Register  Login  Active Topics  Maps  

On Reading Easy Stuff

  Tags: Reading
 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
44 messages over 6 pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6  Next >>
Stelle
Bilingual Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
tobefluent.com
Joined 2689 days ago

949 posts - 1686 votes 
Speaks: French*, English*, Spanish
Studies: Tagalog

 
 Message 1 of 44
22 August 2014 at 7:37pm | IP Logged 
I'm a huge proponent of reading easy stuff. While I think that reading intensively - looking up every single
unknown word in a text, taking note of grammar and sentence structure, puzzling your way through a difficult
piece of text - is important, I think that reading for pleasure (or extensive reading) is even more important.

So important, in fact, that I've decided to write a long post about it. Ha!

I've made the greatest gains in language learning by reading for pleasure: reading stuff that I can understand,
enjoying it for its own sake, and not getting bogged down by every single unknown word.

The case for easy reading

I've taught language and literacy for over a decade - all of it in a second language. In first grade French
immersion, kids have to learn to read. And they have to do it in French, a language that they know absolutely
nothing about before starting school in September. Many of them speak languages other than English at home.

The key ingredient for kids learning how to read is reading easy books independently. I know it sounds overly
simple, but it's true. The kids who read easy books (with "easy", of course, changing as their reading skills
improve) progress the fastest. Easy books are books with 95% comprehension rate - that is, the child can
understand 95% of the words on his or her own. Any less than 95%, and the child will probably become
frustrated, bored and unmotivated.

So what about adult language learners?

I think that the 95% figure also holds for language learners. I know that a lot of people will disagree with me. I
know lots of forum members read books with (for instance) 70% comprehension - and there's nothing inherently
wrong with that. It's just that at 70%, you're looking at an intensive rather than extensive reading experience.
You're going to need a lot of support - dictionary, google translate, bilingual text, audio - and it's *still* going to
be hard. I'm a big fan of intensive reading, so I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't do any of those things.

It's just that I think extensive reading is equally important, and it's easiest to do with simpler texts. 95%
comprehension will let you advance more quickly, and with less difficulty and frustration than pleasure reading
more difficult texts.

How do I figure out if a novel is "easy"?

So many of us jump to Harry Potter as our first foreign novel. I did the same thing a few months into my Spanish
journey. But the fact is that Harry Potter is hard. I first tried reading it tandem-style, reading a page in
English and then the same page in Spanish. But it was still hard. It was giving me a headache. And it would have
taken me a very long time to finish.

I advanced *much* more quickly when I set Harry Potter aside and started reading a much easier book instead.
And four easy books later, when I tried Harry Potter again, it was the perfect level for me. I didn't need to look up
very many words, and I certainly didn't need to tandem-read it.

The coolest part was that I didn't even notice that I was improving. I had fun reading the four easy books, enjoyed
the act of reading, and was pleasantly surprised at how much I'd improved without it ever feeling like "work".

In case you're wondering, this is the order in which I read Spanish novels, starting about 2 months into my study:

1. Charlie y la fábrica de chocolate by Dahl - a book that I knew very well in English
2. Despereaux by DiCamillo- a book that I knew inside-out in French (and that I absolutely love)
3. Charlie y el gran ascensor de cristal by Dahl- a book that I'd read once as a child, but that wasn't very familiar
to me
4. Las Brujas by Dahl - a book that I read for the first time in Spanish
5. Harry Potter - and by this time it was easy

Doing the math

To figure out if a novel is in the 95% range, choose a random page. Count the number of lines on the page, and
the number of words on one line. Multiply the number of words on one line by the number of lines on the page,
and then multiply that number by 0.05.

Using a page of Charlie y la Fábrica de Chocolate as an example:

  • 29 lines on the page
  • 10 words in a line
  • 29 x 10 = 290
  • 290 x 0.05 = 14.5


So if there are any more than 14 unknown words on that page (that you can't easily infer from context), then it’s
not at a 95% comprehension level. Read the page, counting the words that you don’t know. If there are fewer
than 14 – then you’re good to go. Any more than 14, and you might find the frustration level too high to really
enjoy the experience of reading for pleasure.

Of course, 95% is a somewhat arbitrary number as it applies to adult learners. You might decide that 90%
comprehension is easy enough for extensive reading. The math is pretty much the same, except that you'll
multiply by 0.1 at the end instead of 0.05.

  • 29 lines on the page
  • 10 words in a line
  • 29 x 10 = 290
  • 290 x 0.1 = 29


If that feels comfortable to you, great! (Although I would argue that a book with 29 unknown words per page is
probably too hard for low-effort pleasure reading.)

But what if NOTHING'S easy?

This is where I'm at in Tagalog right now. Even after nearly four months, blocks of text are pretty much
indecipherable to me. I'll understand some of the invidual words, but the overall context escapes me. Most of the
reading that I do through my course is, by design, intensive. I'm rereading, looking up words, figuring out turns
of phrase, until the text becomes easy.

But that doesn't mean that I'm neglecting extensive reading. If anything, reading for pleasure becomes even
more important when a big chunk of the reading that I'm doing feels like work.

My first graders each had a collection of readable books that they kept in a bin. This meant that they always had
something that they could read during independent reading time - even in September, when they could
barely speak French (or read in English, for that matter). I've followed the same principles to make myself a book
bin for Tagalog.

What can you read for pleasure when you're an absolute beginner?

* Things that you've written yourself: paragraphs, translations, stories (just make sure that everything's
been corrected by a native speaker)
* Bilingual picture books: stories with text in both English (or your native language) and your target language on
the same page. The support from pictures and from your L1 text means that you can pleasure read texts that
would generally be far beyond you.
* Stuff that you've already read intensively: if you're doing a course (Assimil, Teach Yourself, language-specific
course, etc), then you probably have dialogues and texts that you've already dug into. Copy these (by hand, by
typing or by scanning) and collect them in a duotang - and there you have a perfect "just-right" text that you can
review repeatedly.
* Song lyrics - after you've learned a song, type it out (perhaps in table format with the English in a second
column)
* Language notebook – if you have a notebook where you write down interesting sentences, vocabulary or
paragraphs, store it with the rest of your just-right texts
* Homemade bilingual picture books: You can create your own bilingual picture books by translating L2 to L1 (or
L1 to L2 - with the support of a native) and writing the text on sticky notes that you add to each page.

One of my homemade bilingual storybooks:



Extensive reading at a beginner level

Each of these texts on its own might take no more than a few minutes to read as a beginner. That's why I
recommend storing them together so that you have lots of choices.

This is how I read for pleasure in Tagalog right now:

1. Fill a bin with a variety of readable texts
2. Carry the bin somewhere comfortable
3. Set a timer for 10, 15 or 20 minutes
4. Read



(Of course, if you have a tablet and all of your texts in electronic format, you eliminate the need of a physical
collection altogether. I just like reading things on actual paper.)

It doesn’t matter what I read, or in which order. All of the texts in the bin are useful, so I just read whatever I feel
like first, and then pick up something else. I might read the same picture book three times, understanding a bit
more every time. Or I might focus solely on texts that I’ve already read intensively, so that I understand almost
every word that I read. It really doesn’t matter. I don’t stop reading until the timer sounds.

And that’s it.

Easy, right?

When a text becomes too easy – which it will, as the reader progresses – it can be switched out for something
new.

Synergy at the beginner level

The beauty of reading (and re-reading) a variety of different texts at the beginner level is that you come across
the same words over and over again, in multiple contexts. It's much easier to remember a word that you've seen
in multiple contexts than one that you've seen in just one or two - even if you've drilled it 45 times on anki. I love
the magic of figuring stuff out organically (Oh, wait! The picnic was called a "baon" in that other book. And here
the character is bringing food: "nagbabaon ng pagkain". That makes sense!)

Anyway, I'm not trying to convince you to do what I'm doing. I just wanted to sing the praises of reading easy
books - even when at first glance nothing seems easy!


Edited by Stelle on 22 August 2014 at 7:52pm

37 persons have voted this message useful



BOLIO
Senior Member
United States
Joined 3203 days ago

253 posts - 364 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish

 
 Message 2 of 44
22 August 2014 at 8:29pm | IP Logged 
What a wonderful post. I have already found a copy of Charlie y la fábrica de chocolate PDF online after reading your post. I am not very advanced but I can read the pages within your 95% rule.

I have been using dual text at:

http://www.novelas.rodriguezalvarez.com/index.php/listado-no velas

However, you are very right in the fact they are still very INTENSIVE exercises for me.


I will spend some time with this as I like to read anyways. I really liked the idea concerning homemade bilingual storybooks for the beginner level. I think it would be very useful for true beginners.

Thank you for the VERY well thought out and well planned post.
2 persons have voted this message useful



rdearman
Senior Member
United Kingdom
rdearman.orgRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 3781 days ago

881 posts - 1812 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Italian, French, Mandarin

 
 Message 3 of 44
22 August 2014 at 9:10pm | IP Logged 
I agree completely with everything you've said. When I started the super challenge I picked up a book by H. P. Lovecraft in French and it was hard. I started to read a Stephen King book in French which was easier, then finally settled on a few Petit Nicolas books.

One thing I would say is it is worth continuing with the harder novel, Harry Potter in your example, while reading the simpler texts. This is because you'll see the same words in both books and they reinforce each other in your mind. Especially if you're seeing them in Anki at the same time.

Another recommendation I'd like to make is you can read much harder texts for pleasure, but just make sure they are shorter. For example I read a couple of articles on wikipedia which interested me. After having read them in English, I switched to the same topic but in French and re-read the topic again. You can also generate pdf's and even books from wikipedia articles, so you can make your own short books.

If the wikipedia article is hard, you can read it once in your native language, then read it again in your TL, then read it a 3rd,4th, or 5th time. Repetition will help, and after you've read it five times you'll know the words. This isn't really a problem when the text is super short and you have the option to print them and keep them handy in your book bin.

Wikibooks also has a "junior" section with lots of opensourced books which are directed at children. For example this book on Dinosaurs in French which you can print and keep.

If you have some ebooks, epub or pdf I've put some scripts on my blog that lets you convert them to paged books. (You have to have access to a linux machine)

http://www.rdearman.org/wordpress/three-scripts-for-converti ng-epub-into-pdf-files-then-into-books/
5 persons have voted this message useful





emk
Diglot
Moderator
United States
Joined 4077 days ago

2615 posts - 8805 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
Personal Language Map

 
 Message 4 of 44
22 August 2014 at 10:01pm | IP Logged 
Excellent post, Stelle! Thank you.

Stelle wrote:
I think that the 95% figure also holds for language learners. I know that a lot of people will disagree with me. I
know lots of forum members read books with (for instance) 70% comprehension - and there's nothing inherently
wrong with that. It's just that at 70%, you're looking at an intensive rather than extensive reading experience.
You're going to need a lot of support - dictionary, google translate, bilingual text, audio - and it's *still* going to
be hard. I'm a big fan of intensive reading, so I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't do any of those things.

It's just that I think extensive reading is equally important, and it's easiest to do with simpler texts. 95%
comprehension will let you advance more quickly, and with less difficulty and frustration than pleasure reading
more difficult texts.

Yeah, I certainly don't read with less than 90% decipherability if I can avoid it. It's hard work! But it can be hard to find easy books in a foreign language, and so sometimes I make do with whatever I can get. My usual strategy is to read as extensively as possible, even if that means skipping the hard parts.

Here's a couple of sources for very easy readers in English and French:

Master list of English-language graded readers
Richochet Jeunes advanced search (search for French books by age & genre—there's some good stuff here)

Beware of books for very young children—most of those are meant for parents to read to kids. And even books for native 6 & 7 year old children can be rough going below a solid B1, so don't get discouraged. Improvement can be surprisingly quick.

For Middle Egyptian, it's a lot harder. Aside from Assimil's course, I've never seen any sort of graded readers for beginners, and the only children's book I've found is Peter Rabbit, which is definitely not easy going.
6 persons have voted this message useful



Stelle
Bilingual Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
tobefluent.com
Joined 2689 days ago

949 posts - 1686 votes 
Speaks: French*, English*, Spanish
Studies: Tagalog

 
 Message 5 of 44
23 August 2014 at 12:45am | IP Logged 
rdearman wrote:
One thing I would say is it is worth continuing with the harder novel, Harry Potter in your
example, while reading the simpler texts. This is because you'll see the same words in both books and they
reinforce each other in your mind. Especially if you're seeing them in Anki at the same time.

While I see your point, for me it was much more worthwhile to simply put it away for a while and come back to it
later. I like reading articles intensively, but I prefer novels to be a more relaxing and extensive activity. But I was
also learning Spanish, which doesn't lack for resources. If I could get my hands on the Filipin version of HP, I'm
pretty sure I'd read it while it was still too hard!

rdearman wrote:
Another recommendation I'd like to make is you can read much harder texts for pleasure, but
just make sure they are shorter. For example I read a couple of articles on wikipedia which interested me. After
having read them in English, I switched to the same topic but in French and re-read the topic again. You can also
generate pdf's and even books from wikipedia articles, so you can make your own short books.

If the wikipedia article is hard, you can read it once in your native language, then read it again in your TL, then
read it a 3rd,4th, or 5th time. Repetition will help, and after you've read it five times you'll know the words. This
isn't really a problem when the text is super short and you have the option to print them and keep them handy in
your book bin.

Absolutely! By intensively reading and re-reading a text, you can move it from "too hard" (ie. intensive) to "just
right" (i.e. extensive). I think that this is almost like reading a bilingual picture book. Except that I think you can
leave the English behind in a picture book much sooner, since you also have picture cues to rely on.
1 person has voted this message useful



Stelle
Bilingual Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
tobefluent.com
Joined 2689 days ago

949 posts - 1686 votes 
Speaks: French*, English*, Spanish
Studies: Tagalog

 
 Message 6 of 44
23 August 2014 at 12:51am | IP Logged 
emk wrote:

Beware of books for very young children—most of those are meant for parents to read to kids. And even
books for native 6 & 7 year old children can be rough going below a solid B1, so don't get discouraged.
Improvement can be surprisingly quick.

Absolutely! Some picture books have very rich language - far more difficult than chapter books for early readers!
There's a big difference between a picture book meant to be read by a parent and a picture book meant to be
read by a child with support.

Also, picture books are sometimes rhyming stories. While they might have a nice rhythm, they also sometimes
play with word order and vocabulary, picking turns of phrase simply because they rhyme. One of the picture
books that I bought is rhyming, and had I known this, I would have chosen a different book! I find it less useful
than the non-rhyming books.

Ancient Egyptian is a special challenge! I don't know anything about how the language is constructed, but do you
have access to anyone who could help you write? Creating your own bilingual (very) early readers might make for
a good resource...
2 persons have voted this message useful



luke
Diglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 5750 days ago

3133 posts - 4350 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish
Studies: Esperanto, French

 
 Message 7 of 44
23 August 2014 at 1:17am | IP Logged 
I've also been enjoying easy reading the last couple of days. I think it's a good supplement to Anki
vocabulary work.

Some of my easy stuff includes:
Assimil courses I've been through.
Petit Nicholas, which I've read a couple times and listened several more.
Krishamurthy - Le Sens du bonheur.
The Four Agreements - easy in English, Spanish and French.

1 person has voted this message useful





emk
Diglot
Moderator
United States
Joined 4077 days ago

2615 posts - 8805 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchB2
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Egyptian
Personal Language Map

 
 Message 8 of 44
23 August 2014 at 3:31am | IP Logged 
Stelle wrote:
Absolutely! Some picture books have very rich language - far more difficult than chapter books for early readers!
There's a big difference between a picture book meant to be read by a parent and a picture book meant to be
read by a child with support.

Yeah, books of bedtime fairy tales can be pretty hard core. :-)

One thing that's worth keeping an eye out for are series that extended across many grade levels. For example:

Quote:
And once again, Cho had another suggestion: the Sweet Valley Kids series with the same characters at about 5-8 years old. Her students, all adults, became enthusiastic readers of the Sweet Valley Kids!

The ladies didn’t attend any ESL classes. They concentrated only on reading. Their vocabularies began to grow. Their friends began to notice how much their English had improved. And one of the ladies, who had never read for pleasure in English, read all 34 Sweet Valley Kidsbooks, many Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books, and had moved on to romances by Danielle Steele and adventure novels by Sidney Sheldon, which are significantly more difficult! All in one year!


Stelle wrote:
Also, picture books are sometimes rhyming stories. While they might have a nice rhythm, they also sometimes
play with word order and vocabulary, picking turns of phrase simply because they rhyme. One of the picture
books that I bought is rhyming, and had I known this, I would have chosen a different book! I find it less useful
than the non-rhyming books.

There are some rhyming books that seem to work well for second language leaners. For example, Dr. Seuss's children's books are popular in ESL classes:

Quote:
At first, I was a bit apprehensive as to how my 20 something year old students would react to reading children’s books, but surprisingly they enjoyed it! I knew that I had to “sell” this lesson to them in order to get them engaged instead of feeling patronized, so I did a ‘lil bit of research and learned that Dr. Seuss’ work is great for developing rhythm when speaking. So that’s what I told them! Unlike most languages, English is not a tonal nor syllabic language, instead it is rhythmic. And I’ve noticed that whenever my students are reading off the page, they focus so much on pronunciation that they completely ignore stress and rhythm. So that’s what I decided to focus on for this lesson.

But Dr. Suess works well because he uses a natural vocabulary and a very rhythm, and because some of his books use a remarkably tiny vocabulary. (The Cat in the Hat is less than 250 words, if I recall correctly, and I think Green Eggs and Ham uses only 50 words.) They're also available as "read to me" applications for tablets, which means it's possible for students to learn pronunciation and rhythm by ear.

Stelle wrote:
Ancient Egyptian is a special challenge! I don't know anything about how the language is constructed, but do you
have access to anyone who could help you write? Creating your own bilingual (very) early readers might make for
a good resource...

(Begin Digression)

Composing in Egyptian is really hard, because the surviving literature falls into a limited number of categories, including:

- Biography.
- Gnomic verse (giving moral advice, etc.)
- Religious and funery texts and inscriptions.
- Letters.
- Prose tales, mostly heroic but occasionally satiric.

If you stick within these genres, there's a fair bit of raw text available to use as a starting point. But if you want to compose a children's book like Peter Rabbit, it apparently gets very difficult, very quickly, or so the translators of Peter Rabbit suggest. There's no tradition of composing new texts in Egyptian, aside from the occasional odd text in a movie. It's not like Latin or ancient Greek, which have a long tradition of prose composition, leading to such triumphs as an ancient Greek translation of Harry Potter.

Happily enough, the Egyptians did illustrate some genres of texts, including temple inscriptions and the Book of Going Forth by Day.

(End Digression)

To bring this back to the original subject, sometimes you've got to work with whatever interesting texts you can find. And it's worth browsing a bookstore, because sometimes you learn surprising things. For example, for an adult English speaker, it may actually be easier to read adult, non-fiction French prose than children's fairy tales, because French and English generally become more similar as the text gets more abstract, but fairy tales tend to use archaic language and rich, narrative vocabulary.

My rule of thumb is actually pretty straightforward: Read whatever looks like the most fun. If you're enjoying the book greatly, it's less important to match the level of the text to the reader. Some people will devour military history with great relish even while guessing and skimming, but they would be bored by reading children's books at 95% comprehension. Of course, I felt this way as a child, too—I somehow rushed through The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in second grade, desperate to know how the story ended. The reader's own subjective senses of frustration and fun are actually very reliable barometers.

Edited by emk on 23 August 2014 at 4:03am



4 persons have voted this message useful



This discussion contains 44 messages over 6 pages: 2 3 4 5 6  Next >>


Post ReplyPost New Topic Printable version Printable version

You cannot post new topics in this forum - You cannot reply to topics in this forum - You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum - You cannot create polls in this forum - You cannot vote in polls in this forum


This page was generated in 0.3281 seconds.


DHTML Menu By Milonic JavaScript
Copyright 2020 FX Micheloud - All rights reserved
No part of this website may be copied by any means without my written authorization.