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.