Reading can play an extremely helpful role in your attempts to get fluent in a foreign language…and it’s hugely valuable even if your main aim is to speak well. Those were messages with which we kicked off a series of posts on reading. We’ve looked at the different types of reading (“intensive”, “extensive”, reading for “gist” and skimming for info). Today, three more foreign language reading tips, to add to the ones covered in the previous post in the series.
Keep moving through your text. Then repeat.
Extensive reading is when we’re reading for the flow of the narrative, atmosphere, character, action. It’s about following what’s going on but the idea is to get yourself lost in the content. This will always be a challenge in the very early stages, and later on if the material you’re reading is too difficult.
That’s why we said that it’s a great help if you can find “graded” material. That’s to say texts that are aimed at learners of at or around your current level. That way you’ll reinforce what you already know and just be stretched a little.
If the text is a little above your current level, you’ll start to be primed for new structures and vocab, which will then be easier to learn when you focus on them.
Plus….if you read enough…you will acquire some structures without any conscious effort, just as you acquire new words in your native language.
If you have a text where you can follow enough to keep going, then do just that. Get comfortable with understanding enough rather than fretting about not understanding everything.
So, the first of our foreign language reading tips for today is to keep reading that text. Don’t let words or structures you don’t know spoil your flow.
You may want to underline them, but don’t interrupt yourself to look them up right away.
The odds are that if the word is crucial to the text, it’ll crop up many times in a short space of time and you’ll soon have enough context to work it out.
If it doesn’t keep cropping up, you probably don’t need to know it to follow the narrative.
Only stop to check the meaning if – a few pages later – it still seems that the one word was crucial to the narrative or if it keeps coming up and is really getting in the way of your comprehension.
The aim is to finish the text, regardless.
That brings a feeling of achievement and closure.
You can always go back methodically over underlined words afterwards.
Plus, there’s nothing to stop you re-reading the text a second time. With each repetition, you’ll be reinforcing what you already now and expanding it.
You could re-read more or less at once. You may then find that knowing the full narrative arc helps you a lot second time round. Or you could try rereading after a number of months’ more engagement with the language and you’ll notice that it’s easier this time (and that’ll be a motivational boost).
This type of reading really helps both with vocab expansion and reinforcing the grammar patterns. It helps you absorb the “spirit” of the language. This doesn’t just all help with speaking, of course. It’s great as a way to underpin your writing skills (provided that you practise writing too). It’s great for your more passive listening, too (for example listening to the radio as opposed to the listening part of holding a conversation).
If your main aim is to improve your speaking, though, try looking for texts with a lot of contemporary, natural dialogue. And that’s where we turn with the two ideas below.
Let the pictures help you with your foreign language: read comics, graphic novels or anime
A way to make reading more fun that many learners enjoy is to let the pictures do some of the heavy lifting. That, then, is the second of our foreign language reading tips for today.
We’re not just talking children’s style illustrated books here, with short texts underneath the picture.
Try the comic-book or graphic novel format.
The pictures will obviously help set the scene and provide the strongest of hints to what’s actually happening. That will provide context to the written text which may help you unlock some of the words you don’t know. Working things out is a great way of learning.
As well as avoiding getting bogged down in long passages of description, when your written material is mainly a series of speech bubbles, you’ll also be reading only things that people actually say.
That can be great in the early stages for picking up the most frequently used words in a brief, natural phrases. Chunks of language in context. What’s not to like?
It can be great at all stages for natural spoken speech and, depending on the genre, slang as well.
Of course, if the material is not aimed at learners specifically, you need to be aware of what we might call the “tone” of what you’re reading.
In Japanese, for example male/female speech can be very different and you need to keep this in mind as you immerse yourself… Yes, you need to understand all sorts of registers and styles. How, though, do you want to sound?
Many of the most popular cartoon strips and graphic novels are available in translations in major languages. So, you might even go for something you’ve enjoyed in another language already (Asterix, Tintin…. Japanese anime). As well as a chance to renew old acquaintances this, as we’ve seen before, is a way of giving yourself a leg up as you try to follow the story.
Read plays and movie scripts in your foreign language
Just as comics and graphic novels give you short bursts of real speech, reading the script of a play is another way to help you with the cadences of the spoken language.
Make sure you stick with a play which uses contemporary language and is realistic in style, though. The equivalent of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in your target language is not the place to start….
Here’s an idea: if you’re already an intermediate learner or above and know you’ll be on holiday on Rome or Madrid in three months time, you can book in to a play at a theatre there now. Get hold of the script (assuming it’s published) and start reading. You can work through it several times with your visit to the theatre as the climax of the process.
A less romantic variation on the theme is to obtain the script or transcript of a TV sitcom or other series that you enjoy.
Choose shows split into relatively short episodes, rather than feature-length films.
A show with a “series” format has the added advantage that there’s likely to be more situational repetition. Plus the style of speech of the individual regular characters is likely to be fairly consistent. That’ll partly be deliberate but also an unconscious result of their words having been written by one script-writer (or one team). That’s another reason, by the way, to go for a series of books by the same author.
Also, go for shows originally made in your target language. Productions that have been dubbed into a translated script may well feel less authentic. (That’s the exact opposite of the advice I’d give if you’re just wanting to watch and develop your listening intermediate skills. Dubbed shows are often easier to understand, simply because the language is often simplified as its translated).
Try googling for available scripts to go with video to which you have (or can easily get) access, whether via your streaming service, YouTube or a good, old-fashioned box set.
You can also explore creating your own transcripts. For example, it’s possible to extract subtitles from some formats and turn them into a free-standing text. Again, Mr Google and Mr YouTube should be able to help on the technical side.
If you’re low-tech, like me, you could even watch with the native subtitles on and just copy down the subtitles, creating your own for reading practice later and then watch the show again afterwards
Look out for more foreign language reading tips in the next in this series.
How do you approach unknown items of vocab when reading? Have you found reading graphic novels or anime helpful? What about plays and movie scripts? Share your experiences in the comments below!