For many language learners, the desire to start learning in the first place is sparked by a love of the content produced in that language, and a wish to consume it as it originally appears.
Whether it’s keeping up with a favourite anime series without the dubbing, singing along to K-pop hits and actually understanding the words, or devouring volumes of French classics, learning a new language can provide us with countless hours of fresh entertainment to enjoy.
Of course, you’re not going to be able to dive into One Hundred Years of Solitude a week into your beginner Spanish classes and walk away with any sort of understanding of what you’ve just read, but even if effortlessly comprehending native material is still months (or more) away for you, there’s still a lot that can be gained from trying.
Reading can be a great way to pick up vocab that’s actually used by native speakers (including slang and idioms), get used to sentence structures and even—with the aid of audiobooks—improve listening comprehension and pronunciation. Of course, this doesn’t only apply to books that were originally written in your target language; there’s a good chance many of your favourite novels have been translated into dozens of languages.
It’s probably best to delve into your first book with a bit of a game plan, especially if your fluency is on the lower side. Here’s how we recommend reading a book in your target language for the very first time:
Picking out familiar words and following along with the story will both be easier if you already have an idea of what’s going on, and more importantly, it will help you connect the dots and infer the meaning of new vocabulary (for example, when reading Harry Potter en français, it wouldn’t take one long to figure out that une baguette magique refers to a wand… and not a magical baguette).
If even that seems a bit too ambitious for you, perhaps try a picture book for your first foray into the “literature” of your target language. There’s nothing wrong with getting a little visual help… whatever gets the message across!
You’re never going to understand every word you read (how many times do you read a challenging work in your own language and encounter words you’d struggle to define?), no matter how much context you’re aware of. That’s where the learning opportunities come in. Look those words up and add them to your repertoire.
You don’t want to forget all that new vocab, so write it down!
If you’re at a more advanced level and are actually trying to read for pleasure (rather than as a mere learning opportunity), you might not want to pause each time you encounter a new word to look it up. If that’s the case, it can be helpful to keep a notebook nearby to scribble down words you’re not sure about so that you can look them up later.
Pre-intermediates may, on the other hand, want to look up and write down new vocab as they encounter, and then go back and re-read the page or chapter again, using their notes as references. You’ll be surprised how much you can retain doing this!
All of the vocab learning in the world isn’t going to do you much good if you can’t recognize the words you’ve acquired when they’re spoken in the “real world”. Downloading the audio for a book you’re also reading through can be immensely helpful in a number of ways: listen to the recording as you read along to hear the correct pronunciation of new words (and then pause it and practice repeating them back yourself), or listen to the recording without reading along and pause it periodically and reflect on what you’ve heard/understood.