What you need to know to learn a foreign language by Paul Nation (book)

I finally got around to reading this great book by Paul Nation, What you need to know to learn a foreign language. The book is offered as a free PDF from his website. If you are unfamiliar with Nation, he is a leading researcher in Foreign Language Education with an interest in vocabulary acquisition and teaching methodology. While most of his research is aimed at the classroom, with this book he attempts to bring the results of his research to the student who might be trying to learn a language on their own.

It’s a somewhat short and easy-to-read book that just gets right to the point rather than giving you long-winded anecdotes and motivational stories. It could easily be read in a single afternoon. Much of the book in influenced by his “Four Strands Principle”, in which he believes that the most effective way of learning a language involves balancing your study across four different types of learning.

The Four Strands consist of:

  1. learning from meaning-focused input (listening and reading)
  2. learning from meaning-focused output (speaking and writing)
  3. language-focused learning (studying pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar etc)
  4. fluency development (getting good at using what you already know).

The main meat of the book consists of descriptions of twenty different learning activities that you can do, with different activities fitting into each of the different strands. He also spends a short bit of time explaining exactly WHY certain activities can be helpful. For instance, did you know that doing just a bit of timed reading can quickly improve your overall reading speed by 50-200%?

Here is a list of the different types of activities described in the book:

  • Reading while listening
  • Extensive reading
  • Narrow reading
  • Role play
  • Prepared talks
  • Read and write
  • Transcription
  • Intensive reading
  • Memorized sentences or dialogues
  • Delayed copying
  • Repeated listening
  • 4/3/2
  • Repeated reading
  • Speed reading
  • 10 minute writing
  • Repeated writing
  • Word cards
  • Linked skills
  • Issue logs
  • Spelling practice

I mention this just to give you a general idea of what you can expect to read about in the book. For the details of what each activity actually entails, you’ll need to read the book (which again, is free).

There are a lot of different opinions out there about how to learn a language. There is one camp which advocates focusing solely on input, and not worrying about anything else. Nation, on the other hand, argues that a fully balanced course is the way to go. While there is research out there to argue a lot of different opinions, we may never know for sure exactly what is truly optimal. With that said, nothing that Nation writes in this book feels terribly controversial, and it all just seems to make sense. I can’t imagine that these ideas could really steer anyone wrong, so I highly recommend this book for anyone who is currently learning a language.

Pibo – Even more children’s books on your smart device

So I recently wrote about EhonNavi, which lets you read thousands of Japanese Children’s books for free, but did you know that there is also another service called Pibo which has hundreds more completely different children’s books which can also be read for free?

Pibo is completely a separate service from EhonNavi, and offers some different pros and cons. First of all, while EhonNavi is primarily a site for desktop computers, Pibo is designed primarily for phones and tablets. Upon visiting their website, you will see prominent links to get the app from either the iTunes App store or the Google Play store. There is also no signup procedure–just download the app and you are ready to start using it!

While EhonNavi shows you scans of physical books, the books on Pibo are all digital. As such, the artwork is much more crisp and clear. The books on Pibo are also completely voiced. That’s right, you can follow along as the book is read aloud to you! There is also no limit to how many times a certain book can be read, unlike on EhonNavi, where you only get to read each book once. Also, like EhonNavi, books can be browsed according to their age level (although I feel that many books fall into too large of an age range).

There are also a few downsides to the service as well. For one thing, there is no apparent way to see which books you have read already. So if your goal is to read every book that is offered, you might need to keep a list yourself. The books are also always displayed in a completely random order, which exacerbates the problem further. I have created a list of every book title, which you can grab here (updated Feb 5, 2017). The number of books available is also significantly less than what you could find on EhonNavi. However, with nearly 400 available already (and growing!), that isn’t a huge problem.

So now, it’s worth mentioning how the service operates. When you first install the app, you get a 1 week free trial to read as much as you want. After that free trial is up, you can still read up to 3 books for free every day, which seems quite generous. You can also purchase a subscription for less than $5 per month, which allows you to read all you want. Seems like a pretty fair price to me.

All in all, I think this is a good complement to EhonNavi. You don’t have to choose either-or. They both work great together! When I am at my desktop, I use EhonNavi, and when I am on my phone, I read 3 books on Pibo. I urge everyone to check out both of these free services to try them out and get some reading practice!

Using the EhonNavi app to read children’s books on your phone or tablet

Last week I wrote about the site EhonNavi, which lets you read thousands of Japanese Children’s books for free through their website. However, since the website relies on Adobe Flash to display the books, you might be wondering if it is even possible to view the website on a phone or tablet. Well, it is possible, in fact, through the use of a free viewer that is available.

Here’s a quick run down of how to install the app to view the books, and how to navigate the mobile version of EhonNavi’s site. Please note that I assume you have already set up an account on EhonNavi. If not, you can follow my instructions for that here.

First, simply navigate to the website on your mobile device and then press the menu button on the right hand side of the screen. Then scroll down to find the item that says 全ページためしよみ and press it. This will take you to a page where you can browse through the books that are available to be read in their entirety.

After clicking the link, if you scroll down a good ways, you will find the area where the books are sorted by age level. I recommend starting with books for 0歳 and working your way up.

After selecting an age level, you will be browsing all of the books in that category. However, there is a caveat. While browsing on the desktop site, you can easily see at a glance which books you have already read. On the mobile site, however, you have to click on a book and go to it’s information page to see if you have already read it or not.

After clicking on a book to go to the info page, if you see a yellow button, that means you can read it, so go ahead and press that.

Now at this point, you will be taken to another screen. First, you have to install the app to view the books, if you haven’t done so already. By clicking on the grey button that says インストールする you will be taken to either the Google play store or the iTunes store to download the free app. Once it’s installed, you would press the orange button that says アプリを起動する to open the book in the app and start reading.

A couple things worth mentioning: the app itself is just a viewer. You still need to use the mobile web site to browse and search for the books that you want to read. The android app also seems to be pretty unstable and has crashed on me several times. Because you only have a short time to read the book (I believe about 15 minutes) before it is locked away, the app crashing could mean you don’t get to finish the book that you are in the middle of. Also, it can be a bit hard to read the text if you are on a smaller device like a phone, but it is possible to zoom in by tapping in the center of the screen. You can read books in either a landscape or portrait orientation (dependent on your device’s orientation setting), but I strongly recommend the landscape orientation because many books have images that span two pages.

I think it’s pretty cool to be able to read the books on a variety of devices, but it does feel a bit clumsy at times. Reading on a desktop or laptop is a better experience overall, but sometimes you can’t beat the convenience that you get from a phone or tablet.

EhonNavi – An amazing free resource of children’s books

Several years ago I heard about this site where you can read Japanese children’s picture books for free, EhonNavi. I visited it for a few minutes, but didn’t spend nearly as much time with it as I should have. At first glance, it appeared to me that most of the books on the site would only allow you to read a small sample of the book, and only a handful of books could be read in full. So, I didn’t really think it looked too useful. That was a huge oversight on my part though, as I recently learned when I revisited this site again. In fact, they currently offer over 1800 children’s books that you can read in their entirety, for free! And while they do offer many thousands more which you can view only a sample of, its very easy to search for only the books that can be read completely. Another problem that I had when I visited the site a few years ago, was that I just looked at one or two random books, and saw that I was not able to read them easily, and I just assumed that these sorts of children’s books would not be useful for me. That was another huge mistake! Because, this site does in fact allow you to sort them by age level, which means that you can specifically start off with just the most simple books, and then work your way up to the more difficult ones. Looking back now, I feel really dumb for having let myself miss out on this AMAZING resource, just because I didn’t spend enough time with it to really see what it could offer me.

While I feel that graded readers (stories written specifically for learners of a language) are the best type of reading material for beginners, I would probably peg native children’s books as the second best type of reading material. As I wrote in my previous post, I have made it my New Year’s resolution to try to read every single book offered on EhonNavi. In just the first week, I have read over 100 of them, and I feel that I am already seeing benefits from it. If you would like to start reading as well, let me show you how to get started with this site.

How to Register (free!)

First, click over to http://www.ehonnavi.net/

Next, click the button in the top-right that says メンバー登録のご案内, as seen in the image below.

EhonNavi register button

When you arrive at the next page, simply press the big orange button.

Continue registration

You then get to a form, where you simply need to enter your email address and your desired password, and then select the 2nd option for the 3 radio buttons in order to say you don’t want to receive marketing emails from them. Finally, press the orange button to register.

Enter details

After that, they will send you an email to verify your email address. You simply need to click the link in the email, and it will take you to the login page, where you can login with the email address and password that you just specified.

How to Read (Requires Adobe Flash)

Once you are logged in, in order to browse only FULL books (as opposed to samples), just click the link in the menu labeled 全ページためしよみ which you can see highlighted in the image below.

Browse full books

This will take you to a page that lets you browse the books in a variety of ways. You can see recommended books, rankings of the top books, and other things. But I think the most useful way to look at the books is by age level, starting with the easiest books and then working your way up to the more challenging ones. In order to do that, you will want to scroll down to about the middle of the page, and look for this:

Browse by age

As you can see, there is a list of links showing ages from 0 years old, up through 12 years old, and then also a listing of books for adults. I strongly recommend starting off with 0歳, even if you think you can read more advanced ones. Reading something that’s too easy isn’t going to hurt you, after all!

Please note that you need to click the the ages listed on that page, as opposed to the ones up in the top menu, if you want to only see listings for entire books. If you click the ages in the menu at the top of the site, it will show you many books that you can only read a small sample of.

When you are browsing the books that are available, you will see small icons under the book. A yellow icon means you can read the full book. A green icon means you can read a sample of the book. A gray icon means that you have already read the book, and are not able to read it again.

browse books

That’s right, after you have read a book once, you are not able to read it again. That’s the only catch to this site, and I suppose that is the condition on which they are able to allow the books to be read for free in the first place. If for some reason you really want to read something a second time, I supposed you could always just register a new account with another email address.

As for how the lockout actually works, once you open the book to start reading, a 15 minute timer starts. Once the 15 minutes is up, the button will turn grey, and the book can not be opened again. However, you can open the book multiple times within that 15 minutes if you need to, for instance if you accidentally close your browser window or something like that. Also, if the 15 minutes runs out while you are reading the book, you can still continue reading and flipping between the pages as much as you like, but if all of the pages haven’t loaded, then you might not be able to view the whole thing. It seems to load just a few pages at a time, so if you open a book and let it sit on page one for a half hour, then you likely wont be able to read the whole thing. For this reason, the ideal method of reading these books is to just read straight through, without stopping to look up words in a dictionary or create Anki cards or anything like that. Once you have finished reading, then you can flip back and take as much time as you like to study the book further. Furthermore, if you open a book and realize you aren’t going to be able to finish it right away, the best thing to do is flip through the pages and make sure all the pages load, and then leave your browser open until you can come back and finish reading it.

So, there you have it. If you aren’t using this great resource already, I highly recommend it. Some of the easiest books might seem odd or unusual at first, because a large amount of the content consists of sounds (onomatopoeia) rather than actual words. Reading them has proved useful even for me though! After reading several books, I started to get a hang for what all those sounds actually mean! Sure enough, you see the same ones used over and over in similar situations. And then once you get up to around 3歳, you should see the language starting to get more and more “normal”, other than the fact that they don’t really use kanji until you get to some of the more advanced books. In any case, the sheer amount of content here, if you can work your way through it, should seriously level up your reading ability and provide a great pathway towards reading manga.

Oh, and you can also use this site from your smartphone or tablet! I’ll talk more about that in my next post.

New Years Resolution

Another year goes by, another chance for reflection and resolution. I was not super-dedicated to my studies over the course of this past year, and some life events led to me being fairly busy and having to put things on the back-burner for a little while. However, I am fairly satisfied with the progress and accomplishments that I did see. I am confident that I am starting 2017 off with stronger Japanese ability than I had at the start of 2016. I’ve also got a resolution for the coming year. 2017 will be my year of 多読!

Tadoku, or extensive reading, is going to be my primary focus for this coming year. I’m primarily going to be focusing on reading children’s books. Particularly, I’ll be reading from EhonNavi. For those unfamiliar with this site, I’ll be talking about it more soon. I’ve actually started some extensive reading for the past several weeks now, using a variety of sources, so I feel like this is something that I should be able to keep up for a while. I would ideally like to read every single book offered on EhonNavi (of which there are over 1000), during the coming year. I have no idea if that is a feasible objective, and maybe I’ll get bored and give up after a couple months. But, I think that this is something worth pursuing.

The nature of children’s books makes them kind of frustrating, in some ways. The grammar sometimes resembles nothing that I have ever seen in a textbook, and it seems like half of the words might either be onomatopoeia, or some strange modification of real words. They totally avoid kanji, which makes it harder to recognize words that I already know. But on the other hand, there are some good qualities to them. The language is simple, despite sometimes being unusual. Sentences tend to be short and use a limited vocabulary. Stories are short, so if you don’t like something, another brand new story is just around the corner. The pictures are also a huge help for understanding words and sentences that you wouldn’t be able to understand on their own. They are also a lot of fun sometimes.

I’ve decided on this because I would like to increase my reading speed and fluency. I would also genuinely like to be able to understand children’s books better. I mean, if a freakin’ kid who can barely talk can understand this stuff, why should it be so hard for me, right? I think that once I work my way through these, it should help open up the door to more traditional children’s manga and novels.