is making notes on unknown kanji / vocab at the start of a light novel and then trying to learn those words / kanji - ie improve my vocabulary knowledge. That has really helped as “voice of the author” as in some authors repeat themselves / use similar words a lot hehe

This is how I describe my experience as well.

Maybe not a personal milestone, more one for the species, but lately I have been acquiring targeted technical vocabulary by talking with LLMs. Sometimes they’re laughably factually inaccurate, but all that matters is exposure to whatever vocabulary I’m trying to pick up. This works very well for when I’m preparing to have a conversation over some topic in Japanese and don’t have time to read a whole corpus just to hunt for like 20 new words haha. LLMs reduced my search time for bodies of vocabulary by orders of magnitude. For example, one time I spent days combing through a computer science text in Japanese for vocabulary, and I’ve mostly replaced that with a 10 or 15 minute exchange with an LLM.

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I think you’ll find and others have already done a good job of pointing out that everyone is very different in this regard.

I think the biggest milestone for anyone learning languages is overcoming what I heard described as the “nope threshold”. Everyone’s is different but it’s the point at which you try to consume content and you just don’t know enough to mentally “check-in”.

For me, I hit this much later than most people. After finishing Genki 1 & 2 and being fairly soundly N4, I couldn’t consume anything. It was probably somewhere around the end of going through Quartet 1 that I finally broke through the “nope threshold” with Japanese content, starting with Let’s Go Pikachu.

I’m far from 100% comprehension, but I finally understand Japanese enough to pull meanings out of difficult sentences or unknown vocabulary using context. So yeah, overcoming the “nope threshold” is my biggest milestone. That’s going to come differently for everyone, but once it does it gets easier and easier.

BTW, the post-Genki 2 plateau is very normal. I’ve hit several and it gets really discouraging, but you’ve just gotta keep learning and reviewing. I promise if you stay consistent it will click.

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Thanks for all the recs!

I clicked the link and natively’s most popular book in this difficulty range is the free web series くまクマ熊ベアー
a videogame isekai

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I think it was after taking and passing the N3 with a pretty solid understanding of the N3 grammar and kanji that I decided to jump into novels - ones aimed at a middle-grade audience like 魔城の宅急便 and 星の王子さま. For context, I was around level 25 in Wanikani and hadn’t really started Bunpro yet, but I had studied Genki and Tobira pretty thoroughly and had lived in Japan for around 4 years at the time, so I was accustomed to Japanese already. Basically, I was solidly N3 when I realized I could just… go buy books at the bookstores here in Japan!

I’m now through the N5-N2 grammar on Bunpro and level 41 in Wanikani, and I enjoy reading Japanese novels, but there’s still a ton of vocabulary I don’t know! I’m reading かがみの孤城 right now, and my ongoing vocabulary list I’m keeping on my Japanese dictionary app is at 367, and I’m only 160 pages in! My strategy is just keeping my phone or iPad by me and open to the dictionary app, and as I read I search words that I don’t know and add them to a list, and I review the list here and there. I try to read 5-10 pages a day, schedule permitting, and it can take kind of a while! I think when I first started it took me over an hour to read 10 pages. But it really is about just wading through, and eventually it really does pick up. Especially in novels as you get used to the way the author writes! Every once in a while there are definitely sentences that I just don’t get, but rather than spending a long time on those, I’ll usually just move on. I plan to reread these books again and hopefully cement more of the vocab and start parsing the harder stuff as my reading skills improve.

Basically, don’t sweat it if it’s hard or if it takes a long time, and you’re not noticing major milestones. The only way to get better is by doing it, and if you keep doing outside studies, you’ll keep improving at understanding what you’re reading, even if you don’t feel like there are checkpoints along the way. I think the feeling of milestones starts feeling rarer as you move further into Japanese, but you’re always making small improvements!

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For me it was when I started reading eroge. I told myself to just drop everything else and start reading no matter how tough, and it in the coming days became second nature/I felt more relaxed and not scared to read. Vocab really began to stick in my head because I saw it often out of anki and I was also able to recognise and reinforce all the grammar I learned on Bunpro!

I don’t usually feel like I have “breakthroughs” but I do intentionally return to things I bounced off of once or twice to see how much I’ve improved since then. Tokimeki Memorial was one of the first Japanese games I finished and I kind of stumbled through it, but when I happened to see some clips of it on GameCenter CX a year after I played it, I was ever so slightly blown away by the fact that I was able to just passively take in the game as the text scrolled and VO played rather than having to pause and read through things a couple times over again. Honestly, I really recommend intentionally throwing yourself at something too hard, dropping it, and then coming back 6-12 months later, since that can really help you feel your progress in much bigger steps than we can usually perceive as we go from one thing to the next.

Milestone-wise, one of my major milestones was getting through all of the free books at the time on tadoku.org, and once I did that I went straight for my next milestone, which was completing a video game in Japanese - every video game I’ve completed since then (like, 30-ish? or so?) is its own milestone as well.

If I were to name a specific breakthrough it would have just been the realization that graded readers existed, since I’d desperately needed that kind of smooth transition into increasingly more difficult reading material and none of the common “easy recommendations” gave me the confidence or satisfaction that graded readers did.

I imagine you don’t quite mean it this way but i’m gonna be really annoying and nitpicky and say that graded readers are actually likely to be far more beneficial than native content and how much they help entirely depends on your current level and interest in them. Some people will feel willing to brute force native content early, but for those who are not, graded readers can be a vital on-ramp.

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Graded readers have the advantage of availability as well. Which can’t be understated.
It’s been interesting to me, in the modern internet age, how difficult it can be at times to search for and get books from another country. It’s actually good to see; it is a realization.

Edit:
Also, the Tokimeki Memorial example is a good one of what I’m talking about. The two biggest milestone moments I’ve had personally are:

  1. I was doing a graded reader and realized I was just reading it and absorbing it without stopping and translating it into English in my head.
  2. I was able to order a train ticket in Japan when I needed to do a weird route. (Though afterwards I realized I made some mistakes, I got my ticket dang it.)
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Try eroge. You’ll be good at reading after your first 60 hour game.

Haha yeah I didn’t really mean it that way, I absolutely agree with you on that! I was definitely generalizing there, and mainly talking from my own perspective as both a language learner and a linguist. Seeing language in the context it’s naturally used in (rather than in a text created for language learning) is super beneficial for understanding how the vocab/grammar are actually used. But at the same time graded readers are beneficial for getting used to reading using grammar/vocab the person’s likely already familiar with. I myself needed to use graded readers before brute forcing native content. It definitely depends on the person and on their current needs :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes: