Hat tip to the always on top of things Reddit. Looks like a non-Japanese (aka USA, for now) Amazon Kindle store now stocks books in the Japanese language. This opens up some huge opportunities for study, though it does currently have its share of problems. I spent the weekend reading terrible books and trying things out, though, so I’d be able to share them with you here.
Available Japanese Books On Amazon USA
Now as we go through this article, don’t get your hopes up too high. Just about everything has a “it’s good … but” sort of phrase attached to it. Doesn’t mean you won’t be able to study with it and have an awesome time, but there is a lot of room for improvement.
First up is the selection. The reason (I’m guessing) why the Amazon US store is able to offer Japanese books at all in the first place is because of the books that are being offered. I’m not really up on what’s big book-wise in Japan right now (okay, maybe a little bit), but I can tell you for sure it certainly isn’t these books. The Japanese books available on the Amazon US store are either old, self-published, or both. Definitely not the cream of the crop, but if you’re using these for studying, then who cares, right?
But, being that the books aren’t exactly “top notch,” you do get some perks. First of all, they’re available to you in the first place. That’s nice. Second, they’re super cheap. In fact, many are free (with many more free if you have an Amazon Prime account).
Go ahead and browse the Amazon Kindle Store for books in the Japanese language. You’ll see what I mean.
But, beggars can’t be choosers. I just went through and literally judged every single book by its cover (and price), downloaded a ton of cheap / free books, and started going through them.
Downloading And Reading
The cool thing about the Kindle is you can buy and download a book to any number of devices; your phone, your tablet, your Kindle, and even your computer is game for becoming a Kindle reading device. This would be really great (and I imagine it will happen eventually, but not now) if your Mac/PC version of Kindle actually supported Japanese text. For now, these Japanese books will only work on:
- iOS / Android Devices (tablets, phones)
- Kindle Paperwhite
- Kindle Fire
So, your options are a bit limited right now. I hope that changes in the near future as it really limits things for studying. I for one am looking forward to when I can read Japanese books on the Kindle app for my computer. It’ll make looking things up a lot easier, for sure. Cloud (browser) reader also isn’t compatible.
Luckily, a lot of people have iOS or Android devices these days making it possible, though slightly more difficult, to study Japanese via Japanese books from the Kindle store.
This is the important part for you all, right? Right off the bat, studying with Japanese Kindle books could use a lot of improvements. There’s quite an inconsistency between books too. Some books are okay to study with while others are nearly impossible. I’m guessing it has something to do with how the author submitted the book to the Kindle Store, but beyond that I’m not sure. Luckily they’re so cheap (and often free) that you can just download a bunch until you find something you like.
Here are the issues I had with the iPad version, though I’ve read that they carry over to Android versions as well. While none of them make it impossible to study, they all make it more uncomfortable and less efficient.
Issue #1: Dictionary / Lookup Feature
For some books, when you try to select some text to look it up, it just selects the entire page, making it impossible to look up words you don’t know. For the ones that do work, it’s not really smart about what it selects (iBook books, for example, do a pretty good job grabbing actual words). So, you’ll spend a little time adjusting the selection tool to grab the word you want. This wouldn’t be too bad if it was the only issue. Words that have been conjugated usually don’t come up with definitions at all when you highlight them. After a while, you’ll find this pretty irritating, so you’ll just end up looking up a kanji the old fashioned way.
Also, while I actually kind of like this, when the dictionary does work, it’s only going to show you the Japanese definition in Japanese. I’ve always thought reading these is a good way to study Japanese, but for some it will be a deal breaker. It will always show the readings of words so you can look them up on jisho or something, though (that is unless it’s having one of its conjugation issues, though you can select the individual kanji, get the reading, and look it up from there).
Lastly, if you thought readings would help, sometimes they’re just plain wrong… well, they’re right, but not for the word you’re trying to look up. I found several instances of this, which makes me think that beginners will want to stay away. Intermediate / advanced students should be able to figure out when something doesn’t look right, though.
Issue #2: No Copy/Paste
Many of the ebooks highlight too much (and you aren’t able to adjust it)
This is somewhat the same as Issue #1. If you can’t copy and paste words, it’s harder to look them up. You’ll need to have a computer nearby / available to look things up with, making it a little less convenient for those of you who don’t want to bring your iPad and laptop to the coffee shop. Them first world problems, mang.
But, It does work…
… and I think it will get better. At least, one can hope and dream. If you were just allowed to use the built in dictionary instead of whatever they’re providing, and if only the dictionary worked more of the time, you’d have yourself a nice tool to study with. Once this is compatible with your computer – oh man, forget about it – it’ll be amazing.
Studying with Japanese ebooks is like a dream come true, too. So long as you have the kanji skills it will allow you to study Japanese anytime anywhere. Here’s one method on how to study with Japanese Kindle books:
- Read through as much as you can in one sitting. Depending on your level, that could be 1 page or 20 pages (or more). Highlight / write down the words / kanji you don’t know somewhere else. I use Evernote for this.
- Look up, study, and learn said words that you wrote down. Put them into an SRS (Anki, perhaps?).
- After you’ve studied the things you didn’t know, try to read through it again. This time mark the words you still don’t know and study them again.
- After you can read the pages comfortably-ish, read it out loud. Reading out loud is much better practice and you’ll figure out what you do or don’t know. There’s a reason why they make kids read their books out loud while they’re learning to read.
- Rinse and repeat.
The key here is to do this a little bit every day. Small, consistent steps will make for big progress in the long run. Can you imagine what your Japanese would be like even if you only studied and did this to one page per day? In a year you’d know a lot of words, become much more familiar with grammar, and be able to read a lot more. Most people sit around doing nothing for a year. This kind of study really does make a difference as long as you do it every day. Plus, it will get faster and faster (or you’ll be able to study more and more) as you get better at it.
While it does have its flaws, this is a pretty nice way to study. It certainly beats studying with a physical book (in my opinion), and it is bound to get better (I hope). Literally all I want is a desktop / browser version to be compatible with the Japanese language books. If that exists and you can copy paste words I will be a happy little boy. For now, I can see past the problems and still get a lot out of it.
Also, getting this on other Kindle stores would be nice too. Not everyone is in the USA, though I imagine like many other things it will eventually make its way onto other Kindle Stores as well (at least we can dream).
If you’re a high-intermediate or advanced learner of Japanese, I highly recommend giving this a shot. If you’re more on the beginner side of things and know less than… oh, let’s say 750-1000 kanji at the moment, keep studying your kanji until you’re ready. I hear WaniKani is sending out invites more speedily now (wink wink nudge nudge).