速読生活 – Speed Reading Life

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” 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 reach 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 Miyazaki adaptations like となりのトトロ, 魔女の宅急便, 崖の上のポニョ.

Podcast: Inside Japan

I recently appeared as a guest on the Inside Japan Podcast. This was a first for me, and I learned some things that are worth sharing. First, some mistakes in the content worth correcting:


At the 29:20 mark, I mistakenly said that we speak only English to our kids until they are five, when I meant that we speak only Japanese to them until they are five. This was the biggest mistake I could have possibly made during a conversation about our language strategy. 🤦🏻‍♂️ Given the way the rest of the conversation proceeded, hopefully an attentive listener would realize that I had said the opposite of what I meant to say at that point.

I also said 似合ってる instead of 似てる later on. A smaller error but, still, oops.

I recorded audio “patches” for both of these mistakes right after the interview and sent them to the podcast host along with an isolated “dry” recording of just my side of the interview but those recordings didn’t get used.


I’ve listened back to the podcast a few times and I’m happy with the result. The Inside Japan Podcast started life as the ALTInsider Podcast (ALT comes from JET ALT terminology) and is currently sponsored by JobsInJapan.com, so the focus is definitely on foreign job-seekers in Japan. As a result, we ended up spending a lot of time on my background and my early (aborted) attempts at finding a job in Japan. Hopefully this was valuable to listeners of the podcast even though it’s not the focus of nihongodomo.com.

Unfortunately, I never asked the host how much time he intended to allot for the interview, nor did I do a good job of keeping an eye on the clock during our Skype call. This meant that I didn’t steer the conversation to the topic of raising kids in Japanese until quite far into the interview. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to share more of that on another stage (besides this blog) in the future.

If you’re a podcast listener, you know that different podcasts are produced with different levels of technical investment. Some, even those with remote guests, employ high-quality recording and careful editing. In those cases, high quality isolated recordings of participants are done individually and the audio from the Skype or Discord voice connection (used to actually hold the conversation) is discarded. These individual “dry” recordings are then synched and edited and the result sounds like people in the same room having a conversation. At the other end of the spectrum, the raw Skype audio call may be used with minimal editing even though the audio is of much lower quality than a dry local recording. I think the Inside Japan podcast has used various techniques over time, but my episode ended up at the “raw Skype call with minimal editing” end of the spectrum. I guess that’s just the reality of putting out a weekly podcast while working a full-time job and raising two kids.

“Doing it on Hard Mode”

At one point, the host mentioned that raising kids in two languages the way that we are is “doing it on hard mode” and I agreed without much elaboration. This is something I have thought a lot about, but failed to express on the podcast.

While raising our kids in a minority language is definitely harder than just using the majority language (of which we are native speakers) all of the time, it is not abnormal. In fact, it is very normal for the immigrant families that live all around us. In our case, one third of our town’s residents were born outside of the US. There are over 30 languages spoken by the 600 or so children at our son’s public elementary school (around 6% speak Japanese)! Going to a playground in our community is like going to the UN. We have made many Japanese-speaking friends by just keeping our ears open at the playground.

Those actual immigrant families don’t have the option to fall back to the majority language as effortlessly as we do in interactions outside of the family. So, from the typical American monolingual-default perspective, we are doing it on hard mode, but from the perspective of actual immigrant families, we are definitely doing it on easy mode.

3rd Grade Arithmetic – Circles

I recently saw this video from Haichi Toaru (@haichi_toaru) referenced online as an example of 3rd grade math in Japan. At first glance, the whiteboard looks a little intimidating, with so much kanji and geometry packed on screen at once, but I think Toaru-sensei is pretty great and this is not only appropriate for a 3rd grader, but a fun lesson for an adult learner of Japanese to pick up on some new geometry-related vocabulary.

Maybe it’s because we emphasize math at our house so much and because our 3rd grader happens to be a natural, but this seems totally appropriate for that age.

Let’s break it down. First, some vocabulary

えんcircle (or Japanese Yen)

Now, let’s have a look at the white board in English:

English version of the circle lesson

After Toaru-sensei has gone through the lesson, the whiteboard looks something more like this:

Answers for the English version of the circle lesson

After seeing this video online, I’ve been going through Toaru-sensei’s other videos and plan on going through some with my children in the future.

Transitive / Intransitive Pair: 落とす / 落ちる

Let’s face it. Things are going to get dropped, intentionally or not. It’s important to know how to describe it using the transitive / intransitive verb pair 落とす / 落ちる (おとす / おちる), meaning to drop.  Here are a few examples to illustrate their usage.


ぬいぐるみstuffed animal
剃るそるto shave


As always, note the use of を in the transitive case.

Transitive – 落とす (おとす)

外でぬいぐるみを落とした。 You dropped the stuffed animal outside.

コップを落とさないように気をつけて。Be careful not to drop the cup.

Intransitive – 落ちる (おちる)

葉が落ちた。The leaves fell.

紙が机から落ちました。A paper fell from the desk.

Other Uses

Note that in additional to the common use of 落とす / 落ちる to mean drop or lose, there are other uses you’ll encounter in different domains. For example:

彼はひげを剃り落とした。 He shaved off his beard.

スピードを落としよう。 Let’s slow down.

Transitive / Intransitive Pair: 脱ぐ / 脱げる

Another Transitive / Intransitive verb pair that comes up a lot in parenting is 脱ぐ / 脱げる (ぬぐ / ぬげる), meaning to undress.  Here are a few examples to illustrate their usage.


水着みずぎswimsuit / bathing suit
片方かたほうone of a pair


As always, note the use of を in the transitive case.

Transitive – 脱ぐ (ぬぐ)

何で靴下を脱ぎましたか? Why did you take off your socks?

水着を脱いでシャワーを浴びて下さい。Please take off your swimsuit and get in the shower.

玄関で靴を脱がなければなりません。  You must take off your shoes at the entrance.

Intransitive – 脱げる (ぬげる)

彼の片方の靴が脱げた。One of his shoes came off

Transitive / Intransitive Pair: 集める / 集まる

One Transitive / Intransitive pair that I’ve seen come up a lot since becoming a parent is 集める / 集まる (あつめる / あつまる), meaning to gather or collect.  Here are a few examples to illustrate their usage.




Transitive – 集める

積み木を集めて下さい。 Please gather up the blocks.

玩具を集めて箱に入れて下さい。Please collect the toys and put them in the box.

彼女は花を集めています。  She is gathering flowers.

Intransitive – 集まる

靴下が集まった。The socks were gathered together.

明日集まりましょう。 Let’s get together tomorrow.

子供は公園で集まりました。 The children gathered in the park.

Kodomonia Namba

If you’re in the Namba area of Osaka looking to beat the heat or avoid the rain with the little ones, Kodomonia on the 5th floor of Namba Parks is a good bet.  We spent some time there recently, prior to catching the rapi:t to Kansai airport for our flight home.  It was a good way for the kids to burn some energy prior to the long flight.

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Kodmonia lists the target age range as 8 and under but the available activities generally skew younger.


Much of the fifth floor retail space nearby is also targeted at kids, from kids’ shoes to randoserus to toys, so you can take this opportunity to snag one of those coveted Oshiri Tantei plushies that amazon.co.jp won’t ship overseas!

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If you spend any time around kids, you’re bound to run into the phrase そっくり which translates to “the spitting image of” or “looks just like.” Japanese friends who know our our older son will be frequently shocked when they see our younger son and react with something like「お兄ちゃんにそっくりだ」noting that our younger son is the spitting image of his older brother.

I’ve also seen this phrase in the アニメ絵本 (anime picture book) of 「魔女うの宅急便」(Kiki’s Delivery Service). In particular, the scene where Kiki’s first customer asks her to deliver a bird cage containing a stuffed animal that happens to look just like her own black cat, Jiji. The word そっくり is used in the following sentence:


This translates to something like “Inside the cage, there was a black cat stuffed animal that looked just like Jiji.”


When it comes to resemblance, you may also encounter the verb 似る which means “to resemble.” For example, to say that someone’s little sister greatly resembles her mother, you could say:


Manga Sound Effects

I’ve just begun introducing our oldest son to manga after seeing some recommendations for よつばと!  He hasn’t really taken to it yet, but reading together has exposed him to some new things like manga panel order conventions and sound effects.  The other day, we were reading a section from the first book, where Yotsuba walks up some steps to a torii gate, making only footstep sounds.  He is a great reader in both English and Japanese, but he pronounced the sound effects in this panel as Z Z partially because of how they’re drawn and partially because they’re hiragana てて not katakana テテ which is what he was expecting for sound effects.

てて sound effect

It turns out that some manga, including よつばと! often use hiragana for “softer” sound effect words.  Anyway, we had a good laugh about the ZZ てて mixup and moved on.

Hiragana Stroke Order

I was helping my son with his Japanese homework the other day and I was surprised to notice that he writes な with a different stroke order than I do.  Looking it up later, I determined that he was right and I’ve been wrong all these years!  You see, when I started studying Japanese in my twenties, we were expected to learn hiragana and katakana within the first few weeks of class and there was no one watching over our shoulder to drill us on penmanship or stroke order.  We were adults and unless our penmanship was illegible, it was fine; stroke order didn’t come up until we got to Kanji.

Kids studying Japanese at a young age, on the other hand, are learning to write at all at the same time that they’re learning to write kana in particular.  Especially if they’re learning in a Japanese school, they’re going to be drilled on this by a native Japanese teacher.  Even before that point, our kids used a set of wipeable cards when they were first learning to write.  After realizing that I was doing な wrong, I dug out these cards and quizzed myself.  I found out that I also mess up せ and も!

Here are the correct stroke orders for the three hiragana I have been getting wrong.  Do you write these correctly?