I have always loved reading (well, ever since I’ve been able to read. Before that, I loved being read to. And before that, I can’t remember). And I have always had the suspicion that reading has helped me learn languages – first my own, and then others.
Now, when reading in a foreign language, I don’t have a dictionary by my side. I tried at first, but I found it tedious. If I don’t understand a word or a sentence, I’ll just read on. Maybe I’ll understand the next. Or not. But here is what I think: If a word is not important to the story, then it does not matter anyway. If it is important, it will likely show up several more times. If that happens, then its meaning will probably become clear from the context. If it does not become clear from the context but is obviously important, then at some point not knowing the meaning of the word will become sufficiently annoying, and I will finally get out the dictionary and look it up. This rarely happens, however.
For a long time, I have thought that this method of reading is just me being lazy. Turns out, it’s not. It is, in fact, a thing.
The thing is called “Extensive Reading”, and it is actually a recognised language learning method. It is explained, for instance here, and there is a collection of case studies here.
Still though, it is daunting to pick up a book in a language you don’t know well, at least at first. So how do you get yourself to do it? I made a rule for myself fourteen years ago to never read two consecutive books in the same language. It’s an easy rule, and it works for me. (Thank you international sections in book stores!)
Another thing that might help is a little friendly competition. One of them is the tadoku contest by Read More or Die, and the next round is starting on 15 August. This is how it works: You sign up via twitter, choosing the language or (up to 3) languages you plan to read in (the contest is used mostly by readers of Japanese, but it is not actually specific to any given language). Then, you have a fixed period of time (in this case half a month from 15 August to 31 August), in which you just read as much as possible and log your pages. Participants are ranked on the contest webpage according to how much they read, and at the end, there is a winner. Easy! Of course, there is nothing to win, except points on the internet, but for me at least, this usually works as a motivational tool (by the way, I have always wondered why. What is it about points on the internet that makes people push that little bit harder than they otherwise would? Or am I the only idiot who falls for this?)
So, join me and sign up for the reading contest! Improve your language skills! Get over your trepidations about reading in a language you are not quite at ease with! And, more importantly, win points on the internet! Happy reading!
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