I have finally done it.
After two and a half years of learning, I have successfully read my first book in German!
I have spent the last two and a half years building my vocabulary, conjugating, making mistakes, struggling through children’s books, weather forecasts, news, and podcasts.I have felt frustrated, elated, discouraged, confused, optimistic, and finally – proud of myself.
So how did I get here? And how can you?
Build a strong foundation
Building up your vocabulary is a BIG part of being successful in your target language. I estimate that I know around 3000 words. About 2/3 of these words, I learned through a University course. The other 1/3 were learned from magazines, news reports, and conversations. Though tricky, grammar is also important for learning how to read in a foreign language. You want to focus on the sentiment being expressed instead of how and why a sentence is constructed in a certain way. In German, books and news reports tend toward formal and typically have an elevated sentence structure, while songs and magazines are less formal and use a simpler sentence structure.
Become comfortable with the tenses (past, present, future) and learn how to recognize them before attempting to read a novel. I am still struggling with using and understanding passive sentences and the subjunctive tense. Not being completely comfortable with these tenses impeded understanding while I was reading Die Watsons fahren nach Birmingham -1963- but did not strip me of enjoying the book.
Choose a book you have enjoyed before
I’ll be honest, I used to think this tip did not matter, until I tried to read a German novel called Der Kuss des Apollos. I realized about five pages in that I couldn’t easily read this book. I don’t have specialized vocabulary for the film industry, which the main character works in. After this brief, failed attempt, I picked up Die Watsons fahren nach Birmingham, which I have read several times before, and was able to immerse myself in the story. Being familiar with the book allowed me to guess what the unfamiliar words meant and, more importantly, encouraged me to continue reading.
Know yourself and your reading habits
Knowing yourself and your reading habits can make ALL the difference when you are first beginning to read in a foreign language.
Ask yourself these questions:
What kind of reader am I?
Do I prefer to read on a device (phone, computer, Kindle) or in a physical object (book, comic, magazine)?
Do I like longer or shorter works?
How much time do I really have?
I like reading in large chunks, preferably for two hours at a time. While I do read online, my favourite medium is an old-fashioned paperback. I know I am more suited to books so that is what I chose. Why force yourself to slog through a book when you really like short magazines, web articles, or comics? Find the right length for you.
Stray from your comfort zone
Begin by reading within your comfort zone to build up your confidence. But, do read outside of your comfort zone and preferred genre. I don’t typically enjoy romance novels or beauty and fashion pieces but I continue to seek them out. My end goal is to express myself as fully in German as I can, even if I have to read pieces that would otherwise bore me.
Above all, keep reading and have fun!
What was your first book or comic in a foreign language? Let me know in the comments!