A Guide To Foreign Language Reading

Whether you’re starting out or are an advanced learner, here are tips for making the most of reading books in another language.
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A Guide To Foreign Language Reading

Reading a book in its original language is, in our opinion, one of the best parts of learning a new language. Sure, literature in translation is great, but if you really love an author it’s worth it to read their original writing. However, if you’re not too far into learning the language, it can be pretty difficult. Staring at a paragraph for 15 minutes trying to figure out what it means isn’t exactly a good time. We gathered together some tips to make foreign language reading more fun and more educational!

If you just want some good books to start reading in other languages, scroll to the bottom to see our language-specific guides.

Pick Books That Aren’t Too Hard (When You’re Starting Out, At Least)

If literary goals are your main motivation, it might be tempting to start reading Les Misérables a month into learning French. That probably won’t go well, though! It’s going to be very slow-going, and you’ll probably only know a fraction of the language. Worse, you might find it discouraging, which will really sap your motivation.

Instead, find books that are more your speed when you’re starting out. You can start with children’s literature, like Le Petit Prince. While this might not sound too exciting, we assure you there are a lot of good children’s books around the world, and this is your chance to explore them.

Better Yet, Choose A Story You Know Already

If you already have a vague idea of what’s going on in a book, that can be very helpful. Knowing the plot can guide you along as you try to understand the words. You’re already figuring out new vocab and grammatical rules; plot can be one less thing to worry about. You can also have the English version of the book and read it along with the other version, but be warned that it won’t necessarily be a word-for-word translation, which could throw you off.

If you don’t feel like re-reading, though, there are other options for making the foreign language reading experience a little easier. Graphic novels, for example, are useful because the visuals provide context clues for the text. Anything that can guide you along in your reading is worth considering!

Keep A Dictionary By Your Side

When we say dictionary, we mean a physical, language-to-language dictionary. Yes, you could use Google Translate for everything, but that quick satisfaction isn’t going to help with learning that much. Plus, using a translation app can gloss over the intricacies of language.

Instead, look up the words you stumble over in an actual, old-fashioned dictionary. They’re very useful and provide tools to help you understand the language better. Yes, this will be a lot slower, but it is ultimately more rewarding.

Start a Language Journal And Collect Vocabulary

There are many different uses for language journals, but keeping one while reading a book is one of the best. Rather than look up words in the dictionary, translate them and then forget about them, you can keep a running list of all the words you’re learning. It helps you keep track of your learning progress, and can also give you something to look back on and study later.

There are many ways to make your language journal more advanced. You could write down the vocabulary words and nothing else, but that’s probably too easy for you. You can add the exact translations of the words next to them, so you can refer to them later. And if you really want to push yourself, try defining the word in the language that you’re learning. Yes, it can be difficult early on, but it will push you to really start creating a map of the language in your own head, rather than translating things into your native language constantly.

Read The Book Aloud

You might not have read a book aloud since high school, but it can be a useful tool for foreign language reading. This will give you a chance to slow down and better understand the language that you’re reading. Bonus: it adds to your pronunciation practice! After all, reading is a pretty eyes-only activity, and so finding ways to engage the other senses will broaden your learning ability.

Our Guides To The Best Books For Foreign Language Reading

Check out our language-by-language guides to books that’ll help you start reading in another language.

Learn the language before you start reading!
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