For most language enthusiasts, learning a language centers on two things: Listening and Speaking. Many polyglots are in such a rush to be able to talk about how much they love languages in their second language, that reading and writing often get pushed to the background.
I’ll concede that having a conversation with a native speaker is the best way to really get to know a language. But after that…then what? There’s a wealth of information (and fun times) that you’re missing out on because you aren’t able to jump headfirst into a great book or an article the way you would in your native language.
It doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds, promise!
There are obviously many methods to improving reading ability. But you guys know me, I like things to be fun. 🙂
So! Here are four ways to finally get started reading in your target language.
Think you have to be super mega awesome at the language before you can really get into reading? Wrong. This can be done right from the beginning! Just this past weekend I went to our HMart and snagged a children’s fairy tale book. Now, do I really need to know the Korean words for “magic snail?” Probably not. But, there are three things I love about using a kid’s book:
- The sentences are short and simple. Notice there are no sprawling Hawthorne-esque paragraphs on how many different shades of green a tree can be. Everything is straight to the point and easy to follow. Can you tell The Scarlett Letter scarred me for life with its excessive use of pointless exposition? Magic snails are way more interesting, trust me.
- Past tense! Usually, it takes a few weeks in a classroom setting to be introduced to the past tense. Almost all fairy tales I’ve come across have been in past tense. It’s a great way to get used to more than just everything happening in the present.
- Cute pictures are a must. You can’t have a cool kid’s book without some sort of picture action going on. But more than just adding an artistic factor, they help fill in vocabulary gaps when you’re reading. Even if you have no idea what any of the words say, you can look at an accompanying picture and still get a gist of what’s going on in the story.
Because the vocabulary is on the basic side and less likely to be something I’d use in everyday conversation, my main goal with children’s books is always grammar construction. The sentence types tend to be repetitive and after a while you start to notice patterns.
Comics are like the big brother of the picture books aimed at kids. The difference is, comics (and webtoons) are usually geared toward an older audience. There are multiple genres so it’s easy to find something you like, and the vocabulary can be more useful depending on the genre. The pictures are even more plentiful and expressive so that gives a helpful boost for those inevitable “What the hell am I reading” moments.
And then of course there’s the ability to just completely nerd out with it. I have the FullMetal Alchemist manga in four different languages.
I can totally feel your intense judgement from here so moving right along…
Simple News Sites
For intermediate to advanced learners, go ahead and browse some well-known news websites in your target language. This gets tricky based on what you actually like reading about. If you love politics, there’s a seemingly endless stream of content out there. But if your core interests are something really out there and unique, like…oh I don’t know, professional hula hooping? Is that a thing? I feel like it should be. Either way, you’ll find it difficult to find articles that interest you. Of course, you can try to read just about anything to the best of your ability, but if you enjoy the subject matter you’re more likely to retain the vocabulary.
This is why I suggest entertainment news.
Most entertainment articles are on the shorter side and use more basic vocabulary than you’d find in an article on environmental issues for instance. Yeah, they’re likely to hover on the ‘trashy’ side. But that’s the fun part!
If you’re really trying to up your game and dive into the written word, dual readers are the way to go. The children’s book I mentioned earlier? It’s a dual reader! It has English at the top and the Korean translation on the bottom. Because my Korean is super basic, I read the English first and then try to get all the way to through the Korean paragraph. Any time I get stuck all I have to do is glance back up. Also, because the sentences are short, they’re on the same page and it’s easy for me to keep my place relative to the English sentences.
In comparison, I read my Penguin Parallel Text books the other way around. I’m much more proficient in German so I read that first and follow up with the English translation. Unlike the Children’s book, each language is on one page. Sometimes where the story stops in German is not where it stops in English. It can be slightly harder to switch back and forth between the two. My intentions are also different. With Korean I’m trying to understand the words and story on the most basic level. With German I’m taking notice in the difference in feel and tone that’s sometimes present between languages.
So, there you have it. A whole 4 ways to improve your reading comprehension without boring yourself to death.
What languages are you studying? Do you have any favorite ways to improve your reading?