Today’s post is going to be a short one… well maybe not. As I speak, my darling slave editor is typing this for me. I am currently on my way to the Grandparents’ house and really wanted to get this post up. If you’re new to the world of reading, despite your hesitations, you really should start. There are hundreds of sources out there that can explain why reading is so great for language learning but I am here specifically to report on the progress of two Japanese Babies.
The first Japanese Baby is someone who recently learned their Kana tables and currently knows roughly 300 kanji. Her journey in Japanese has only just begun recently. So I decided to experiment with her fragile Japanese Baby heart. One day, after much encouragement, I was able to get her to start reading some Japanese children books aloud. Just like many Japanese babies, she experienced an intense amount of anxiety. On her very first page, she stumbled on every single character. Despite her need for a few corrections, she kept at it. After her very first page, which only contained 4 sentences, she was ready for a break. I didn’t let her give up and after reading a few lines myself, I asked her if she’d like to read again. With a wavery “I guess so”statement she commenced reading again. There were moments we laughed and moments of serious discussion on pronunciation and grammar. Despite the struggle, she decided to read yet another book. To spare you the details of the roughly 4 hours to put in to read two books, not only her pronunciation improve, the speed she was able to read quickened and she was also filled with confidence.
As a self conscious Japanese Baby, it is hard to gain confidence but reading aloud was able to instill some speaking and reading confidence. After her third book, I did not even have to correct her Hiragana. Then she was able to encourage the second experimental Japanese Baby to read.
The second Japanese Baby, despite knowing 500 kanji and having a very basic grasp on her Kana, was put on the spot. Even though surrounded by supportive friends, this little Japanese Baby was full of lots of fear and frustrations! We decided to read the same book as the first Japanese Baby did. And despite her immersion being in Japanese being longer, her fear of making a mistake caused her to do terribly. I wouldn’t let her give up and I pushed her to read a little more and she experienced similar problems as the first Japanese Baby did. After finishing reading half of the sentence, she stumbled on four kana and began to break down in tears. Of course the first Japanese Baby and I were vexed–but the second Japanese Baby muted herself and ran off– so there wasn’t anything we could do. Eventually, the second Japanese baby came back with renewed determination to read. So a day had passed, I could tell she had gone kana rep crazy as her ability to recognize kana had greatly improved. This time, she allowed herself to feel less frustration by working harder to keep calm and by the end of the book had made significant progress in pronunciation, grammar, speed and flow of reading. And thus ended, so far, my experiences with Japanese Baby 1 and 2.
I’d like to point out that neither Japanese baby had ever read aloud before.When asked how they felt about their reading skills at the end, the first Japanese Baby didn’t see the huge improvement that she made. The second Japanese baby felt about the same, but calmer. I personally feel that for them this was overcoming a huge hurdle that most beginners experience. Learning to read Japanese aloud was able to give them more drive and confidence in other aspects of their studies. The first Japanese baby has found momentum and felt her previous efforts were paying off. The second Japanese baby began to make word to sound connections from words she had previously learned to say, but never knew how to read. She proceeded to spam my skype with how happy she was.
If you have never read aloud, I recommend you doing so. While it has always been a standard practice for me to read aloud whenever possible, this concept is rarely ever spoken about in the Japanese online community. I did not learn how to speak Japanese and then read aloud rather after one year of pure unadulterated Japanese on Japanese immersion that I decided to read aloud. Even when I participate in Tadoku, I read aloud. The best scenario is to read in front of a Japanese native but when you can’t, reading in front of a person much more advanced than you is the next best thing.
If nothing at all, reading aloud allowed these two Japanese Babies to gain courage, calmness and motivation. While I cannot tell you who the first Japanese baby is, the second Japanese baby is no other than our own PandaChan! She is so graciously serving as an example to all of you out there who doubt yourself, experience extreme fear and even humiliation, can over come that and can gain a peace to allows them to truly begin to excel in not only studying Japanese but becoming Japanese. I’m sure there are a good handful of prodigies who fell out of the proverbial womb being able to read Japanese well; however, we are the ordinary and proud of each hard earned step on our path to fluency.
The one thing that was consistent with both Japanese Babies was how little faith they had in themselves in the beginning. Although they still don’t think they’re great, they now know that all it will take them is continuing to take those steps. So have a great weekend, get off your duff and read aloud to a Japanese person if you can!