IWTYAL 040: What kind of books should I read?

itunesButtonOne reader asks: “I want to try my hand at reading a book and wondered what you would recommend?”

In this episode:

The problem with children’s books…

  • Intended for children
  • Low-frequency vocabulary

What kind of books are best to read…

  1. Graded readers (not parallel texts)
  2. Short, non-fiction books on a topic that interests you (e.g. biographies, how-to books)
  3. Any book you’ve already read, translated into your target language
  4. If you have a book store close by with a good foreign book section – go and browse!
  5. If you don’t like books, try Project Syndicate

Judith Meyer from learnlangs.com mentioned:

  1. Crime stories, romance stories, autobiographies, travel stories.
  2. Translated books are easier than original ones.
  3. The Little Prince

Resources mentioned in todays episode:

Project Syndicate – opinion pieces from the world’s newspapers

How to read effectively in a foreign language – my article on reading

Matching Methods and Goals in Language Learning – A great talk from Judith Meyer at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin in 2014.

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  • ToGusDS

    Great post, as usual. You’re right whenever you start reading a book it’s very important to be interested on the topic, maybe that’s why I can’t read children books. Something that helped me a lot when I was looking for this kind of books was asking for “easy” writers to native speakers which is helping me a lot with italian because the search is easier. I haven’t thought about translated books, but i’ll give it a try. Do you know any page to read a bit of japanese? I was trying http://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/easy/index.html, but i don’t have enough vocabulary :p
    Oh and what do you think about http://www.bbc.com/? they have a lot of resources in different languages.

  • Israel Lai

    Great episode! I’d like to mention that my personal favourite reading material is museum texts. It’s only possible while I travel of course, but during my month in Germany I’ve done lots of extensive and intensive reading on topics that interest me (otherwise I wouldn’t be paying to go in right?) and picked up quite some vocabulary, especially words that appeared over and over again in different cities’ museums. Most of them even have ‘parallel text’ – not your cup of tea, but convenient nonetheless 😉 While at home though, I think I’d be back to Harry Potter…

    • That’s a great thing to do – travel to another country, spend your time doing stuff that interests you… good job!

    • I’m a big fan of getting free literature on the boat or tour whenever Mary and I take a trip/cruise in Europe. For example on river cruises, up at the front desk they have the travel itinerary for the day in English and at least 10 other languages. So I have instant bi-lingual material! I read it on the cruise and even stuff it in my suitcase and bring it home with us ;). It’s relevant material (the itinerary for the trip we’re on) short material, (a few sentences or short paragraphs) and great “current” expressions. Light and breezy reading – love that.
      Daniel Léo Simpson
      San Francisco

      • Israel Lai

        Same, I always grab at least 2 copies of those information leaflets for visitors! That is, until my backpack can’t take any more…

  • Great advice … I just have one remark about Harry Potter : actually 99% words in it are most definitely standard words, used by everyone (house, street, stress, studies …). Hogwarts and wizardry are actually not the whole thing. I personally made dramatic improvements with the translation of HP in Arabic, and didn’t dare telling my arabic teachers that of the great vocabulary I acquired on which they complimented me didn’t come from the course texts … So yes, read whatever thing you’d like to read or re-read in your own language, but in the target language.

  • I agree with you on children’s books in general. But my problem with graded readers are that I’m usually not interested in the stories… So, I would go for something that actually interests you, even if it was a bit hard, because that will keep you going. And for French Le Petit Nicholas books that are for children are awesome, because the language is more simple (only passe composé and every chapter is their own story).

    For me, if I’m a beginner I go with comics. Because you have the pictures to help you. I don’t totally agree with not reading Harry Potter either. But this goes to your suggestion that read a book you’ve already read. The point is that you don’t need to get stuck with words because you can follow the story even if you don’t understand everything. Also, if you like romances, I find harlequin super useful, because if you miss 2 pages you can still follow the story 🙂

    In any case I would recommend picking something you would like. Otherwise you just lose motivation.