When I was learning French formally, the biggest strides I made was when I was forced to read French literature. It was one of the most academically challenging endeavours of my schooling career. For the first few weeks, I had to have the laptop handy on Google Translate primed and ready. It felt like every second word was something new and unfamiliar; I quickly accumulated an unenviably long list of words I had learnt. If this reading hadn’t been required for the A-Levels, I don’t think I would have persisted, but I am glad I did.
After finishing those the three texts, I gained the confidence to consume more french. This came in the form of changing the language on all of the electronics I used. I also had a phase where I consumed all my sports news through l’Équipe and all my world news through Le Monde. I surprised even myself that I could understand the context of what I was reading without the need for Google Translate. It was beyond empowering, and at that stage, I felt like I could have become fluent had I spent time in France. I would do my leisure reading in french, and in my mind, I was disciplined about that.
The most valuable aspect of reading in a foreign language is simply exposure to new vocabulary. I mightn’t know not the word, but I was at a point where I could infer the meaning from the context. If I couldn’t do that, then it would only take 5 seconds to find an english translation. It’s such a simple concept, but something that language learners don’t pay attention to early enough. People often start with learning the grammar and syntax, which is fair. But reading should be done early and often. Reading is a real-world use-case for a language, learning grammar and how to conjugate verbs correctly is a use-case for school and examinations. Reading to learn a foreign language is a hill that I will happily die on.