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Learning Only To Read

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20 messages over 3 pages: 1 2 3  Next >>
United States
Joined 1968 days ago

8 posts - 15 votes
Studies: French

 Message 1 of 20
09 September 2015 at 4:50am | IP Logged 
I've decided to dedicate myself to polyliteracy from a desire to read great books in their original tongue. I am starting with French, but plan to move to Spanish next.

I'm curious if there are any especially useful hints for somebody in my position, i.e. somebody who only wishes to read a foreign language.

I'm especially curious about how I can use the time I spend driving to hone my language skills. Reading isn't an option obviously, but would it be worthwhile to do some sort audio study?
3 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
United States
Joined 3976 days ago

1265 posts - 2113 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish
Studies: French

 Message 2 of 20
09 September 2015 at 1:09pm | IP Logged 
French for Reading by Sandberg. Spanish for Reading by Sandberg. There are a couple good threads on this site about learning a language just for reading/passive.

In your drive time do something like Paul Noble's course.
1 person has voted this message useful

United States
Joined 4421 days ago

36 posts - 83 votes 
Speaks: English*

 Message 3 of 20
09 September 2015 at 11:56pm | IP Logged 
I also learn languages primarily to read. Following are a few modest observations:

1. While it's certainly possible to learn to read in isolation from the other skills,
it feels sort of lifeless. Listening practice, pronunciation, and internalization of
common grammatical structures makes reading feel more musical, as it were.

2. I usually spend a year on Assimil or other conversation-based audio courses with
parallel texts, FSI, etc., before I start reading extensively in a language.

3. While great literature or other difficult texts is my goal (for me, the Christian
theological tradition primarily), I often find that genre literature is often the best
place to start: detective novels, fantasy, vampire novels, fairy tales, etc. The more
clich├ęs, the better. I only move on to more serious works when I can't stand to read
another Twilight knock-off, or whatever.

4. E-reading devices with pop-up dictionaries can be a great help. You can underline
vocabulary words you want to remember and put them into a spaced-repetition flashcard
program like Anki.

5. I tend to read backward-- that is, for modern languages, I start with contemporary
literature, and work my way back.

6. There's a special pleasure in classical languages-- for me, that's Latin, Greek,
Hebrew and Syriac. Someone said (Whitehead?) that the history of philosophy is a
footnote to Plato. As much as I love modern and contemporary literature, I often feel
like it's a long footnote to antiquity.

7. is a great multilingual bookstore with free global shipping. You
probably already know of from your French studies.

Happy reading!
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Mork the Fiddle
Senior Member
United States
Joined 2570 days ago

86 posts - 159 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Norwegian, Latin, Ancient Greek

 Message 4 of 20
10 September 2015 at 1:42am | IP Logged 
Welcome to HTLAL.

Listening to English audiobooks of your target books will familiarize you with their content and make them a tad easier to read in French later on. The more professionally done the audio the better, though that will depend on the thickness of your wallet.

Consider the "voice in your head" when you read French (or any other language). For poetry, I think that "voice" should sound French. Listening to at least some spoken French will help with that, though there is no point in listening to French until you understand it (but there are some who would disagree with me about this).

As Obsculta notes, simpler is better. Stories with well defined plots and history probably work better at the beginning.

For threads about passive reading, go to Search, then go to the third subset of topics ("Other Tags"), then go to Passive. Here is a start:

Learning languages only passively

Finally a question for you: what great books in French do you plan to read?
6 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
Russian Federation
Joined 5198 days ago

9753 posts - 15778 votes 
4 sounds
Speaks: Russian*, English, FinnishC1, Latin, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese
Studies: Danish, Romanian, Polish, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Croatian, Slovenian, Catalan, Czech, Galician, Dutch, Swedish

 Message 5 of 20
10 September 2015 at 2:39am | IP Logged 
See this wikia article and the links there :)
4 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
Joined 3239 days ago

178 posts - 354 votes 
Speaks: English*, French
Studies: Latin, German, Spanish, Japanese

 Message 6 of 20
10 September 2015 at 8:36am | IP Logged 
Learning just to read is great. In the beginning, focus on reading a course with interesting content (the Sandberg books meet
the bill, as do Assimil). Try to move into native materials some time before you finish your first course, but don't abandon
the course. When you move onto native materials, parallel translations are your friend!

Just because you only care about reading doesn't mean you shouldn't be using audio. Audio resources are just too much of an
opportunity. A car based audio course would be great, and if you find that too distracting/gruelling, listen to music in the target language.
In addition, the vast majority of people spend a whopping proportion of their time consuming audio in their native language. Movies,
TV Shows, news reports, sports commentary, video games, music. Just keep doing what you were already doing but do it in the L2. Use
whatever aids (eg subtitles) are necessary to make it equally as enjoyable as it would have been in your native language.

By the way, you might want to consider asking future questions at,
it's more active than this forum, and most of the users who post here post there as well.

Edited by AlexTG on 10 September 2015 at 8:49am

6 persons have voted this message useful

Super Polyglot
Joined 5304 days ago

9078 posts - 16471 votes 
Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
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 Message 7 of 20
10 September 2015 at 10:45am | IP Logged 
I do not learn languages just in order to read, but with my study methods and environment reading skills will in practice always come before speaking or writing skills. Furthermore I'm more interested in non fiction than I am in literature, even literature by the most renowned authors - but in practice that doesn't mean much for the methods I use.

I have made a few observations along the way. The first is that you may want to read the greatest works by the greatest authors, but if you want to read Latin then don't start with the Eneid, and if you want to read Anglosaxon then don't start with Beowulf. In both cases you should try to find easier texts so that you relatively fast can get to the stage where you can read fluently instead of solving riddles. Bilingual texts is another way of getting there fast - but you should obviously only use the translation to understand the original, not to replace it.

To get to the stage where I can read at least the easy texts I have always found it necessary to study vocabulary and grammar - you may find that you can depend on guesswork for languages which are related to something you already know, but in the long run you need some exact knowledge AND a large vocabulary - larger than the one you need to buy apples in a store in a holiday destination. 'Getting the gist' of a French poem is like learning about Paris by looking at a postcard stand.

If your goal just is to be able to read you are not quite as dependent on active vocabulary and grammatical savvy as somebody who wants to use a language actively. But there is a limit. I learned Latin (in two rounds) as a passive language through the grammar-translation method. But after the courses I didn't use the language apart from a few visits in churches and museums, where I tried to read inscriptions - but I quickly lost even that skill. On the other hand I took up Latin many years later and discovered that my knowledge about grammar and my vocabulary could be revived very quickly, which tells me that the grammar-translation method in itself did what it was supposed to do. But it didn't give me the ability to think and write in Latin.

The missing element in my Latin upbringing was activation. If a language is purely passive then you can only train it by reading or listening, and that makes it fragile. An active language can also be trained by thinking in the language, and that makes it more robust - so try to turn phrases around in your head or invent small discussions in the language while you read. Everything you do in that direction will serve to strengthen the language - and that will also make your passive activities more entertaining.

Right now I have a number of languages which I can read without any problems (like Norwegian, Low German, Scots, Old French, Old Occitan and several Slavic languages), but which I never have used in conversations with native speakers. But even though I need a dictionary and sometimes a grammar to formulate messages in those languages I do try to think and write in them, and this gives me the feeling that they are MY languages and not just something in a book. Even though that feeling can be hard to quantify I'm sure that it helps me to retain them.

Edited by Iversen on 10 September 2015 at 6:26pm

10 persons have voted this message useful

United States
Joined 1968 days ago

8 posts - 15 votes
Studies: French

 Message 8 of 20
13 September 2015 at 7:12am | IP Logged 
Thanks for all the great replies. I am already using the Sandberg book,
and it has been a tremendous help. I've also been using Duolingo and
Memrise. The later actually has several courses based on vocabulary taken
from Proust. Reading La Recherche du Temps Perdu is my ultimate
goal with French, but I hope to read at least a little from several great
francophone authors.

I'm a novice at language study, but I am a life long book worm.
Ultimately, I'd like to pursue a temporal/familial course of study so I
can read all the great literature that I've read in translation. Start
with French to read Prost et al. then work my way through Spanish for
Marques and Cervante, Italian for Dante, then Latin for Tacitus, Caesar.
Then go through the Germanic languages for Kafka and Kierkegaard. Then
Slavic for all the great Russian lit. The ultimate goal being Koine and
classical Greek and ancient Hebrew for the Bible and Plato, Aeschylus,

I'm not sure if it's realistic or how long it will take, but it seems
like an excellent life's work.

2 persons have voted this message useful

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