When I was learning Japanese at university, I often felt close to giving up. Every day I would do my grammar exercises and practice vocabulary like a good student. I did all my homework assignments and showed up for every class.
Once in a while, I would build enough confidence to open a Japanese novel or, God forbid, a newspaper. After about five minutes I often wondered if I hadn’t accidentally picked up a Chinese text.
The enormous gap between our textbooks and real Japanese texts can be unbelievably frustrating. Why would we keep on learning a language that we would never master enough for any kind of use in the real world?
Satori Reader is a learning method/application that tries to bridge the gap between textbook Japanese and real-world Japanese.
Satori Reader is for those learners that are too advanced for their textbooks but are not yet able to read text meant for native Japanese speakers. It’s also for those learners that would like to engage with longer articles or fiction stories instead of short academic texts.
The articles in the platform are divided into thematic series. Articles in each series are linked by their content and provide different stories and scenarios that often use the same vocabulary or grammar items. Reading multiple articles in these series means that you’re getting repeated exposure to the vocabulary and grammar items, thus learning them quicker.
Satori Reader also provides a vocabulary repetition tool. Vocabulary encountered in the articles can be saved for later review by clicking on a single button.
The homepage of Satori Reader contains three tabs: Articles, Dashboard, and Repetition. I will explain the contents of these tabs in the following paragraphs.
Clicking on the Articles tab brings you to a home screen that reminds me of Netflix: this is were all the thematic series are displayed. Clicking on any of these series brings you to the articles it contains.
Satori Reader currently has 21 thematic series, containing over 550 articles. Every week three new articles are added to the existing series. During the time I used the website I did not see a new thematic series added to the homepage, but I am under the impression that new ones are added to the website once in a while.
Some series are linked by a common theme, such as Hotel. Clicking on this series displays a number of dialogues and scenarios typically encountered in a hotel: a dialogue on reserving rooms, checking out, or asking for nearby restaurant recommendations. Reading every article of this particular series will provide the user with all the necessary vocabulary need in real-life hotel situations.
Other series are a continuation of the same (fictional) story. I think these series will engage users the most. Every new installment continues the story, and users will want to know how the story ends. The main reason I think these stories are attractive is that it is very difficult to find engaging fictional stories in traditional textbooks.
Depending on the series, different kinds of speech are used. Some stories feature more colloquial speech while others, such as the hotel series, contain a lot of humble and honorific speech.
Clicking on one of the series on the homepage brings you to the articles that are contained in that series. When selecting which article you would like to read, you can see how previous readers rated the difficulty of the article.
When reading, you can choose to play an audio recording of the text so you can read along. This can help you with pronunciation and getting used to the natural flow of speaking.
The articles are annotated with vocabulary. Clicking on a word that is difficult to understand presents the definition.
The dictionary feature here takes care to do something extra helpful — instead of listing all of the possible meanings, or “senses,” of a word, you’ll see the usage that’s relevant to the context.
Japanese learners will know that looking up common words often yields more than 10 different senses of the word. Not having to scan a long list of possible interpretations makes for a much more enjoyable and seamless reading experience.
The website also remembers which characters you already know and which characters are new to you. When reading an article, you can select that you only want help for characters that are new to you, and known characters will not be provided with the furigana reading.
I started out by reading the article series about the situations in a hotel.
What I liked about these dialogs was that new words were often used two or three times in the dialog. The first time I had to check the reading of the characters, the second and third time I could test myself on whether I remembered the meaning and reading.
This particular series featured some grammar that I, and even many Japanese native speakers, still struggle with: honorific and humble expressions. In addition to adding words that are often used in honorific/humble expressions, I was also able to add the grammar to my review list.
The second text of the same series used some of the same vocabulary again, while also adding some new words.
Below the articles are comments left by other learners. These comments often contain questions about grammar or the use of particular words in the dialog. The questions are extensively answered by the staff of the website.
The dashboard tab gives you practical information on your study progress and site usage. It keeps a record of recently started and/or finished articles. You can also bookmark articles for later use and see which series you read the most. Newly released articles are shown here as well as in the articles tab.
The dashboard can be used to track your progress and plan your to-do-list. The usage heatmap shows you when you studied – and didn’t study – so you can keep yourself motivated to finish your learning streak. Finally, the Studylist shows you how many words are due for repetition each day.
The dashboard also has a link to a discussion board for feedback and questions.
When you encounter a new word that you would like to learn, you can click to save the word for review. The word is then added to your review stack. When reviewing words, you can even see the context in which the word was used in the original text.
What I like is that this function develops a more practical skillset than comparable vocabulary repetition apps like Duolingo or Wanikani – apps that make you study vocabulary, but don’t allow you to engage with the words as they’re used in different contexts.
It is also possible to export your review lists. You first choose which words you would like to export by choosing the date they were added to your review stack. You can then export the list to an excel file.
It should be possible to add your vocabulary lists to apps like Anki, but I have to admit that I did not get my exported lists to work in Anki (this is probably my own fault).
A basic version of Satori Reader with limited functionality is free to use. This free version should be seen as a trial version so you can check out whether the website suits your learning style. It includes the complete vocabulary repetition tool, but articles are limited: only two articles per thematic series, so 42 articles in total.
Subscription fees for the full version with over 550 articles and new articles released weekly are $9/month and $89/per year. Practically this means that a subscription for one year gives you two months free compared to the monthly subscription fan. The monthly subscription can be canceled every month.
There aren’t many teaching methods for Japanese that focus mainly on reading. To practice my reading when I studied Japanese, I would use the NHK News Web Easy website, in combination with a browser application like Rikaikun or Yomichan.
NHK News Web Easy is a website that summarizes real newspaper articles in simple Japanese, with furigana above most characters. Browser applications like Rikaikun or Yomichan enable you to hover over Japanese characters and show you the reading and meaning. Reading NHK News Web Easy articles in this way gives you a lot of the functionality of the Satori Reader website – you can even automatically add vocabulary to Anki using Yomichan.
The upside of this method is that it is free. But it should be mentioned that Satori Reader also provides explanations for grammar and their vocabulary explanations are really for the way the words are used in this particular context. Satori Reader also has more than only newspaper articles.
Another good option for Japanese reading practice is LingQ, which helps users interact with Japanese text. LingQ’s reading app makes it easy to look up unknown words, review new vocabulary words, and upload original content.
I truly enjoyed the articles I read on this website, and I am certain that Satori Reader can be a valuable language tool for the platform’s target audience.
If you are debating whether Satori Reader could be useful for you, I suggest making a free account first in order to give the website a try. After reading a couple of the free articles you will be able to judge whether Satori Reader is a useful website for you.
I do hope that many people will try out Satori Reader. The site has great potential if it manages to steadily grow the number of articles and thematic series.
Visit Satori Reader