Have you ever tried to read in your target language?
Especially if you’re a beginner, chances are that you found reading
difficult or even frustrating. The reason is quite straightforward: more often than
not, we choose the wrong reading material, and we eventually give up. So,
today I want to help you choose what to read to really improve your language
skills. Nowadays, we have plenty of choice of reading material: short stories, novels,
online articles, magazines, comics and so on and so forth. But the truth is that
choosing material suited to your level is not easy at all.
First of all, let’s see why you find reading to be difficult. When we
read in our native language, we are used to understanding nearly every word. As I
explained in my video about how many words you need to speak a language, a
native speaker passively knows about 70,000 words. But, as beginners
and intermediate learners, our vocabulary is quite limited. So we cannot expect to
understand every word of a text in a foreign language. But unfortunately
that’s exactly what we try to do. The truth is that when you read in your
target language, you must accept the fact that you won’t understand every single
word. You need to learn to rely on context to figure out the general meaning. Context is always there to help you
figure out the big picture of what you’re reading. And whenever you’re really stuck, you can always look up a word. That said, I strongly recommend that
you don’t stop reading very often. Otherwise, reading will become a chore.
What you can do instead is write the word down and look it up later on.
Another tip I can give you is to start with short articles and stories. The longer the
text, the more likely you are to quit. We often feel the need to finish what we start, and reading an entire novel in a foreign
language is not easy at all at the beginning. These are great strategies, but
you won’t be able to apply them if you choose a book or an article that is way
too difficult for you. When it comes to reading in a foreign language,
you basically have 2 choices: material written for native speakers versus
material written and designed for language learners. In the first category
you’ll find a lot of stuff about the interests and the passions you might have.
While reading what native speakers read is more rewarding and appealing, I
don’t recommend it for beginner and intermediate learners. On the other
hand, if you are at an advanced level, then you can read pretty much anything you
want, as long as you’re okay with not knowing every word and expression you
come across. But this video is addressed more to beginner and intermediate
learners, so if you really want to read what native speakers read, then you
basically have 2 possibilities: stories for children or comics. Kids books are
often recommended for beginners, but if you try to read stories written for
children, you’ll quickly realize that they are not the best choice. First of all, these
stories are often not interesting for adults. Second, they often contain words
or phrases which are not useful and common. To give you an example, I read several books
in Romanian without too many issues. But when I tried to read a story
written for children in Romanian to my son I found out that there were so many
words I did not know. When I asked my wife to translate, I found out why: these
works were completely useless to me. So, as an adult, I never felt the need to
learn them. I’m talking about words like “dandelion,” “ladybug,” and “velvet,” for example.
Instead, I recommend using comics and graphic novels, because they provide two
crutches for you to lean on: 1) context – but that’s true for most reading material –
and 2) pictures. The images in comic books are usually helpful for figuring out the
general meaning of what you read. And you’ll have plenty of choice,
because many popular comics have been translated into dozens of languages.
In the description below I’ve included a link to an article that
lists the comics we recommend for language learners.
If comics don’t appeal to you, then you should look into the other category I
mentioned: material written specifically for language learners. Let’s start with
a very popular resource: graded books. A graded book is an “easy reading”
resource whose level is adapted to be understood by beginners. So if you are a
beginner learner, you can read a story or a novel which has been simplified
specifically for your level. Pearson and Penguin are two popular publishing
houses which offer a pretty decent choice of graded books. Another
good option is the Short Stories for Beginners series, by our friend Olly
Richards. Instead of simplifying existing texts, Olly has written many original
graded short stories. I have read many graded texts in the past and I must say
that they are useful and enjoyable at the same time. This is one of the reasons
why we decided to put graded texts on our learning platform, MosaLingua Web.
For instance, we have many articles for beginners and with our MosaDiscovery
plug-in, whenever you feel the need to look up a word or phrase, all you have to do
is to click it for a translation. And with a second click you can even
create a flashcard, which you can use to memorize that word or phrase.
Another possibility you have is using bilingual books, where you have, on
one page, your target language, and on the next page, your mother tongue.
This is very useful, because whenever you stumble upon a
word or phrase you don’t understand, you can always refer to the
text on the next page to get the translation in your native language.
In the same family of bilingual books, you have interlinear books, where the
translation is just below the text, line by line. This is quite handy and useful,
even if I find it a bit distracting, since it’s hard to focus on the original
language, on the target language, without checking the translation.
That’s why I personally prefer bilingual books, where you have the original text and the translation side by side. With bilingual books, you first make the effort
to understand what you read, and then you deliberately choose to
check the translation if you need help. Of course, with bilingual books
you still need to choose something suited to your level.
Speaking of difficulty, the key is choosing something which is neither too easy nor
too hard for you. Too easy means that you remain inside your comfort zone and you
do not make progress. Too difficult results in boredom, frustration and often giving up.
You should choose something in between, based on the famous theory of
comprehensible input. Its author, American linguist Stephen Krashen, explains that
language learners improve their skills when they receive “inputs” which are one
step above their current level. That means that you should work with content which is right for your level, but that gradually introduces new ideas, more
difficult words, and so on. If you want some extra help from us, you can watch
my previous video about the benefits of reading in a foreign language,
check out the link below, where we list a lot of comics, books, short stories
for language learners, and take a look at MosaLingua Web,
where you’ll find a lot of reading material suited to your needs.
That’s all for today. Happy reading and happy learning! If you learned something new
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