Wide Reading in Japanese: An Adventure in Massive Input

Mujin Wakusei Survive: my first massive input anime.
Mujin Wakusei Survive: my first massive-input anime.

I am currently engaged in the Tadoku Read More or Die  Tadoku Wide Reading Contest.

I wasn’t sure about entering at first, but I am finding it very valuable and I am discovering a lot about wide reading. As you may know there is deep or intensive reading, and wide reading. Both are valuable techniques.

The idea of wide reading as I understood it was to read books a little below one’s level without a dictionary. The idea is to read a lot of words. One should understand what one is reading, of course, but not kodawaru over the things one doesn’t understand (choose a lower level text if there are too many of them).

The Tadoku contest broadens the definition of wide reading in ways that helped me to get involved. Anime subtitles, manga and visual novel games are accepted and there is a clever robot that calculates them all into the equivalent of book pages.

I didn’t give myself a target because at first I didn’t even understand the concept of pages, and even if I had, I had no idea what a good or bad estimate would be for me (or anyone, come to that). I was in a tiny bit hesitant about the whole thing.

There were two reasons for my initial hesitancy: 1. I was trying to concentrate on listening, my weakest skill. 2. I am not a reader. I don’t read much in English. Some of the people in this contest read 500+ pages in a few days. I couldn’t do that in English. Certainly not if I had anything else to do, which I do. An English novel (I haven’t read one for years) takes me weeks.

Anyoldhow. When a dear friend and senpai asked me if I was entering the contest (I hadn’t even heard of it) it seemed somehow right despite my misgivings. I thought I might scrape along the bottom of the contest with a visual novel.

It has actually turned out a little differently. I found an anime series I really like (Mujin Wakusei Survive) and am watching it fast by my standards. I will easily be finishing the 52-episode series and needing another one, and I am still watching other anime too. Usually I tend not to read where I can hear, but since I am counting the subtitles toward my total, I have to read everything.

I am prone to kodawaru over my anime. I love them a lot and I want to understand and get everything out of them. I am a bit of a kodawari type at the best of times and hate leaving anything unlooked-up even when I know I ought to. This time I chose an anime I thought I would like but not love, and set it aside as my quick-read anime. It is working really well. I am hovering around the middle ranks of the contest and really quite interested in holding my place there (in my daily Japanese conversations with Cure friends we tend to burst into chants of “Faito, faito, faito!” when we discuss it).

What I am finding is that this approach is far more beneficial than I imagined. I already had some articles planned about the concept of massive input. I am finding that ingesting Japanese a lot faster than I usually do is really having some interesting effects.

One is that I was not expecting the book I am reading to contribute much to the process. I have never been a comfortable book reader and in Japanese I tended to manage not much more than  two pages at a sitting (partly because of my natural slowness with books, and partly due to my tendency to kodawaru and enter words into Anki and such).

In fact, I found I was reading much faster and more smoothly, presumably as a result of going quickly through the anime and reading everything. Rachel, the senpai who started me off in the contest, was not much of a reader in English either, but has become an avid novel reader in Japanese. I don’t see myself becoming a big novel reader. But I guess she didn’t either.

But more importantly, I found words reinforcing much more quickly than I expected. Rachel has never used Anki at all. Her method has been to use massive input to reinforce words without the need for artificial means.

Now people learn differently and I am not giving up Anki just yet (this is a topic in itself which I mean to get to soon), but we have been pondering at what stage those of us who do use Anki should “retire” it.

After all, we are second-Mothertongue speakers and one does not SRS one’s Mothertongue. At some point the training wheels have to come off, unless you regard Japanese as a “foreign language”, which we don’t. And massive input is likely to be the answer.

My main concern has been “how quickly is any given word likely to be reinforced in a timely manner even with much more input?”  What I am finding from this experiment is that the answer is “much more likely than you might imagine”, especially if you are using related material like the same series, though I am finding that my book and anime are also cross-reinforcing.

Really this is just a few notes on my experience so far, so I am not drawing any conclusions or making any suggestions except one that isn’t really new. Massive input really works. Even better than you might think.

A final note that may seem odd. When I am ingesting Japanese fast without looking much up (and mostly doing it in Japanese if I do it at all) I find I am knowing what some words mean without consciously knowing the words. A feeling of “this word must mean this because that is what it sounds like”. Of course, I may be recalling words I have encountered  before but don’t consciously remember. Also sounds and concepts do have a relation in Japanese (more than in other languages, I think, which is perhaps why “onomatopoeia” is so popular in Japanese). Whatever the reason, this is very much how children acquire language. Words just start sounding like what they are.

Continue to this article’s sequel: Massive Input vs Anki→

If you are interested, I have written more about the contest here (in Japanese).

2 thoughts on “Wide Reading in Japanese: An Adventure in Massive Input

  1. For Mujin Wakusei Survive: Did you use the subs from kitsunekko? Did you retime them, or are there any raws that match these subs?

    1. Yes, I am using the Kitsunekko subs. I did need to retime them. Each episode seems to have a different starting point. However, since every episode starts with the same prologue, I found that if I set the start back to 2 seconds that is the only adjustment necessary.

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