Saturday, February 06, 2010

7 Reasons You Need To Start Reading Manga Today

Put down that textbook now and get some real Japanese input

If you're reading this blog I think it's fair to say you are probably interested in learning Japanese. I would hope also that you want to know more about Japanese culture, because the two things really do go well together like rice and raw fish. I wonder though, how many of you are getting enough authentic input.

Tazer v.1
Tazer v.1 by KayVee.INC, on Flickr

Learning a language is all about devouring massive amounts of authentic Japanese, through books, websites, audio and video, and in conversation with people speaking Japanese. If you're not living in Japan, some of these things might be harder to do than others, but I imagine you are doing your best with what you have. That's OK, we can work with that.

 Reading manga is easier than reading any other kind of Japanese

I've written before about how reading Japanese is easier than than listening to Japanese. Today I want to take that idea just a little bit further, reading manga is easier than reading any other kind of Japanese. Hold on, but what about textbooks? Learners should use textbooks right?

If you only read from a textbook then the number of words you are exposed is going to be pretty low. Textbooks also have a very narrow focus and limit themselves to vocabulary that they assume you should know or they've recently introduced. Dialogue is presented in a very linear fashion, there are no sound effects (huh? I hear you say) and the exercises that follow are usually quite repetitive.

Likewise if you are picking up anki decks, or goals in, you may want to question the value of learning chunks of language without any context. You may even question the source of those sentences, who knows where many of them of have come from? Spaced repetition software can be a useful tool, but would you really hand a six inch sushi knife to your kid brother?

If you don't have a very strong vocabulary then picking up a newspaper in Japanese seems a fairly difficult thing to do. Even if you could, you would probably find that only 10% of it was interesting and the rest of it was more useful wrapping fish and chips.

Why you need to start reading manga right now

I had to cut this list short because I really wanted to get this post out before breakfast, but you get the picture.

Manga is almost 100% dialogue: I reckon you want to learn to speak Japanese. What better way to learn how it's spoken than through dialogue, in context, the way real Japanese speak. If you read Japanese samurai drama and speak like you were born 400 years ago you'll sound pretty silly, but hey, no one is going to stop you.

Manga is authentic Japanese: If you approach things from the perspective of someone writing a textbook, there are going to be a number of grammar points you want to cover. Everytime you want to present a new grammar point, it's handy to write a dialogue that demonstrates it. Unfortunately in most textbooks this robs the dialogue of any flavour. You won't get this with Manga, because the author isn't illustrating a point, they are telling a story.

Manga is interesting: It doesn't matter what you're interested in, there's manga for it. From hospital drama, to science fiction and everything in between. Think of manga as a parallel universe, where anything is possible and you'll get the idea. There is even manga that will help you study for university entrance exams.

Manga is aural: I don't know if you heard me using this literary trick of appealing to your aural senses before (you did? oh that's good). You'll find lots of interesting clues to the sounds around you in the manga universe through reading, ピロロロロ ピロロロロ oh that's my keitai, ガツ let me get that, パカッ who could it be now? もしもし!

Manga is visual: There are pictures! It may seem like an obvious point to make, but pictures bring the context and propel you through the story. As you'll see, maintaining your momentum when reading things that are just beyond your reach motivates like nothing else.

Manga reinforces what you already know: The frequency that words appear in manga approaches the frequency that they appear in similar real world situations. Words that are central to the story are bound to appear more than once. When they do, you'll either know them or you won't. See them often enough and you'll kick yourself that you didn't look them up when you had the chance.

Do you read manga? Would you like to but don't know where to start? What's holding you back from getting massive doses of this kind of authentic input?

Over the next few days I'm going to show you not just why you need to start reading manga right now, but how. Don't just take my word for it, see how Liz gets her mojo on for manga or watch natsukigirl's manga collector's guide on YouTube. You might also want to read other posts on this blog about manga:
    Learn to Read Japanese Manga  with Rainbowhill and Natsukigirl Online Class Learn to Read Manga with Rainbowhill and Natsukigirl in this live video class on eduFire

    Thanks for reading, I mean that. You are what make this blog such fabulous place to learn about Japanese language and culture. Thank you for the support and the ongoing conversation on places like facebook and twitter.

    P.S. Reading back over this now it sounds like I'm really against textbooks, I'm not. They have their place. I even know some people doing great work to bring textbooks into the 21st century!
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