Of course, one of the best ways to improve your language learning is visit a country which speaks the language. Learning Spanish? A visit to Madrid or Barcelona wouldn’t hurt, would it? But sometimes, we just don’t have the means to hop on the next plane out there. Be it for financial reasons, a fear of flying or just simply no free time, immersing yourself in that Hispanic culture isn’t always that simple.
Apart from spending time abroad in French and Hispanic countries to practice my language skills, I have found that reading in the target language is just as important as eating all of that Spanish tapas.
When I was 16, I bought a copy of Le Petit prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in French. It’s a beautiful short children’s story (that I would really recommend to French-speakers and learners alike, or even just to read in your prefered language if you don’t speak French), that just so happens to be both the most-read and most-translated book in the French language. Anyway, at 16 I attempted to read this book but I was quite defeated. At the time, I had never read in French before and it was too challenging for me. I did however return to it at the age of 18, after two more years of French study and read it cover-to-cover in 2 hours. It really exemplified the amount of progress that I had made during those 2 years of study, and it felt very fulfilling.
As Le Petit prince felt too out of my league at the time, I opted for something a bit different: Harry Potter à l’école des sorciers which many of you will know better as: Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. As it was a book which I had already read and understood well in English, reading it in French felt less of a chore. I was not struggling to understand the plot, but instead could guess the language from the context that I already knew. I read this in a week and it was quite enjoyable. I bought my French-edition when I went to Paris but they are easily obtainable online from websites such as Amazon 🙂
If Harry Potter really isn’t your thing, I would recommend reading other children’s stories in the target language as they are short, sweet and usually have pictures to help you understand the plot without using a dictionary every 5 seconds!
Recently at my work placement at a school as a classroom assistant in the Languages Department, Year 7 read La Oruga muy hambrienta (The Very Hungry Caterpillar) in Spanish class. There is a great video on Youtube which tells the story in Spanish, whilst reading the book (ideal for practicing pronounciation at the same time as reading, and you can pause and play as you wish!)
We also read a series of children’s books called ‘Milly and Molly’ translated into Spanish, such as ‘El elefante del zoo,’ which was really great. Short-stories are also a fantastic way to ease into foreign literature because they are usually only 2-10 pages long and so are not too exhausting to read.
Here are some of my recommendations for starting to read in French which I read during my A Levels. As I only started to study Spanish at university, I unfortunately dived straight into difficult 19th-century literature and 1960s surrealist Latin American fiction :
- Harry Potter à l’école des sorciers by J K Rowling (Translation from English). If you have already read this in English, you will find it quite enjoyable to read in the language that you are currently learning. You do not have to worry about understanding the plot if you already know it – score!
- Boule de Suif et autres contes de la guerre by Guy de Maupassant: This was my A Level French literature text that I had to read and study for my writing exam. The stories are set during the Franco-Prussian War and are quite political, satirical and ironic. It is worth having an understanding of this period in history to appreciate them fully. However the shorter stories are around 3-6 pages long and so it doesn’t take as long to read them like a full novel.
- Le Horla (The ‘Out-There’) by Guy de Maupassant: Another collection of short-stories by the same author. I would really recommend it if you love horror stories, but I would not recommend that you read them before bedtime like I did! I got goose-bumps! I LOVE these stories!
- Le Petit prince by Antoine de Saint-Éxupery: beautiful children’s story with illustrations. Enjoyabe for both children and adults alike.
Don’t forget that online newspapers are great for keeping up with current affairs and expanding your vocabulary too!
20 minutes : short, easy articles on many topics. I set this website as my Google homepage to try and read more in French during A Levels)
Metro : Metro is great for any language and is easy to read. You can find editions in capital cities in most European countries (Paris, Madrid, Lisbon etc.)
Le Monde More challenging but covers news worldwide
20 minutos : Similar to the French newspaper
Reading foreign literature can be as challenging as it is rewarding – it takes time and dedication to progress. So don’t be put off if you don’t understand that French news article the first time round.
These are just some suggestions, but I hope this post has helped if you are considering reading foreign literature and texts 🙂 If you have any other suggestions, comment on this post to share with other readers!
Happy reading 😉