How to read in a foreign language: part 2

See here for part 1.

Step 3: Use your dictionary sparinglyAh! The great dictionary debate! To look up, or not to look up? That is the question… You may have noticed that step 1 and 2 were both ways of dodging this thorny issue. Looking up every word you don’t understand is tedious and time-consuming, but if you never look anything up, you’ll miss out on loads of opportunities to learn new words. Swings and roundabouts.

The trick is to find a balance. Try and work out what as many words as you can mean based on the context. Imagine you’re reading about Oscar Wilde and that the author describes his social criticism as ‘acerbic’. You don’t know what acerbic means, but you know a little something about Oscar Wilde and his work. Do you really need to look it up? You know acerbic is an adjective, and you know it means something like ‘sharp,’  ‘perceptive,’ or ‘critical’. Resist the urge to check this in the dictionary, and move on. Or, you may come across words that you have no hope of guessing, but which you can skip over without missing out on anything significant in the text. Save your dictionary time for words that are both indecipherable and key to your understanding. If you think about it, this is probably how you read in your own language, gradually refining your understanding of difficult words as you see how they are used in various situations, and glossing over superfluous technical and archaic terms where possible.

Step 4: Read out loud

This is on my list of ‘things-I-know-I-should-do-more-often,’ right alongside flossing and looking at the balance of my current account. But do as I say, not as I do. It does help, especially if you are learning English or Catalan, which pose serious pronunciation challenges.

Of course, reading out loud on your own, Hamlet-style, makes you feel ridiculous. So don’t do it! Meet up with someone who speaks the language you’re trying to learn, eat some cake, and spend a few minutes reading newspaper articles to each other. I must start doing this again, or I’ll never be able to say ‘I want milk’ (‘vull llet’) in Catalan (those double Ls drive me crazy!).


One thought on “How to read in a foreign language: part 2

  1. Pingback: Reading in foreign with a Kindle « Letter wounded

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