So, reading in a foreign language probably seems quite daunting. And, well, yeah! Okay, that last bit wasn’t a sentence, but suffice it to say that half the battle is really getting up the motivation to open up that book and keeping at it until it gradually gets easier.
For me, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, the first book I picked up by myself was Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Well, I got hooked on it (I was 22) and although I didn’t understand everything in it, my trusty little electronic dictionary provided help where I really needed it! It feels like it was ages ago, especially since in 2008 the Kindle touch hadn’t been invented yet. People also usually ask me why I didn’t just use my smartphone. I didn’t have a smartphone; I had a blackberry that was on pay as you go and 2G.
Anyway, the first bit of the book was hard because I kept having to look things up. Little by little, though, the same words kept cropping up, and eventually I remembered them. It helps that the dialogue is really very simple in Twilight and that generally the novel isn’t too complicated. So I kept going and eventually I found that I couldn’t put it down. I wanted more, and so I got the next book, and then the next one. When I finished the series, I was ready to read something a little more ambitious. So I went for Paul Auster in translation, I read Moon Palace and loved it. I was on a roll! So I just kept going, kept reading, and as if by magic, my vocabulary and understanding of grammar got much much better.
At the language school I attended, they bumped me up a level, and I was able to pass the B2 test after just 6 months of studying French, having begun as an A2. I was overjoyed! But it’s important to note here that I worked really hard. I kept a vocabulary notebook, did all my homework, spoke French at every opportunity that presented itself to me, and accepted any and all invitations to all French gatherings where I spent the better part of my first year completely silent.
So, here are some tips for reading in another language:
- Don’t bother looking up every word, look up the ones you really need, and use the context for the rest.
- Choose something relatively simple in the beginning, let’s leave the French philosophers alone for now.
- Use an e-reader if you have one. It’s so much easier to look a word up on your Kindle than it is to type it on your phone.
- Go for books you normally already enjoy. Stop by the local bookshop and ask about authors similar to ones you like. You can always go for your favorites in translation.
Finally, here are some authors I read and enjoyed in French:
- Patrick Modiano – he writes beautifully and his books are short.
- Laurent Gaudet – he also wrote some short and lovely books with beautiful descriptions.
- Catherine Pancol – I like her because she writes about ordinary people, and there’s a lot of dialogue.
- Françoise Sagan – I love her books, they’re simple, very well written, and generally short. Try Bonjour Tristesse to begin with.
- Amélie Nothomb – she wrote some short stories that might be good to start with.
Those are the ones that come to mind, if you have any suggestions for books you’ve read and loved in a foreign language, leave them in the comments!