Ever reach a point in your language learning where you feel like you don’t actually know anything at all? Even as a B1 level student who is able to have a pretty decent conversation in French exchanging my ideas and opinions, there are days where I feel like I should go back to the beginner level and start all over again because I’m still unsure about having transitioned into intermediate territory. From what I’ve read online, this seems to be a common feeling among intermediate students where we feel we’ve hit a wall with language learning and we don’t quite know how to move forward or what more we could try.
A few weeks ago, feeling stuck and uncertain, I decided to try something different to help me improve. I decided to read in French. Yes, not a new concept, I know, but I rarely read in French because in the past I didn’t find any benefit in reading. In fact, it often left me feeling worse because I could never remember all the words and phrases I discovered and the constant looking up of new words as I went along, made the reading experience feel tedious and boring. This time though, I was determined to use reading as a way to immerse myself in the language and as it turns out, it works! Last night I completed my first French book in which I understood more or less the entire story as I went along and I’m feeling very proud of myself. Reading is one of the least stressful ways to learn a language and I think it’s because of that it has a greater impact on the mind absorbing and retaining words and sentence structures. You don’t have to think about what to say and you have the time to process everything calmly and honestly, my brain was loving it. So here are some takeaways from my reading experience.
One – I was motivated and motivation, as cliché as it sounds, probably played the biggest role in my progress. I knew there was something in reading, I mean all those experts had to be on to something, and I knew if I just kept at it, I would see some kind of results. The fact that I understood so much of the story kept me interested and invested which reinforced my motivation each time. Two – book genre is crucial. Previously, and because I am someone who enters into everything with high expectations, I only read French classics. Yes, I was doomed to fail and I did many times but I did not want to read nursery school books either, so this time round I tried contemporary young adult books and it is here I found my happy place which made me realise this is actually a brilliant genre for French students because the language is current and largely uncomplicated and bonus: you get to learn slang words in context. Three – my vocabulary improved rapidly. I think this is because when you read a book, you tend to come across the same words over and over, some of these words I looked up but I found many words can be understood just from context alone and these are the words that I now remember most. Reading in French everyday also ensured the words stayed in my head and the times I was not reading, I found myself thinking in French. Four – reading aloud improved my pronunciation. It really did. I find that when I speak to French natives, because there is so many things going on in my head in terms of translating my thoughts correctly from English into French, I’m so focused on what I say that I forget to put in more effort in my accent so reading aloud was a great way for me to practice solely on my accent because I was alone but also, I didn’t need to think about what to say. Five – the fifth and final thing I noticed so far, is that my confidence improved so much. With my head full of French words every single day for the last two weeks, it naturally inspired me to want to speak in French rather than avoid it for fear of making a million mistakes. I feel so reassured by my understanding that now I don’t care as much about making mistakes and this seems to help me form better sentences than I did before, if that makes sense?
All in all, I’ve found reading a little every day to have a significant effect on my learning in a matter of weeks so I definitely recommend trying it as an immersion exercise! I’m really excited to see how much more I improve over the next few months.
PS: Here’s a link to the book I read, Un Voisin Étrange. Happy reading!