I began learning French in 5th grade. I participated in my public school district’s program called “French Back to Back.” This program consisted of 5th grade students being a paired up with a French student of the same and age and gender. Though typically the group of American students would go live with the French student they had been paired with and their family for three weeks and then the French student would live with the American student and their family for the subsequent three weeks. The year I did it, the school we exchanged with whether due to disinterest or another reason would not send back the French students so we simply went there for three weeks. In preparation for this, the 20 or so of us who signed up for this experience from schools all over the district met once a week to learn basics of the French language, French culture and the expectations and requirements of “French Back to Back.”
After this, I kept up with French throughout middle and high school and even to college. I remember one of my classmates in high school was reading Harry Potter in Italian and I thought, “I could never do that in French.” While in college, my reading capacity in French grew as I had to do it for multiple assignments, but it wasn’t until the last few years that I began reading in French for enjoyment. I too started to read the Harry Potter series. In fact, while Michael and I spent two weeks in the mountains of Greece with his yiayia we developed a pattern where we exercised and stretched in the morning, then came downstairs with our books in Greek and French respectively which we read while eating our Greek “Fitness” Cereal.
I have been thinking about how reading is so beneficial to learning a language. I was a voracious reader as a child and there were so many words that I picked up from reading books. I never bothered to look them up in a dictionary but by using the context, especially since many of these words were repeated, I was able to garner the meaning. The same thing can happen by reading in a foreign language. It is a great way to enhance vocabulary. It is true that the amount of unknown words may be greater in a foreign text than if you were reading in your native language but the fact remains that you will be learning vocabulary in an authentic situation.
This is not to disregard the importance of oral practice with language learning however. In fact, though I learned new words by reading in English when I was younger, there was some I did not know how to pronounce until I was much older. (Example: succumb. I was sure it was pronounced “sahcoom.” I sounded like an idiot when I said it aloud). Being able to pronounce words correctly is important for oral communicatory purposes with a language though not necessarily for purely written communication. I went years not knowing how to pronounce the name “Hermione,” but that didn’t mean I enjoyed J.K. Rowling’s books any less!
Thoughts on reading in a different language?