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On Reading

Whew, been a while. Quite a busy past few weeks. I’ve been working on preparing for graduate school here, which has meant a lot of focus on reading material in Chinese for basic background knowledge. This has lead me to some new methods and theories when it comes to reading in a L2—especially related to academic work. Here’s what I’ve got.


I’ve always been a more academic kind of guy—I love reading. Dusty old tomes are my thing, sitting in a library for hours, reading over a cup of tea, to me that beats sitting in the office any day. Now, granted, the material I am currently reading is dense academic type stuff (國學導讀、中國文學史、中國哲學史、陶淵明集、四書讀本等等), but I think it applies to all kinds of reading, since I also read news articles, manga books, etc.

I’ve read people suggest skipping around to interesting bits, but I’ve always been one to read in order, and I kind of prefer it that way. So I still go in order—though I skip around parts that don’t seem that interesting (like I do in English, actually).

I also don’t look up every unknown word I come across. I just go with the ones that keep on showing up, to the point that I need to look them up anyway. A lot of what helps me is having done my own variant of “Remember the Kanji” for Chinese, so I can get the basic meanings of the sentences.

It’s also good being exposed to this because Chinese can become a very compact language, and only by really reading through this kind of material have I been able to catch how I, too, should abbreviate my words for expediency when typing or writing something up. Plus, context breeds new meanings for words that I never would have expected had I not read it in context then looked it up in a monolingual dictionary.

(I also believe monolingual dictionaries sometimes explain the word a lot simplier than using a bilingual dictionary, English can be really complicated sometimes! Let the native speaker tell you what it means, not the nuances you get not-so-really-fitting English translations)

Anyway, I read for fun, interest and it’s material I like. I think, no matter what, that is the most important. I read my textbook when I want to go to sleep.

So, what do you guys do?

10 thoughts on “On Reading”

  1. Yeah, I’m in a similar position myself. Providing there are no last minute problems I’ll be starting grad school in Japan in eight months. I’ve been keeping a pretty heavy immersion environment going on at home for the last half year with great results, but in recent weeks I have started to lean my activities towards reading more.

    Having access to small library of my own Japanese books, I generally read with a led pencil, underlying unfamiliar words so that I can come back and grab them later (including the context they are in) for SRS addition.

    Something I’ve noticed is that it has only been since I started reading for an hour or two a day that my speed has started to increase. It’s very gradual, but quite consistent. If you want to handle the work load of post-grad in a foreign language I think you need that kind of fast comprehension so you can cut through text to find whats important.

    1. Thanks for your comment! What school/department are you looking to do?

      I was wondering, since I noticed this myself, by focusing on reading, have you seen any change in your speaking ability? I’ve been reading so much that my speaking has actually gone down in quality a bit. Just wondering if you’ve seen any influence there.

      I like your lead pencil idea–especially good on the road. Now I just read at home with a notebook, write them down, then input them later. Though I’ve found I input so much now and I do less reps with the SRS–I need to change that.

      You’re right with “so you can cut through text to find whats important” and only by reading more can we figure out when the author is really getting to his point!

  2. Well, I’m happy to say that I’ve been accepted into the Japanese philosophy dept. of Kyoto U (although final word on the scholarship is not till Jan I am counting it as a mere formality at this stage). After a year of being a research student I’m hoping on starting a masters course.

    I have only been speaking a few hours of Japanese a week for the last half year (living in Australia and working a job that required English). So my level is not so great to begin with. But really, I find my several hours a day of listening + speaking out my SRS reps keeps me from getting rusty.

    1. Wow, great school and cool department! Nice! Any idea what you’re studying yet?

      Speaking out your SRS reps, that is something I should start doing. Especially with a tonal language like Chinese. I never focus on my speaking, only on my reading and writing.

      The thing I am intimidated about is writing academic papers in Chinese!

      1. I’m really interested in how the way the Japanese understood the world changed with the coming of Western thought/modernisation, and how that provided a backdrop of philosophical problems for thinkers such as Nishida Kitaro. It’s a topic that connects with the problems of modern society/mathematization of the life world, as well as understanding East Asian ways of understanding, and how they differ.

        I was terrible writing academic English at first, so I’m just going to try and think of it as repeating the same process. 😉

      2. So you’re probably looking around the Meiji Restoration period when thoughts and ideas were rapidly changing and replacing years of established customs? Sounds so cool!

        Maybe this book will be of interest to you:

        Well, I guess it’s trial by fire as they say 😛 It definitely helps to really focus your language in a field you’re extremely interested in. Good luck!!

      3. It’s also kind of interesting you mention it, as I am looking at the same kind of thing except from a different angle: the introduction of Chinese thought (such as Neo-Confucianism and Wang Yang Ming, who was ridiculously popular in Japan at the time) and what influences it has had. I haven’t quite fleshed out the concept as well as you have done with yours, as it is a recent discovery, but it is a topic I am very excited about.

        At any rate, I am hoping to combine Japanese and Chinese studies together as they are two things I am very passionate about.

      4. It sounds like we have a lot in common there. 😉

        Really, I would like to learn Chinese too at some point, but that’s a few years down the road.

  3. Nice article zhon! I’m more of the “look up every word” type, mostly because I have found I don’t actually enjoy what I’m reading without a high level of comprehension. So, even though lookups CAN be slow, I end up getting far greater enjoyment out of my reading. And I learn a lot on the side. Then, where my method dovetails with yours is when it comes to what I SRS. If I see a word more than once in a short span, or several times in a longer one I stop what I am doing and pop it in Anki if possible, or record it and do so later.
    As an aside, dude, what’s up? where you been dawg? haven’t seen u in #ajatt in quite a while. You doing ok? Just realized this post was from August, which means u you havent been blogging either. Hope all is well. Hollah at yo boy.

    1. Well, since I got into graduate school here (Chinese Lit department. OH MY GOD), I’ve been looking up EVERY SINGLE WORD just to keep up with the readings. However, it slows me down a lot. One thing I discovered (in Chinese anyway) is sometimes it actually makes me lose the meaning over all, and I miss connections and context that otherwise would help to build the meaning, since I’m on “super look up mode MUST KNOW EVERYTHING”. So I’m trying to strike a balance of reading and looking things up more than this post mentions, but less than I was doing yesterday.

      Anyway, due to the grad school bit I haven’t been on #ajatt, I miss you guys ;.; but don’t worry, I’ll be back soon!

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