As you may know, foreign languages are a big part of my life. First of all, I am writing in English now but I am French, which already says quite a lot about my relationship with languages. Moreover, I have a bachelor’s of English and am writing a thesis about young children’s bilingualism. Usually, when we think about languages, we think about listening to a language and expressing ourselves in that language, but reading is always quite frightening. Today, I would love to share with you effective ways in which you can actually read you very first book in a foreign language (and be proud!)
1. Choose YA or Middle-Grade books.
Above all, choose what you like but if you want to read a book in a foreign language and have nothing against books dedicated to teenagers, I would advise you to go for them. The language is usually a little easier to grasp and in middle-grades, the fonts used are usually a little bit bigger and easier to understand. If you would like recommendations when it comes to French YA and middle-grades, feel free to ask!
2. Read about the plot before or read a book you have watched the film adaptation of.
These two tips go hand in hand as even though there are always differences between books and their movie adaptations, the plot remains more or less similar. If you already know the pot, you can more easily decipher the meaning of the paragraphs you do not really understand as you know what is more or less supposed to happen in the book. Let’s say that you are reading Twilight: if you have watched the movie, then understanding the text will be easier as you will know that some characters are vampires and know how it is supposed to end.
3. Read a book you have already read in your mastered language.
To go even further in the deciphering system, you can reread a book you have already read in a language you already master. This works particularly well if there is a book you absolutely love. Personally, I known that when I feel even more at ease with Spanish, I will definitely try all of the books in the Harry Potter series in that language as I love them so much and could binge read them all in languages I do not even know (that is how well I know the exact plot). If you find yourself in the same situation with a book, let that be my number one tip for you.
4. Choose a bilingual edition of the book.
As bilingual books are a big part of my thesis, I could go on and on about it and will thus do my best to keep it short. There are various types of bilingual books and you need to choose the type of book you want according to the reading experience you are planning to have. For adult books, I would basically divide the possibilities into two:
- Bilingual books that are actually two novels in one. First, you can read the novel entirely in one language and afterward, you can read it entirely in the other language. The main advantages of that type of book is that you get totally into in the target-language and that you still have the possibility to have a look at the other language whenever you want. However, the downside is that it implies that you already have quite a good knowledge of either the plot or the language (or both).
- Bilingual books in which you have the translation on the right page directly. These bilingual books are better for those of you who still do not feel at ease with the language. It is also what I would recommend if you feel at ease but are going for a classic of your target language or a poetry book (basically, it is what I would recommend if you want to read Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal in French). The main advantage is that it makes understanding easier and is not going to create trauma or disgust but the main downside is that you are never fully into the target language and need to be extra cautious not to spend you whole life looking at the translation.
5. Make sure you are focusing on what you understand, not on what you do not.
Last but not least, when reading a book in a language you want to learn, focus on what you do understand and not on what you do not. I remember a translation class in which the teacher asked us to underline what we did understand. At the time, I found it quite weird but then, he explained that it would increase our confidence as we will see that we understand quite a lot of things. If he had asked us to underline what we did not understand, we would have been focused on these parts of text only and might have missed the actual meaning. Thus, when you read in a foreign language, make sure you are doing it in a confident mood, never focusing on what you do not understand. After all, do you understand absolutely everything when you read in your mother language?
I hope these tips will help you read in your target-language and make it easier for you to gain confidence in your linguistic skills. You are embarking on a beautiful journey that will lead you to understanding a whole different perspective on the world around you, that is enough to feel confident and proud.