My Spanish students always hate reading assignments and reading comprehension sections on quizzes and exams. This is understandable to an extent. It can be a bit overwhelming at first when you see a paragraph or more in Spanish or any other language you are learning. Regardless if reading in your target language is difficult for you or not, it is quite rewarding and essential if you truly want to progress and advance to a higher level of language proficiency. That’s why we assign readings and that’s precisely why reading has been one of my primary focuses in relearning French.
It’s a bit more complicated for me. At the peak of my French ability, I was able to read French literature (for the most part). I took several undergraduate literature courses in French and I held my own with student’s who had been studying the language for far longer. Therefore, I unquestionably have more reading comprehension capability than a student starting from zero at the “same” level for example. Still, I can’t read at the same speed as I could 5 years ago; my vocabulary bank is smaller and, while I usually recognize verbs, I sometimes forget which of the more complicated tenses is being used. This creates a challenge on more challenging texts, but I’m positive that I can achieve a high level if I stay consistent in my studies and gradually increase the level and length of my readings.
As I’ve said in a previous post, I’ve been using Easy French Reader as a stepping stone. I bought this book years ago when I was still a true beginner student and I always fall back on it when I feel like I am forgetting the language. It is a three-part text that includes readings that gradually advance in level and content. The last part of the book contains actual French short stories. It can be a bit elementary in content at times, but that is something I have seen across a wide variety of texts in several languages. I try to read between one and two chapters a day and always out loud (unless my wife is home). I find that speaking while reading kills two birds with one stone. If you’re learning a language then it is imperative to speak! You wouldn’t believe the amount of my students who tell me they study in silence for an oral exam/interview. It makes no sense to me. You have to train your tongue and mouth to speak a foreign language. The more you speak the better you will be. Bottom line.
I’m also using No Nonsense Knowledge’s French Made Simple. This is an excellent book for those with some previous French knowledge, but need a refresher course. The book is set up into 40 5-6 page chapters with periodical review sections. Each chapter includes a dialogue and a reading and then there are tons of practice exercises that reuse the vocabulary and verbs while focusing on the chapter’s theme. The readings in this book have been very beneficial thus far as they reinforce lots of elementary level vocabulary and sentence structures while steadily advancing in length and difficulty. As I do with my other reading material, I read everything 1-2 times out loud or until I can comfortably say it.
These two books are great for an elementary/beginner level and should hold me over until the summer, but, ultimately, my goal is to be able to comfortably read at an advanced French level. I am going to test this based on one of my bucket list entries – Read the Harry Potter Series in French. I think I will realistically be able to start this by the fall. In 2009 I read through the series in Spanish and found it to be very beneficial. I already had a master’s degree in Hispanic Studies, but I learned tons of vocabulary from the books. I think I will take the same approach this time around. As I read through the books, I wrote down every word or phrase that I didn’t know and, after I had about 10 or so, I would make mini-flash cards or import the words into an Anki app on my phone (basically flashcards with an algorithm that greatly increases learning efficiency). By the time I was halfway through the second book, I more or less knew everything that I was reading. Naturally, my reading speed progressed as well. Also, by reading something I was extremely familiar with, I didn’t have to worry about understanding the content and I also didn’t feel rushed to finish the books (For instance, I would lock myself in my house until I finished each new release and this time I was a little more social). I am hoping that reading the series in French will offer a similar experience and truly amp up my reading proficiency. By the end of the series, I should be able to comfortably tackle more advanced pieces if I should ever want to do so. This idea can be applied to any children’s/young adult literature: Hunger Games, Roald Dahl, Twilight, etc.
Reading shouldn’t be overlooked. Many language students just want to be conversational in the target language, but reading offers tons of benefits. Paired with some grammar, listening activities, and conversations/speaking practice, reading is an essential part of the process. It also just happens to be one of the most rewarding. Every once in a while I will finish a novel in Spanish and think “wow, I just read a book in Spanish.” I couldn’t have dreamt of doing such a thing ten years ago. This makes it an incredibly rewarding and satisfying experience and worth the struggles and doubts.