In this post, I want to talk about an online magazine that can be great for language learners who want to practise reading in Japanese or who want to get into reading the news in Japanese.
『ニュースがわかる』 is a monthly magazine for secondary and high school readers published by Mainichi. The entire magazine has complete furigana and many illustrations/pictures in colours. Articles are mainly about social, political issues but you will find a bit of everything, including culture, environment, science…
The subscription for the digital version costs 255 yen per month (490 for the paper version), and each new issue comes out around the 15th of the previous month. Once you have subscribed, you can read the digital version of the magazine either on Mainichi website or by using the app (available on Google Play and the App Store).
I subscribed in July, so this is my review after reading 3 issues of the magazine.
About the magazine
The magazine has 45 pages in colour with a lot of illustrations (pictures, drawings, graphs, maps, etc.). You will find complete furigana throughout the magazine.
Most articles are related to topical issues (mostly concerning Japan, but there are international news too) or general knowledge, but they are not strictly speaking news articles. For example, Tokyo gubernatorial elections took place on July 5th. The magazine of August contains an article that explains the role of the governor in the fight against the coronavirus. This kind of topic allows the reader to feel close to current affairs while building their general knowledge and social awareness.
Most articles are about social issues but there are also pages on politics, foreign policies, environment, culture, science… I personally found each article I read to be very interesting, and I am always learning things while practising my reading.
Apart from articles, there are also manga, quiz, and a section that goes through the main news of the previous month.
I find that the difficulty level of articles varies a little (for example, the news section is more difficult than the main articles), but overall, I would say that it is a good reading material for N2 levels and a good study material for N3. With N1, you will certainly find the magazine overall relatively easy to read, but specialised topics can bring you new vocabulary:
- N3: The magazine will be challenging, but it makes for a good study material and a good source of new vocabulary, especially if you are interested in social issues.
- N2: I think that the language level of the magazine is perfect for N2 students, it can also helps you start reading news articles in Japanese.
- N1: Makes for a good reading practice and a good way to stay in touch with topical issues in Japan.
I really wished that I had found this magazine sooner because I have always been looking for reading resources that would be both easy enough to fit my language level and interesting enough to keep me reading. Materials for adults might be too difficult, but materials for children are often uninteresting to me. This magazine is right in the good spot: easier to read than news to adults, but still tackles topics that are of interest for an adult readership.
I find that this magazine is great if you want to:
- read news articles in Japanese
- build your vocabulary on specialised topics
- practice reading on a regular basis.
I will cover each of these points in a dedicated section.
Read news articles
If you want to read news articles but find newspapers too difficult to read, this magazine is an excellent way to get started. The articles are short and “easy” to read. The vocabulary is still challenging (I would say that it is around N2), but it is much easier to read than newspaper articles. News articles tend to have long sentences whose structure is not always easy to follow. They will also use difficult turns of phrase and expressions. The articles in 『ニュースがわかる』 are easy to read in the sense that sentences are simply structured.
My personal experience is that, with my N1 level, I still find news articles very difficult to read in Japanese. The vocabulary is of course challenging, but more than that, the long sentences and grammatical patterns are difficult to decipher. It feels like newspapers use a language of their own (this might be true in all languages). Furthermore, the reader is supposed to have a certain knowledge of what is going on, so articles sometimes only hint at or refer to events without explaining them, which makes it very difficult to jump into a new topic.
On the contrary, I find the articles of 『ニュースがわかる』very easy to read. I rarely encounter an unknown word in articles about social and political issues, but specialised topics like space mission or competition of shogi are a good way for me to learn new words. What I also really appreciate is how simple the sentences are in their structures and grammatical patterns. Another good point is that the authors explain everything, they do not expect their young readers to have a previous knowledge of the topics they are talking about. Some “keywords” explain important notions, and the many illustrations like maps or graphs also make it easier to understand the content of the article.
If you are interested in reading Japanese news, starting with this magazine can make for a smoother start rather than jumping directly into news articles.
Build your vocabulary
『ニュースがわかる』 can also be a good source to learn vocabulary out of the native resources you use for immersion and practice.
I think that learning words you encountered in native resources is the most efficient way to learn vocabulary as you can associate each word with a context and remember them more easily. The problem I have always encountered with this method is that there are so many unknown words in native resources that I always found it difficult to know which ones to learn, which ones to look up and which ones to add to anki. The amount of words to work on has often been discouraging and looking them up was tiring.
As a result, I mainly built my vocabulary with lists of words provided by my JLPT textbooks. It was boring, but easy to use.
『ニュースがわかる』 is great because it is a native resource and it is fun to read. At the same time, it aims at a certain level of reading skills and will not use unnecessarily complicated words or grammar. The words that are used are all words that you have to know if you want to read things on this particular topic. As a result, you know that the words present in the articles are all worth learning. And of course, the furigana make it easier to look them up.
What I also find great is that you can learn vocabulary by topic. If you are interested in reading about anti coronavirus measures in Japanese, work on the vocabulary of these articles. It is great if you like to classify your vocabulary by topic. More generally, it allows you to focus on what interests you and to not feel overwhelmed.
For example, in this paragraph, you will find useful vocabulary to read articles about the coronavirus. Words like 感染者数, 死亡者数 or 対策 are definitely words you need to know in this context. 権限 is also a word that you encounter often when reading the state or local administration’s power in setting anti-infection measures.
The most difficult word in this paragraph is the one in red. What makes it difficult is that it is the name of a law. A newspaper article would just mention the law without explaining what it is. In the magazine, the word is in red to note that it is a “key word” that is explained on the same page.
To give you another example, let’s look at the quiz section (there are questions for secondary school and for high school levels):
Answering is certainly not challenging for an adult, but answering in Japanese can be!
If you don’t know what to read in Japanese, having subscribed to an online magazine gives you a reading resource each month.
One downside of the subscription is that you only have access to the current issue and the previous one. You are not able to stock previous issues to read later, so you have to read the magazine during the current month or you will fall behind and might even miss a complete issue if you haven’t read it and a new one has come up since.
On the other hand, this system forces you to read regularly. My problem with being able to save things for later is that I end up never reading them. Maybe it is just me, but I feel reassured when I know that I have saved a lot of reading materials for ulterior use, but somehow, saving things for later becomes more important than actually using them…
With this magazine, I have two months to read an issue, and if I don’t, it is gone and I lose all access to it. I hate this system, but I must also admit that this forces me to read the magazine regularly.
Plus and downsides…
- The prize. I personally find that 255 yen per month is a very reasonable prize for what you get.
- Great layout and many illustrations make it easier to read.
- Complete furigana makes it easier to look up words.
- The language level makes it perfect for language learners who want to strengthen their vocabulary in order to read article news.
- The viewer provided to read the digital version is okay. (see downsides too)
- You can access the viewer on your computer, tablet or phone.
- As far as I know, there is no way to download and keep the magazine. You only have access to the current month and the previous month. If you don’t read it an issue on time, you will not be able to read it later, even though you paid for it.
- I don’t think that you can read the digital copy of the magazine anywhere else than the Mainichi viewer.
- While being okay, the viewer is not perfect either. The digital version of the magazine is not a version specially designed to be read digitally, it is exactly the same layout as the paper version and all you can do is zoom in the page to read the paragraphs. It is manageable, but not extremely responsive either. Overall, I find it much easier to navigate on my phone rather than on computer, and I recommend reading through the app rather than on the Mainichi website.
- The magazine is a little late on topical issues, but that is certainly inevitable.
- As far as I know, there is no sample available to read before you subscribe, but I may have missed it.
- Again, I may have missed it, but there does not seem to be notifications to tell you when a new issue is available.
I tried to list all the downsides I could think of, but I personally find that the great content and low prize of the magazine largely make up for all the downsides I noted.
I wish I had known this magazine sooner, it would have been such a great reading material when I was working towards N2… I will keep the subscription for now because I enjoy reading the magazine, and I also feels that it keeps me close to topical issues and makes me learn interesting facts I didn’t know (for example, that Yamato city issued a law that forbid watching your phone while walking the streets!).