But, in fairness, so did everybody that participated. I heard quite a few comments to the effect of “I never imagined I could actually read this much real Japanese, and in only one month” – and I’ll add my signature to that line as well. At the beginning of the month I looked at my pace and concluded that, perhaps, with a strong effort, 200 pages might be possible; and in fact I did end up with 204 pages, and it wasn’t even that hard. Also, I must here register my astonishment at the actual winner of the contest, BlackDragonHunt, and the runner-up, Seizar86, who both somehow managed to read over 2000 pages. I don’t know that I’ve ever read that much in one month in English (not that I kept track), and I considered myself a thoroughbred bookworm.
Now, of course, the question is, was extensive reading more effective than vocabulary study and sentence SRSing?
And the answer is: I still don’t know. More precisely, I don’t know if it was, at this point in time. Later on I believe it would be (although I don’t think one would ever want to abandon SRS entirely, because rarer vocabulary and usages wouldn’t be reinforced adequately simply through extensive reading), and that is for one very simple reason (that Kanjiwarrior already brought up in his post about this); namely, that reading is an enjoyable pastime that one can cheerfully do all day long, but SRSing is work, and one can only do so and so much work. So while, true, SRS is probably more efficient (not that it can be considered fully in isolation, because you have to get sentences from somewhere), several hours of reading is going to beat half an hour of SRS every single time.
That it works, and very effectively, is however not in question at all. I noted that in the month of reading, while my vocabulary didn’t go up much, my comprehension level certainly did. Also, my own early experience in English is a good indication. I was reading Dickens at age 6 or 7. And no, absolutely I did not fully understand what was going on. But I understood enough to enjoy it, so I kept reading, and reading, and reading. I was blessed to grow up with a large library and by the time I was ten or so I’d read nearly everything in it. Being an only child, and growing up in the country, it was a pretty quiet time; so I think I can be fairly confident in saying that my current English ability (such as it is) is mainly due to this same extensive reading. Even a fairly brief time can be highly beneficial, as is recorded in two case studies on antimoon; the one student recorded remarkable progress in the span of a single summer, and the other over only two years.
So why do I still have doubts about whether extensive reading is the best way to learn right now, and in Japanese?
Firstly, I found that as long as I stayed within the confines of the lower level graded readers, I could easily understand what was being said; but as soon as the grammar got a little more complex, in the advanced readers and certainly in the various non-didactic Japanese sources I used, I got lost very quickly. Therefore, I think I would benefit from a little more study of grammar construction before charging forward. And yes, I know, no one explains grammar to a Japanese baby; but the reason for that is that they don’t know any language at all! As soon as you have a good grasp of one language, you have both an understanding of how a language works, and a framework to discuss it. So while a child must learn strictly by example, because no other way is possible, an adult can quickly understand grammar with a simple explanation and a few examples, after which recognizing the constructions in the wild is far easier. Naturally there is no point overdoing grammar study; this isn’t math or chemistry.
Secondly, I found that I was still far too dependent on furigana. I want to learn kanji readings as quickly as possible now (which will probably mean RTK2, I think), and that will make a tremendous difference in reading ease. At the moment, without furigana, sounding out new words is impossible, and looking them up is impractical – it takes too long and interrupts the flow of reading.
Worth mentioning is the importance of rereading. Those Dickens novels I mentioned before – I don’t know how many times I read Great Expectations over the course of my education, but it was quite a few. Each time I understood more, and each time I remembered more. Rereading is what brings the SRS effect into extensive reading, and adds greatly to its effectiveness. However, for the contest, since I was attempting to maximise my pagecount, I did no rereading at all. I would suggest that a partial score be implemented for rereading in the next holding of the reading contest; perhaps count 0.5x pages for the first rereading and 0.25x thereafter, or some system like that.
So what now? Certainly I’ll keep reading, but I think it’ll be a few months still before I can make it my main focus again, this time for good. For now, I’ll finish core2k, build my sentence deck, and start working through RTK2.
どうもありがとうございました to LordSilent for hosting this contest. It was a great experience.