Hirogaru – Yet another source of beginner’s reading material!

I can’t believe how much reading material I have been finding recently. I remember my early days in Japanese, struggling to find anything at all that was on my level, but now I keep seeing more and more material becoming available. This latest resource is the newest website from The Japan Foundation. Called ひろがる、it launched in 2016 and seems to have at least 50-60 easy articles on it so far.

The level of the material seems to be aimed at those who have perhaps completed about one year of studying (able to pass JLPT N5, or completed the first Genki textbook), but may still be somewhat challenging for more advanced students as well, due to the diverse range of topics that the articles cover. Topics include:

  • Astronomy
  • Outdoors
  • Martial Arts
  • Tea
  • Sweets
  • Shopping
  • Calligraphy
  • Anime/Manga
  • Books
  • Temples
  • Music
  • Aquarium

Each topic generally contains about 4-5 articles that you can read. I believe that they may be adding new articles from time to time, but it does not seem to be at a very fast pace. Besides just the articles, there is usually a short video about each topic, as well as some short commentary from Japanese people saying what that topic means to them. For some reason, most topics also have a section containing pictures of food. There is also a comment section in each topic, which allows you to write a Japanese response to three different questions.

The articles are really the main attraction of this site, so let’s talk about those for a bit. Each article is fairly short, so that a beginner student could probably read it in 5 or 10 minutes. The articles are broken up into several paragraphs, and each paragraph has audio so you can hear it read aloud. At the end of each article you will find a quiz with a couple of multiple choice questions, to test your comprehension. At the top of the site, there are some controls which can assist you in reading the articles. One is a “Ruby” toggle, which turns furigana on or off for all of the kanji in the article. The other setting is an “English/Japanese” toggle. This seems to be poorly named, because it does not function how you might expect. If you set it to “English”, the articles remain fully in Japanese. The only thing that really changes is the navigation buttons, and also when it is set to English there will be a button under each paragraph that you can press to see a list of the difficult vocabulary. As such, I would recommend keeping it set to “English” at all times so you have access to the vocabulary words.

Overall its a nice site, and certainly worth spending some time on. My only real gripe is that the articles are kinda lame and boring (to me at least), but that’s sort of hard to avoid with these kinds of generic topics. But all in all, it’s a fantastic source of reading material at a level where such material has often been overlooked. Check it out!

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.

Watanoc – A great source of N5/N4 reading material!

So the other day I was browsing reddit, and came across a link to a really awesome site that I had never seen before. It’s a fantastic source or articles written in easy Japanese, primarily at the N5 and N4 level. Watanoc (和 – Japanese, たのしい – fun) features 300+ articles that are fairly well written and at least mildly interesting. Some of them are short dialogs between characters, some introduce you to restaurants, shops, or limited edition items found in Japan, and others talk about things from the news. Each article has a sort of built-in functionality similar to rikai-chan, allowing you to just click on a word to see the reading and definition. This feature works on mobile as well! Some of the articles also have audio which is spoken clearly and slowly. And they also have LOTS of pictures to keep things interesting.

There is a real shortage of accessible reading content for beginners of Japanese. People often point to the NHK News Easy, but that is around an N3 level, and the articles will put you to sleep! The articles on Watanoc are sometimes as simple as just a few sentences, and even the longer ones would rarely take you more than a few minutes to read. The articles are also tagged by difficulty level, so you can easily read just the N5 articles or just the N4 articles if you wanted to.

I highly recommend checking this one out! – Watanoc.com