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Japanese Studies

Reading Japanese

But Japanese is so hard to read! I'm never going to get anywhere.....

It can be hard to get used to a completely different script.  My advice is:

1. read the box below "Novels for the kanji-phobe".

2. try reading something you are familiar with already in English (or your native language). For example: detective stories have a fairly predictable pattern - crime is committed, police arrive, they take statements/fingerprints, talk to people and then arrest someone. You just need to pick up some specific vocabulary (fingerprints, police ranks, evidence, forensics...) and you will be able to understand it.

3. read the book in English first and then in Japanese - at least then you'll know what to expect! Or read a review of the book in English on Wikipedia.

4. Just do it. Practice makes perfect, so making a commitment to read a sustained piece of text every day (even a newspaper article online, for example) will help.

Novels for the kanji-phobe

What to read when your Japanese isn't very good yet?

1. children's stories

A bit basic but it's a good start, even if everything is in hiragana and it's hard to tell where the words begin and end.

Have a look at this series of folktales:

Manga Nippon Mukashi Banashi

There are as many as 50 of these, and they are based on a cartoon version on television. In fact, many are up on YouTube - read the book (Taue jizo,  UniM ERC EA PZ49.2 MANG 1980  v.8  JPN) and then watch this 10 minute YouTube clip! or try some of other titles from these YouTube clips!


2. junior high school level books

These are generally real books, but with furigana (the reading) of each kanji next to it. Try this series of famous stories:

Nijūisseikiban shōnen shōjo Nihon bungakukan (UniM ERC EA  PL755.55 NIJUISS 2009  - there are 20 volumes altogether)


3. manga

Even if you can't read all the text, just having a go and understanding the story by looking at the pictures will help.

See what's on the shelves at:    UniM ERC EA  PN6790 xxxx.

Nihongo Noryoku Shiken (Japanese Language Proficiency Test)

The Nihongo Noryoku Shiken (Japanese Language Proficiency Test/日本語能力試験・にほんごのうりょくしけん)is held each July and December and is a useful way of gauging how good your Japanese is. The test is administered from Japan, and you are one of hundreds of thousands of students taking the test all around the world.

The test has changed format from 2010. Previously the levels were 1 (near-native, used for entry to a Japanese University) to 4 (basic). Now they are N1 (most difficult) to N5 - see here for more details.

The JLPT website offers sample questions, details of where the tests are held, and suggestions of books to practice from. The Japanese Collection has some of these books, which include CDs for listening comprehension exercises. Search the catalogue for "noryoku shiken" as a keyword and find the books which have N1, N2, N3, N4 and N5 in the title. The books using the words 1-kyu, 2-kyu, etc are the older ones, and still might be good practice.