If you’ve only ever read to children in your native language, you may have never considered the importance of being able to read fast enough. If, like me, however, you were re-engaging with another language as you raised your children, you may have run into the challenge of reading in that language fast enough to hold their interest.
Since our kids were born, I’ve gotten into the habit of reading Japanese quickly, even in cases where I wasn’t fully comprehending the material. This was an essential skill to develop, since stumbling or pausing meant that I would lose their attention, especially when they were really young. Since we started re-engaging with Japanese learning when our first son was born, and spoke only Japanese with him until he was five, we could start with really simple material and increase the difficulty gradually as he got older. This worked well for us and for him, as it meant reading aloud with lots of repetition, which is an ideal way to practice.
Unfortunately, the habit of reading quickly has been so ingrained in me that I read quickly even when I probably shouldn’t, with the obvious downside being that I frequently miss important aspects of what I’m reading. I have to remind myself to slow down when reading important communications from the kids’ Japanese school, for example.
The Japanese tutor that I’ve been seeing the past few years uses a book that I absolutely love called An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese by Miura and McGloin. (There is no introductory companion text, so this is for students who are already at an intermediate level.) What I love about this book is the topic selection, particularly in the 速読 (speed reading) sections, which feature fun and interesting stories of Japanese/Western cultural collisions.
If the main conversations (会話) and readings (読み物) in this text book are at the so-called “+1” or “reach” level which require more careful study to understand, the speed reading sections are, by design, at a “current” or “-1” level. This means that I can achieve about 75% comprehension when reading them the first time aloud at speed. Reading a second time aloud usually gets me up around 90% comprehension.
This is very similar to picking up a new book and reading it to our kids, except there is not really an expectation that I understand everything in my kids’ books, which is kind of a trap. That leads me to…
What I Would Do Differently
Though I’m extremely happy with the improvement in reading skill brought on by these recent years of constant reading aloud, if I could rewind the clock I would devote more time to dissecting and studying our favorite books. If the kids latch on to a given book, I can easily end up reading it dozens or even hundreds of times. Not making the time to dig into the vocabulary and grammar in our favorite books is a missed opportunity.
Our Favorite Books
It’s hard to predict what will really strike a chord with the kids, but I have a few clear recommendations to make, based on what has gotten the most air time at our house.
The こぐまちゃん books are for the younger set and are good introductory reading material for the kids themselves when they start to read.
We love everything by the late Satoshi Kako, from the だるまちゃん series to はははのはなし (the story of teeth) to his more technical-leaning books on tools, water, rivers and even cross-sections (one of my personal favorites). He was amazingly prolific.
The バムとケロ books from Yuka Shimada are silly fun, with lots of details in the illustrations to discover over time. These are originally Japanese but are available in a number of languages. In fact, they were recommended to us by a friend who read the Chinese versions to her kids when they were little.
We have many books by Fumiko Takeshita, including books about all sorts of vehicles from ambulances to garbage trucks. For some reason, the Beatles make a subtle background appearance in many of these books if you look closely.
We have gotten an incredible amount of joy from the アニメ絵本 series, especially Studio Ghibli adaptations like となりのトトロ, 魔女の宅急便 and 崖の上のポニョ.