Books and foreign languages—two of my favorite subjects.
Both stimulate the mind, help us become better people, and open up so many possibilities. They’re an absolute must for men looking to get the most out of life.
I had never thought that these two subjects were connected, but I had been overlooking one obvious fact: Books are written in languages besides English!
Yes. How “American” of me.
As someone who reads exclusively in English, like you probably do, we tend not to think of reading books in other languages. It wasn’t until a recent trip to Russia that the obvious fact hit me over the head. It was then I bought my first Russian book and decided to start reading in a foreign language.
Where to Begin (And What to Avoid)
The first time I went to the Russian bookstore I wanted to get a book of poems on Alexander Pushkin. Of course they had a copy, for a price much lower than I would have found in the US. But as I sat down to read it later I found it was way over my head. The vocabulary was simply much too difficult.
This should have been obvious, but it’s something that I didn’t think about.
A day or so later I chatted up a cute Russian girl in the park. I used my Pushkin poems as a prop, and mentioned that it was much too difficult. The next week we went to the bookstore together and she helped me pick up some books… Children’s books. Needless to say they were quite a bit easier.
But this is where you want to start—with easy reading material. As someone who has studied Russian for years, this was humbling. Yet, it was the right choice. Not only have I already learned a ton of new vocab, but the prose is written in a structure that will help you internalize the way the foreign language is spoken by native speakers.
Reading News Articles
Like with the Pushkin poems, I tend to get ahead of myself. For a while now I’d been reading Russian news articles—fairly advanced stuff. I’ve gotten to the point where I can read these news articles quite well, sometimes even easier than children’s stories! Simply because I’ve memorized a lot of vocab.
The problem is that it was the wrong type of vocab—words that I’d never really use in a conversation, but would fit perfectly in a professional environment. One day this will come in handy, but I should have spent my time reading children’s books first, then advanced articles. This way I’d be able to learn more relevant vocab.
I do believe that reading news or other articles is a great idea when you’re at the right level. What you should do is find a popular news site in your target language. This can be done by going to Alexa.com. Scroll through the most popular sites of a country with your target language and find a site that piques your interest.
Then, find an article that you would like to read and appeals to your interest. This will make translating more fun and easy, and make you more likely to follow through.
Print out the article, and then translate by hand. Otherwise you will just copy and paste the whole thing into Google Translate. Needing to look up words is fine, but before you do translate as much as you can, and try and ‘guess’ words you don’t know by using the words around it to try and discover the meaning. “Context clues” as we’re taught in grade school.
From there, use a dictionary to fill in the blanks.
Not using a dictionary for every word is important because it will better prepare you for listening. If you’re not fluent, you’re going to regularly hear words you don’t know and are going to have to do your best to try and decifer the meaning.
Where to Find These Books
Of course the ideal way to find a book in your target language is to actually travel to a country where that language is spoken. Seek out a local bookstore and find a book that suits your needs.
Unfortunately, we can’t all travel at a whim. Instead, search online for these books. Amazon has a decent amount of foreign language books available, and if you search you shouldn’t have much difficulty.
(Image via Rosetta Stone)