Today we’re going to offer some tips for selecting and getting the most out of books in your new language. Reading a full-length book in a new language can help increase your vocabulary and provide insight into how the language is actually used by native speakers. In addition, reading a book is something you can do at your own pace. Unlike a conversation, you can go back and reread sections or put the book down and look up words or phrases.
With all these tips, keep in mind that the goal is to challenge but not overwhelm your current level of reading comprehension. While you shouldn’t give up at the first literary roadblock that you face, there is no shame in admitting that you have bitten off more than you can chew. You can always come back and read a particularly challenging book once you have more experience with your new language.
Chose a book of appropriate length and reading level
Just as you wouldn’t expect an English-speaking grade school student to dive headlong into James Joyce’ Ulysses or William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, don’t make the first book you read in your new language a long, complex literary milestone. Consider the typical length of a book that you would read for fun and cut that at least in half. Make an honest assessment of your reading comprehension level in your new language. Pick a work that is slightly above your current level but that you will still be able to understand the majority of. You want a book where you’ll be able to understand roughly two-thirds to three-fourths of the text before needing to look anything up, and that you won’t hit “page count fatigue” with before reaching the end.
Chose a story that interests you
Find a book with a story that you find compelling and with characters that you can relate to. The more emotionally invested you are in a story the more likely you are to persevere through difficult passages and see it through to the end.
See if there is a bilingual edition
A bilingual addition of a book is useful for several reasons. First (and most obviously) you can fall back on the English translation when you’re unable to make sense of the native-language version. Try to avoid doing this as much as possible. Make a conscious effect to ignore the English language translation unless you are absolutely-stumped by the original text. In cases of a side-by-side bilingual edition, I recommend placing a note card or piece of paper over the English version. Only pull the note card/paper out of the way after you’ve made a sincere effort to comprehend a difficult word or passage on your own. Second, a bilingual edition can provide valuable insight into the similarities and differences between English and another language. When you do have to look at the English translation, don’t just take it on faith that it is a literal, word-for-word transliteration. Spend a few minutes examining the similarities and differences between the two versions. Paradoxically, a translation that is faithful to the spirit of a book will sometimes be worded very differently from a completely-literal translation of that same book.
Find a translation of an English book
Specifically, look for a translation of an English book that you have already read. This could be a picture book that you read as child as you were learning English or a novel that you read and loved in middle or high school. Don’t be afraid to start with something rudimentary, especially if you are just beginning to learn a new language. The works of Dr. Seuss, for example, are available in almost any language that you can think of.
Pick up a graphic novel
Graphic novels (full-length comic books) can be another useful source of reading material. Falling somewhere in difficulty and content between picture books and full-text adult novels, graphic novels incorporate both relatively straight-forward language and striking images. They tend to focus on themes that are more mature than those of children’s stories while still providing visual cues that can help you to make sense of what is happening in the story.