Read for fun or read for study?
AKA extensive or intensive reading?
I’m specifically referring to reading books in Japanese, but this can be applied to any subject or language you want to learn.
Extensive reading is a fancy way of saying reading for fun. The “extensive” implying that you want to read as much and as wide ranging as possible in the language you’re studying. Honestly I think you should just read whatever you want to read. Forcing yourself to read subjects you find boring because you think you should read them can be counter productive. The point is to have fun!
Intensive reading means focused reading for the purpose of study. Such as short texts in your textbook where you carefully learn all the grammar, vocabulary, and kanji. You might even read the same piece over and over and over again in order to really understand it.
Should you read for fun or read for study then?
Why not both!?
Reading for fun means you’re engaging with the language in a way a native would. Whether that’s just reading an article online or a full novel, it’s important to just read without thinking too much. The aim is to expose yourself to a variety of vocabulary and grammar and styles of writing. To gauge meaning from context and to immerse yourself in the language you’re learning. You’re not reading anything too difficult or challenging, so you don’t feel burned out after.
While reading for study means you’re actively looking up and studying new words and grammar. You break apart the text and read it over and over again. You won’t be exposed to as much variety, but what you do go over you learn in-depth. This helps you really understand the language within the context of that text.
For example, I enjoy reading books in Japanese but I try alternate between challenging books and easier books. I will often read a cute romance or a fun comedy that has JLPT N3 level Japanese vocabulary and kanji. While easy, these books also expose me to new words and ideas that I can easily gauge from context. And they’re fun! So it makes me want to go back for more.
Whereas I also work with my teacher once a week to read 社説（しゃせつ）or “editorials.” I read these out loud twice. The first time my teacher writes down what kanji or words I struggled with, then the second time I ask her about the meaning of words or phrases. These are challenging with a lot of vocabulary and topics I’m not familiar with. I then study this vocabulary so when I see the words in other places I know what they say and mean! (I use 京都新聞 and search 社説 if you’re interested in checking them out for yourself.)
The texts you read for fun and read for study don’t have to be a novel vs. newspaper article though. You can read anything for either fun or study!
There are novels of course, but also short stories (such as Tree’s Day-to-Day short story series from 2020), graded readers and children’s book, books and articles online on computing and game design, thought pieces and self-help books. So many articles and books both physical and digital on so many subjects!
You don’t even have to have one type of text for study and one for fun. For example, you could get a short story and read it for then, then re-read it for study. Or read it for study, then go back to it after a time and re-read it for fun! Doing both with the same text can really help deepen your understanding of Japanese on a word-level as well as the wider meaning of the text.
Why read for fun and study?
You could only read for fun but you’ll likely find your Japanese abilities stagnating. Especially if you don’t study Japanese outside of reading. This is because you’re not reinforcing the connections in your brain to make recalling the language easier. That’s fine if that’s what you want, but if you want your Japanese to improve you need too study too.
Whereas if you only read for study then you might find yourself burning out. Studying uses a lot of energy and brain power. It’s like exercising, too much and you’ll feel exhausted and your studying won’t be as efficient. You may also find your Japanese ability stagnating because you might be studying 50 vocabulary a day but it’ll be harder to then use that vocabulary if you don’t practice using it. I.e through reading or speaking or writing.
I’ve said this a billion times before but combining study with using your Japanese is the most efficient way to get good at Japanese. You can do one without the other, but it might take longer to get to where you want to be.
That’s it! Find something you’re interested and short texts you want to learn from. Feed your curiosity for learning and using Japanese. And above all, have fun!
You can follow me on Twitter @JapanTalkOnline, feel free to ask around if you want some ideas for texts that are food for your level.
By the way, if you’re a beginner you can start with the Japanese Graded Readers from White Rabbit Press! They go from Level 0 (JLPT N5) up to Level 4 (JLPT N3/N2). These are great for both intensive and extensive reading.
Other articles you might find useful
- Where to Get Japanese Novels Outside of Japan
- 5 Japanese Light Novels for JLPT N3 Level Learners
- 5 Second Trick to Remembering Vocabulary When Reading Japanese
- How to Get from Intermediate to Advanced Japanese
- Japanese Short Stories「5分シリーズ」(5 Minute Series)
- Study Beginners Japanese With Science!