My Giveaway + Announcements

*My first foray into an Author Interview with Andrew Xia Fukuda is up! (Should I do more?)
*My first manga review for Natsume Yuujinchou V.1 - please let me know what you think

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Discussion Post: Reading in a Second Language

Ughhhhhh I'm supposed to be doing school stuff like studying for finals omfg but this post won't go out of my head, and I've been wanting to hold a discussion-type post here for a long time, wherein I get feedback from my readers! (Okay not true, the long time thing. I did have a sort of last minute discussion thing towards my winner of contest post, wherein after I gave answers to the Chinese Actress questions, I further asked about the Chinese movies/shows ppl like to watch, or would like to start watching, buuuuuuut that isn't quite a READING related discussion, which I plan on having here.*)

The topic in which I'd like to discussion: Reading in a Second Language

As a few of you may already know, besides English I do happen to be able to speak/read/write in another language with passable fluency: French. I'm currently at the stage wherein I can hold my own in conversations, but do not quite have the expanded vocabulary nor slangy ease to be considered fully fluent. In the past few weeks, as I tried rushing my French readings to write my paper for one of my classes, I decided to time how long it took me to read my assigned books. Result?

For french works, I was reading at 50 pages an hour.

I was quite horrified, to say the least. Why is this, you say? Because normally, in English, I read at least twice that pace. Reading 100+ pages an hour is no big deal for me. In fact, I suspect that would be me going quite slow. I easily devour 400-500 page books in about three or four hours, provided I'm not distracted by anything. Just, reading at half-speed makes me feel so bogged down, because I know in another language that I'm fluent at, I can do so much better. And I really want to be fluent in French. I do, I do.**

I've made an oath to try at speed up my French reading by taking the time to read French books leisurely (and not just once a week my textbook for one course) on a daily basis. For now, I'm holding off reading the what I'd call 'difficult' books and reading the ones with simple enough prose that, even if I didn't understand all the words, I can at least guess by context. (I'm the type of reader that hates referring to the dictionary for every word I don't understand. If I don't know it but can guess it's meaning I'd just speed on forward.) Hopefully when I have more time during the summary I'll go through and read Alexandre Dumas' works in French, particularly Le comte de Monte-Cristo, because while I really want to read it, reading it in French without a dictionary is quite beyond me. Believe me, I tried. *sighs*

But! Back to bring about a discussion focus on this: as I was thinking about how I could increase my french-reading capacities, I also started thinking about the ties between the degree of fluency in the language and reading choices. I was not too young that I don't remember my struggles with my English reading abilities as a child. English was not a language taught explicitly to me in school until Grade 3, when the French Immersions*** finally have a single class in English. I could speak fluently in English of course, due to growing up in the Anglo-speaking part of Canada, but my reading abilities were not quite on par. I still remember how I slowly progressed in my English readings, starting off with the early chapter books and by the sheer force of trying to read every single day, I read faster and faster to the point wherein I can read at the pace I am at now. I reminded myself that gaining the skills to read was not easy. How I couldn't read certain books if they were too long, or had too many unrecognizable words that I couldn't figure out by sounding out. I wouldn't say this inability to read the 'harder' books ruined my early reading experience, since I deeply enjoyed the books I read, but it did stop me from reading a type of book, or at the very least I couldn't read all the books I would have found interesting from hearing the summary only, because I didn't have the words to read them. Your vocabulary can certainly be enriched by the books you read, but it can also stop you from reading books with outlandish vocabulary until you have access to a bigger vocabulary in order to read them. And getting a bigger, stronger vocabulary takes time.

And then I go even further back and think about how you need a certain kind fluency with a language to even begin enjoying the stories you read. I think, there are two ends of learning how to read in a language. There's the first part, wherein you're still trying to memorize the basics, ie.e the letters for phonetic script, and then this basics have to start coming together to make words, then words with other words to create phrases, then eventually a sentence that has meaning. And I think, until you get to the point wherein you can see that sentence and that sentence has meaning for you, can your reading abilities or speed start taking flight towards the path of claiming reading language fluency. Perhaps this is just a roundabout way of consoling myself over my French reading speed, by telling myself I can only go up from here if I just put effort, that I'm over the big hurdle already and have only up to go, but it *is* a comforting thought for me. It keeps me optimistic, and I think you need that, when trying to acquire fluency in another language. =D

I do have more thoughts on language fluency and transitioning between different languages and whatnot, but I think I'll stop here.

Questions for my readers: Do you read in two or more languages? If so, how does your reading speed between the two compare? Is your reading material affected by your acquired vocab on what you can read? Any perks in a potentially expanded reading choice of material by knowing two or more languages? Or, if you don't know more than one language, do you think you'll ever try picking up another language? I always think that learning languages is tough, damn hard work, and if I were to ever pick up another language (or make another excruciatingly painful attempt at improving my Chinese, which has yet to go anywhere), I always like to imagine what I *could* use so-or-so language for, so that all that work and sweat will pay off, lol. Anything at all you'd like to talk about that's relevant to this post, I'd love to hear. =D

*Do feel free to go back and answer, if you want to participate in that discussion! I will see the comments and will most likely reply, lol.

**Why else would I suffer through signing up for french courses and having to write my papers in french for?

***French Immersion is a program wherein parents of non-french speaking backgrounds can enroll their kids into elementary school to learn the french language.


Anonymous said...

I'd like to say that I'm not better languages because I don't have time, but time is such a lame excuse. We MAKE time for things that matter to us!
After my summer in France, I realized I remember way more French than I thought. Not enough to live on, but enough to survive on. I attended a few lectures in French (got more out of some than others) and had books assigned for reading. While I read mine in English other participants read in French, the original language of the books. There is so much that just doesn't translate that I'd really like to get some beginning readers and work on reading French.
I'd also like to work on reading Chinese. I'm horrible at speaking it because of the tones (I swear I think I'm tone deaf) so I'd like to begin to understand the writing.

Michelle (su[shu]) said...

English is definitely my first language, so I do prefer reading in the English language more than any other. But I do try to read books written in Chinese as well, though it takes me more than twice as long. And because I never actually studied the language, my vocab is so limited that sometimes I can't even guess what the word is! (You know how Chinese characters are....) At the moment, the mere idea of picking up a novel written in Chinese is scary. (Even if it's just 150 pages.) The most I can manage right now is reading manga in Mandarin. =p

I read a lot better in the Malay language though. I haven't been reading any since I got to NZ, but I don't think I've lost it yet. =)

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

@campele, oh yes, it always strikes me what gets lost in translation, how with different languages it's like you're thinking with a different mindset with different words to play with, but I didn't talk about it here because I thought the post would never end if I did. But yes, thanks for bringing that up. (This is also why I always try to read the books in its original language if I can, even if I know there's a English translation out for the french book)
Haha, believe me I totally get the tones. With Mandarin it's not so bad, but Cantonese? man, I just throw in whatever tone I think sounds right (and I'm usually wrong, lol.) Good luck with the reading/writing bit! I'm really weak at that myself. *sadface*


Haha, hey, your Chinese is miles better than mine. I don't dare read manga in Chinese, I just wait for Eng translations. The only exception I make is Wallflower/Perfect Girl Evolution, and I don't even bother reading the text unless Kyohei or Sunako are talking, lol. (This gives you a clue on how much my Chinese sucks...)

NZ as in New Zealand? 'cause that's way cool. lol, it's wicked awesome that you have some fluency in Malay. I think my parents tried to teach me way back when I was young but it flew over my head. Don't exactly have a gift for languages, myself. ^^;

Amy said...

I also did French Immersion though in my small school that only lasted until grade 7 when there were around 14 of us left in the French class so they cancelled it and we had to switch to English.

I used to read in French and have been wanting to again though I would have to start at a grade 6 level. lol.

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

lol by Grade 7 I too had 10-ish classroom: 12, to be exact. We had to merge the grades with Gr. 8 in order for it to be a "class": I think there was about 18 in total. I'm happy they didn't cancel the program despite the dwindling numbers.

Sarah Rettger said...

I've really gotten out of practice with Spanish over the past couple years, but there was a time when I read whole books in Spanish for fun.

Or sort-of-fun, because it was really aggravating to be moving so slowly through the book. Like you, I read pretty fast in English, but not so much in Spanish. (Or not at all in Spanish, these days. I need to work on that.)

Jenny said...

Even when I was keeping up with my French, which I haven't been since my French friend moved back to London, I was never a very fast reader. My focus was more on learning to speak and understand easily, because whenever I start learning a language, I think: This will help me to visit another country without being a dumb American! :P

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...


lol it's real frustrating not being able to read as fast as you normally can, eh? It's so awesome that you know Spanish though. I don't know a lick of it, so I was er, very lost when wandering around the streets of Barcelona... (Lovely city! Just wished I knew the language so I could understand pp. 8D)


LOL, that's a good way about it. Unfortunately I'm actually just really bad at picking up new languages so I never get to that ease in basic speech unless I like, immerse myself in it all the time...... le sigh....

Tahereh said...

this is a really cool post. i've never seen anything else quite like it. i have varying levels of competency in 8 different languages, but after english, spanish is my strongest (non-native) second. for the most part, i can read spanish at a fairly fast pace, but i get stuck on certain words if the vocab is more intense. definitely not as fast as i read in english, anyway. but i think once you start picking up one language, it's much easier to keep learning. the systems (while not all the same) are generally just that -- systems. they can be followed. it's really interesting to understand the underlying mechanics of language. plus, latin-based languages are all very, very similar, and much easier to acquire. (like spanish, italian, french, portuguese, etc.)

thanks for the thought! great blog and best of luck with everything!!

Mardel said...

I'm of mixed race, my mom is spanish, but unfortunately she did not speak spanish to us while growing up. Even though I'm not fluent in spanish speaking, I can read spanish, except that there's lots of words that I don't understand. So I'm not a fluent spanish reader either. I can sure fake it though, for reading in spanish to a first grader!

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