I recently put up an article on my method for studying kanji in order to become a confident Japanese reader. This article, part 2, will detail some of my suggestions for native Japanese material you can start reading right away. Even if you are a beginner and have to use a dictionary or translation app to help you understand what you’re reading, you will still be able to work your way through a tweet in a relatively short period of time, which is a huge confidence boost. Confidence is a foundation of language learning and you build confidence by working from start to finish on something.
Twitter is huge in Japan and everyone who’s anyone has a Twitter. Tweets are greet reading practice because they are incredibly short. Look up some Japanese celebrities, athletes, YouTubers who tweet and Japanese and follow them. You can also follow Japanese accounts that tweet movie quotes or song lyrics (I follow an account that tweets Disney quotes in Japanese, for example). I was never a big Twitter user so I actually started using my account to follow just Japanese accounts, so every time I log in, I’m immediately getting into an immersive environment where I’m not tempted to scroll past the Japanese posts, like I kind of do with Facebook. (You can always make a separate account just for following Japanese accounts if you have this problem!)
I’m really into Japanese fashion and Disney so from searching for those hashtags in Japanese, I was able to find several Instagram accounts that I’m interested in. Also, like Twitter, I follow several Japanese celebrities as well as some of my favorite clothing brands and magazines. Let’s just say that I am super motivated to figure out that difficult kanji when it’s telling me where I can buy a super cute dress from Shibuya 109.
Of the social media resources, Facebook is the most useless for a few reasons. One is that a lot of Japanese people don’t really use Facebook. Another is that a lot of Americans use Facebook like they breathe so there is always a disproportionate number of English posts to Japanese posts. I use Facebook mostly to follow Japanese newspapers, corporations (Disney), and my handful of Japanese friends that are on Facebook. However, Facebook is a great way to follow Japanese language-learning sites like Tofugu that post in English but often provide ideas for other ways of studying Japanese.
Line is Japan’s unique social media platform and it is Japan’s Facebook, even though it’s interface is probably a little closer to Twitter. Every Japanese person I know used Line and it is my main form of communication with my Japanese friends. You can download the app onto your smartphone and even if you don’t have any Japanese friends yet, you can follow celebrities, brands, anime franchises, and a lot of those people who will sometimes post short blogs or messages to fans in Japanese. You can search for people to follow under “Official Accounts” within the app. Make sure you scroll to the bottom of the page of suggestions and set your country to Japan in order to see Japanese accounts!
Not just for listening, the comments section of YouTube is great for picking up some interesting and colorful reading practice. Obviously, in order to get Japanese material, you’ll need to check out some Japanese-language videos. If you find a couple of Japanese videos, YouTube will automatically suggest more and you can search around until you find videos you enjoy and you can prowl the comments section learning useful phrases like how to tell someone to f*** off. My favorite Japanese YouTuber is PDRsan. He is bilingual so his videos have English subtitles. He’s absolutely hilarious.
Whenever I go to bookstores, there are always dozens of people crammed into the manga aisles. Manga is great for foreign language practice because there is good mix of pictures to help you out in understanding the story and includes kanji with furigana. (However, I strongly suggest you do not learn to rely on furigana or spend all your time just reading works with furigana because it distracts from truly learning the kanji yourself.)
Young learners books
The only time I have ever read a straight up children’s book in Japanese was when I was reading to an actual Japanese child. Since children’s books are mostly pictures with little text and almost no kanji, you should forget about using those as any kind of source material. However, next to the children’s books you will find short chapter books written for middle grades students that include kanji with furigana, as manga but no pictures so there’s a little more to work through to understand the story. I like to read the novelization of Disney movies because they are stories I know well so I’m never too lost if something is difficult to understand, but the material is still new. (They also make a great companion to the movies, which I use for listening practice).
If you don’t live in Japan, it might be difficult to come across this kind of material but I found a great list another blogger wrote about where to buy Japanese items if you live in America. Magazines are great because they are geared toward particular interests so it should be easy to find at least one that you like. Also, there’s obviously a great mix of pictures and text so it’s not too overwhelming but there is no furigana so if you come across a kanji you don’t recognize, you get good practice in how to look it up by radical or related words, which is an incredibly useful skill to have.
Everyone can relate to getting distracted online. You check Facebook when you get home from work or school, see an interesting Buzzfeed article someone posted, and then it’s 8 o’clock, you haven’t even eaten dinner yet and there’s no way you can squeeze in study time now. This happened to me a lot too until recently I discovered a super popular Japanese website that is basically Japan’s version of Buzzfeed: Spotlight. Spotlight has all the Japanese listicles you could want, on topics that are useful, funny, weird, sweet, and so much more. The content is interesting, 100% native, and always a little challenging. It is my favorite way to kill time now and I always pick up so many cool words.
Because I live in Japan, there are a lot of times I don’t get a choice on when I want to read Japanese. One day I bought some dough at the store to make pizza, and of course the directions were in Japanese. So I sat down and spent some time looking up the kanji I didn’t know until I could understand the instructions. Four months later I took the Japanese proficiency test and there was a kanji I knew because I had read it on my food packaging. My school’s menu is in Japanese so I spend a little time at the beginning of each month making an effort to learn the kanji on the menu. My cellphone, computer, and Facebook all have Japanese interfaces. Especially if you live in Japan, take advantage of the native material around you. Even if you don’t live in Japan, you can find recipes and menus in Japanese online. You can set your social media accounts to Japanese.
Everything to do, think of a way to do it in Japanese. It’s challenging, but it will get you to where you want to be in your Japanese proficiency sooner rather than later.
Disclaimer: I still believe I have a lot to learn when it comes to Japanese. I am not some Japanese master-sensei or anything like that. I am also self-taught and self-teaching and self-studying work really well for me, but that doesn’t mean these are the most effective methods for you. But feel free to try what I did at least as a step to learn how you might learn best. 頑張りましょう！