I'd intended to post a wrap up after the August Tadoku round, and here it is two weeks after the end of the October round and still no post. Which should tell me something, and it does. But before I get to that, here's what I've read over the past few months.
These are all from つばさ文庫 and they fall into two categories. こちパー (as it is known) is classified as 小学中級から and I had some difficulty understanding numerous scenes, though I was able to follow the overall story. The rest are classified as 小学初級から and I'd say I understood these at about the 75% to 80% level. This is low enough to be occasionally frustrating, but I was able to get at least the gist of every scene. So broadly I'd say 小学中 is a good fit for intensive reading and 小学初 is a stretch, but doable, as extensive reading.
Since the October round ended I've been wondering if extensive reading is the best use of my time right now. It seems extensive reading is a good way to synthesize and reinforce what is already known, but not a great way to learn anything new. I was able to guess at a few words from context, but my understanding is that that's a much more viable approach at 95% comprehension. So maybe at the moment I should be focusing on acquiring new vocabulary through intensive reading? On the other hand, having a goal may have helped me build up my overall reading stamina, so there is probably some benefit there. Well, I don't need to decide whether to participate in the next round for a while yet.
In the meantime I have been pursuing more intensive reading. Which brings me to Steve Kaufmann (blog, YouTube channel), polyglot and founder of LingQ.com. LingQ is an intensive reading system that I think is a brilliant idea but which entirely fails to work for Japanese. The broad idea is that one loads texts into the system (or uses their large library of texts provided by native speakers), and marks words as either "known" or "learning." As "learning" words show up in other texts (or are re-read in the original text) they gradually become "known." There's also a flashcard component, but even Kaufmann-sensei says he barely uses this feature.
The problem is that the system defines "words" based on spaces between them, which is not an option for Japanese. They kind of kludge around this and it kind of works, but in my opinion not well enough to be useable. By the way, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there's a free open-source implementation of this idea called Learning With Texts, which suffers from same problems.
Implementation aside, the core idea really appeals to me. It's a systematic version of what I've called "Tae Kim's deluge approach," and indeed Kaufmann-sensei also uses the word "deluge" in at least one place.
As it happens, there's already a program that does all the hard work of splitting Japanese text into words, and that is Rikaisama! So I put together some utilities that utilize Rikaisama to give me a LingQ-like system that, while still not perfect, works well enough to be useable and useful.
So my process goes something like this:
- Buy a KOBO book from Rakuten and download it to the desktop application
- Use Calibre and DeDRM to convert the book to HTML
- Use a little utility to convert the HTML to plain text (also removing the furigana).
- Load the text into a browser and read it with Rikaisama. Initially all words are colored blue. As I see new words I can press S to mark them as "learning" and turn them yellow, or "X" to mark them as "known" and remove the color. The upshot is that text goes from this
and, hopefully, eventually, to this
Of course this whole marking process isn't necessary, but I find that hilighting words I'm learning helps me focus on them and, maybe, remember them a bit better. Another nice feature of this approach is that the process is minimally invasive to the reading, so I actually can focus largely on enjoying the story. I could also do the same thing with anime transcripts, which would let me both read the material and then listen to it for reinforcement, which is something else Kaufmann-sensei recommends. I can also use LingQ's library of content, both audio and text can be freely downloaded although it is necessary to set up an account. Plus, there's a natural path to monolingual when I'm ready for it, I just need to switch to Sanseido mode.
Of course all of this coexists with other Japanese activities; watching unsubbed anime (usually, though not always, after first watching it subbed), playing どう森, flipping through manga (which I am doing extensively), listening to music and podcasts and audio from anime, and so on. I've also been participating on the KawaJapa forum! It's seen a surge of activity recently, and there's now a Shoutbox on the site and an affiliated LINE group -- all in Japanese, of course!
Getting here has been a long journey and most of it is still to come, but it finally feels like I'm at least finally on a path and making progress.
So... this blog. I think keeping it has been useful, both as a way to work through and record my thoughts and for the wonderful advice and encouragement I've received from several people. But, as the recent gap shows, it feels like it has served its purpose. Henceforth I'd like to focus on activities in Japanese. At some point I might even start a blog in Japanese. Just at the moment that seems like more time and effort than it would be worth, but maybe next year some time. So, until then...