Discussion: The Struggles of Reading Books in Foreign Languages and Why You Should Do It Anyway

Een goede vrijdag allemaal!

Please tell me I didn’t butcher that too badly, Dutch people 😅 Your language is so similar to German that it’s been confusing the heck out of me, but I’ve been trying my very best to not be that arrogant neighbor and learn at least a few phrases. And, let me tell you, it hasn’t been easy, because Duolingo seems bent on teaching me stuff like Je bent langzaam, net zoals een schildpad… When am I supposed to use that in an actual conversation and still appear friendly???

But yeah, in case you couldn’t already tell from me disappearing almost altogether this week, I’ve been having a great time in the Netherlands! I’ve absolutely fallen in love with this country, I’ve been catching up with one of my closest friends, and I’ve discovered that stroopwafels and bitterballen with mustard constitute a huge gap in Bavarian cuisine that should immediately be filled. If you put international news aside, this week has been one of the best ones of my year, and I can’t wait to see what still awaits me in my next few days here!

Here are just a few impressions of some of the things I’ve been up to…

Anyway, since I’m currently abroad, I thought this would be the perfect time to talk about a topic that I’ve always found really interesting (and simultaneously frustrating): Reading in foreign languages!

(Okay, fine. I actually had this idea before travelling here. There’s no way I would have been able to write more than a few words with everything I’ve been up to this week. But I was inspired by the anticipation of coming here, so now I proudly get to present a discussion post that was, except for this intro, written more than just two days ahead of me posting it! That means I’m getting better at planning, right?)

Since our book blogging community is so international, this subject is probably familiar to many of you. According to my blog’s statistics, only about half of my readers are from English-speaking countries, so I’d say chances are pretty high that roughly 50% of you are not reading this post in your native language right now. And chances are that all those English books we gush about together in the comments were not written in your native language, either.

For all my fellow statistic-nerds, here are some specifics 😉 One of my biggest blogging goals is to eventually have the entire map colored in, but I also think this blog might not be accessible in North Korea, so who knows if that is even a possibility…

Sure, technically, I could say the same thing about myself. English isn’t my mother tongue. But since I spent a big chunk of my childhood in the United States, I’m about as fluent in it as in German. When I speak English to people who don’t know me, most of them automatically peg me as American… 😅 I’ve mastered the art of being a bilingual chameleon, so I don’t think English really counts as being one of my foreign languages.

Instead, what I’m talking about in this post is reading books in languages that we are still learning. Ones which don’t feel as fully comfortable expressing ourselves in as in the languages we speak on a daily basis. Ones which, no matter how fluent we might be, will never feel truly native to us.

For some of you, English might be one of those. For some of you, it might not be.

But no matter which language it is that you’re learning, I have tons of admiration for anyone who picks up a book in a language that is not their own. Because it’s hard!

The Struggles

First, there are always going to be words you don’t know, especially when you’re just starting out. And obviously, you can’t go look up all of them, because you’re never going to be able to immerse yourself in a story if you’re constantly running to the dictionary.

So reading becomes a big guessing game, and you’re never really sure if you’re getting everything from the context. Especially once those metaphors start coming. You have no idea how confused I was the first time I read Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry… It took me watching the movie to become completely sure that, yes, the little prince did have a conversation with a snake in the middle of a desert about being heartbroken over a flower. It wasn’t my mediocre French skills.

Then, reading in a language you’re not fluent in yet is just so mind-bogglingly sloooooooow 🙄 In German and English, I can easily read a 200-page novel in one to two hours. In French, I can manage maybe 50 pages an hour. In Russian, as Dutch Duo would say, ik ben langzaam, net zoals een schildpad. I get a headache after about ten pages, and those probably already took me over an hour to read.

Even if foreign language texts only include words I know, I am way slower reading them than I am in languages I speak fluently. In German and English, I often see entire paragraphs as “blocks” and read them almost simultaneously. In French, I can maybe do that with sentences, but usually not on a paragraph level. And even though I would consider myself very comfortable with Cyrillic by now, I guess my brain refuses to accept anything that isn’t the Roman alphabet as truly natural. For longer words, I sometimes still have to resort to sounding them out syllable by syllable, rather than being to recognize them in one quick glance. And when you’re used to effortlessly speed-reading things, being reduced to turtle-speed can be quite frustrating!

However, it’s not just the language itself that can be confusing. There’s the cultural stuff as well. If a book is based around customs that are unfamiliar to you, it’s not that unlikely for you to misunderstand something or to think you did. A girl in my Russian class was extremely puzzled when we read a story in which the protagonist’s family climbed onto their oven to turn in for the night – she was sure she must have misread something or misremembered the word for ‘oven’. She had never seen or heard of the traditional type of Russian stove that people used to sleep on. Add cultural differences to the language confusion already going on, and it’s not surprising that people get a bit muddled.

This is what I mean, just in case you also have no clue what I’m talking about
(Picture from: pln24.ru)

Basically, reading in foreign languages can be frustrating. It’s slow, you may not understand half of what you’re reading, and in the meantime, some barely walking, snot-nosed native speaking kid breezes through books you barely grasp the title of… So why do it?

The Rewards

Why do it?! Well, because the positives outweigh the negatives by a landslide! Reading in foreign languages has so many benefits!

The most obvious one is, perhaps, fluency. Even in our native languages, people who read more tend to have a much broader vocabulary. Even though I left the US shortly before I turned twelve, I don’t still run around speaking like a sixth grader. I kept improving my language skills through books, and why should that be any different in other languages?

You’re never going to learn a language properly if you don’t immerse yourself in it, and reading is one of the easiest ways to do that. You don’t need another native speaker to get authentic input, you don’t need to be social, and you can go about it at your own pace. I have books to thank for a significant portion of my current French, Russian, and Spanish skills, and, even better, since I tend to read things that actually interest me, the words I learn actually help me talk about stuff that matters to me. Which is really motivating!

Furthermore, if you know the language a book was originally written in, you can avoid translations! Don’t get me wrong – I really appreciate you translators out there. Without you, there’d be so many amazing books I never would have been able to read. But anyone who has ever read one and the same story in the original and a translated version can attest to the fact that the original is, without a doubt, always going to be better. There are just some concepts and expressions that are nearly impossible to translate, and even things can be translated word for word, they will never hit the same way in a different language.

Like, once, my brother and I were watching this movie where this boy was about to take an important test and his sister told him she wanted him to do well because he was her brother and she loved him. Now, this sounded relatively normal in the original American version. But in the dubbed German one, it made us shudder and cringe. Maybe Germans just aren’t as good as expressing their feelings, but I just can’t picture anyone here saying that to their siblings. [Except for us, that is. Ever since we watched that movie, “Weil du mein Bruder bist und ich dich liebe!” has become one of our staple inside jokes, and I make a point of saying it to my brother whenever possible 😁]

Sometimes, though, it’s not just the cringiness of translations that has you turning to the original. Sometimes, books simply don’t get translated at all. If they’re not popular enough or publishing companies don’t feel like they would be as marketable elsewhere, they might never be published outside of their homeland. And sometimes, translating them simply isn’t possible because whatever the books are about wouldn’t even make sense in another language… If you’re interested in seeing some examples, you can go and check out my Lost in Translation post, where I talked about this in a bit more detail, but let’s just say: If a book’s concept relies heavily on wordplay, a translator has already lost their battle. So if you want to read these kinds of stories, you’re just going to have to reach for the original!

Besides, reading things in a language you’re not fluent in just gives you such an immense feeling of achievement! “I read a book” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as, say, “I read a book in Japanese”. After working though all those language struggles, there’s nothing more gratifying than flipping that final page and actually having understood something. And at the same time, you learnt so much – both about the language and about the cultural mindset of the people who speak it!

My Tips

So, what to do if you’re learning a language, want to get into reading books in that language, but aren’t sure where to start? Here are a few suggestions that have worked well for me:

#1 Start out with picture books. Honestly, guys, pictures can be so helpful when you’re trying to guess words from context! They make it way harder to interpret something completely far-fetched, and besides, these books are usually short and give you a quick feeling of accomplishment. Don’t let that fool, though… Little kids know a surprising number of words they never teach you in language classes, so it’s not necessarily guaranteed that picture books are “easy”. For example, Умная собачка Соня expanded my previously non-existent Russian “types of trees” vocabulary quite considerably this year…

#2 Pick books with short chapters. Reading in foreign languages can be exhausting, so easily digestible chunks of material can be very helpful!

#3 Read translations of books you’ve already read in your native language and know well. True, this might go against my “the translation is always worse” philosophy and not really help with the cultural immersion aspect of reading, but it’s probably my favorite tip! Because if you already know the story, you will be able to follow along without constantly having to look stuff up. It makes the reading experience so much more immersive, and you can have quite a bit of fun comparing 😂 Like, did you know Hufflepuff was called Poufsouffle in the French versions of Harry Potter?

#4 Don’t look up every word. If a word is important, it will occur so many times that chances are it will click eventually anyway. And if it doesn’t, you can always still look it up once you’ve realized you’re truly lost. But: If you’re getting the gist of what you’re reading despite not knowing a word, don’t reach for your phone every single time! That just stops you from getting immersed and makes the reading experience tedious.

#5 However… if you’re really confused about something, Google Translate’s picture recognition software is your friend. Just show the passage to Google, and it will give you a translation! Albeit awful, it will probably give you enough clues to piece together what you couldn’t make sense of, and help you read on quickly if you’re stuck. Just don’t do this too often, since the whole point of reading in a foreign language is trying to understand things through that language.

#6 Supplement your reading with movies and TV shows. Since you also get visual input, movies are usually much easier to understand than books, and they help you get a feel for the language and what it is supposed to sound like. Watching foreign media – preferably without subtitles – is going to improve your language skills a ton, and make reading a lot easier, too! Netflix especially has a lot of options, at least as far as dubbing is concerned. Original foreign language movies are another story, but at least Netflix is still miles ahead of Amazon Prime…

To sum it up, there are loads of strategies that can help you out, and you’ll never know how much you’re really capable of until you try!

And that was already it for today! Although I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic, too! 🤗

Do you speak any other languages, and do you read books in them? If so, what has been the biggest struggle for you? Which tips have you found the most helpful? Do you agree or disagree with anything I said? Do any of you have any French or Russians book recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

53 thoughts on “Discussion: The Struggles of Reading Books in Foreign Languages and Why You Should Do It Anyway

  1. Riddhi B. says:

    Ooh, this was such a good topic to talk about!
    First off, I am glad you are having such a good time in Netherlands- those pics look super cool!
    And to be honest, I am more comfortable reading and writing in English, despite having lived in India all my life, since I studied in an English medium school, and then after 10th grade, Hindi was dropped as a subject altogether. I do feel more comfortable talking in Hindi though.
    And wow, you know so many languages! That’s so cool! And the memes😂😂

    Liked by 2 people

    • abookowlscorner says:

      Thanks, Riddhi! It’s so interesting to get your input on this and hear that it makes a difference to you whether you’re reading or writing something or actually talking to people! Come to think of it, though, I think I also slightly prefer reading and writing in English and speaking in German… Although in my case, I can’t blame it on my fully German education system 😂 Maybe it’s because I just generally read more in English because there is a greater selection of books to choose from? 🤔

      Also, I’m glad you appreciated the memes! It’s good to know I’m not the only one who thinks they’re really funny 😁 I just had to share them! 🤣

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Definitely Moi says:

    This is so true, Naemi! More people need to read books in different languages. The advantages beat the disadvantages by a landslide. We get to learn about a ton of different cultures and traditions!

    I completely agree with you on the translated books. I find them hilarious, especially since I speak a language that isn’t very well known. Dubbed movies leave me in stitches. That said, I do appreciate translators – how can anyone translate Harry Potter? It’s full of British cultural references and some clever street names (Knockturn Alley – Nocturnally and of course, Diagon Alley – Diagonally) Mad props to translators!

    Netherlands is just amazing! It’s a beautiful country that is high up on my travel list. I loved all the photographs. And yes, Dutch is extremely similar to German!

    Liked by 2 people

    • abookowlscorner says:

      I’m glad you agree, Moi 😊

      And OMG, you guys can’t start a Harry Potter translation discussion when I’m off exploring Dutch cities and can’t participate! But I’m here now!! 😁 And I’m not so sure whether we should always give props to the translators… Like those wonderful Diagon and Knockturn Alley puns? The German translator didn’t come up with anything creative at all 😕 And, like their Hindi friend, they apparently thought translating all those wonderfully sensible Latin spells into boring gibberish was a good idea. “Obliviate” became “Amnesia”, I think 🙄 But nothing beats the Dutch – I had a look at a copy while exploring bookshops in the area, and they literally changed every single name in that book, except Harry Potter 🙈 Like Neville Longbottom is Marcel Lubbermans??? 😳

      But yes, apart from their Harry Potter translations, the Netherlands is amazing! I absolutely love it here 🥰

      Liked by 1 person

      • Definitely Moi says:

        Oop. 😂😂

        I don’t think translators NEED to change the names – I guess it’s a must for the anagram of Tom Marvolo Riddle, but they could salvage the names of the trio, at least? 🥺

        😂 That’s great to hear, Naemi! Have an amazing stay!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Line says:

    A language post 😍
    I relate to what you say about reading books in the language you’re learning. It really helped me a lot back when I hated English and figured I would never be able to speak it properly. I couldn’t wait for Deathly Hallows to be translated so I had to read it in English. It’s was difficult but it didn’t take me that much longer than everyone else to read, so it gave me a ton of confidence in my English skills, and maybe that was all I needed. I also appreciate your advice about not looking up every word because I definitely didn’t, mainly because I was lazy but now I can say I was doing it to learn better 😉
    I do still consider English a foreign language though because sometimes I still have to pause and go “Can I say that? Does that make sense?” or look up phrases I’m sure I must have made up.

    And then I have German of course 😬 I have used Duolingo more during the last few weeks but I’m thinking I need to read something soon as you suggest. Duolingo is fine but mainly my mistakes come from not remembering a noun’s gender (I remember a German teacher telling me that most nouns that end in an ‘e’ are feminine so I always feel so betrayed when that’s not the case 😅). I’m also rewatching Dark but not confident enough to let go of the Danish subtitles just yet 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    • abookowlscorner says:

      Of course! Another language post was long overdue anyway, and travelling abroad gave me the perfect excuse to write one 😁

      And haha, I used to think I was lazy not looking up all the words too, but at university we actually covered several studies that show that is counterproductive regarding language learning! Apparently, you retain the words better if you let your brain make the connections itself and guess things from context, and students who practice these skills early on are also more likely to not be frustrated by authentic foreign language material and practice the language on their own. So we were definitely doing it in order to learn better! 😇

      And I actually have to look up things in both German and English sometimes, just to make sure I haven’t just converted something from one language into another. Certain idioms are particularly bad, as are loan words. I was so sure German also had the word “sequin” – okay, fine, maybe I also just needed a way to ged rid of my Q in our family Scrabble game – but then my family looked it up and alas, it does not exist 😪

      I’m also very glad I automatically know German nouns’ gender because that seems like something that must be absolutely horrifying to learn. The only rule I know is that everything ending in “-chen” is neuter, and I think one of the kids in the Syrian family I teach German to mentioned that all words ending in “-ion” are feminine? 😅 I’ll have to ask her about that “e” rule, though… In general, I have learned that German has truly awful rules, such as that when to use “setzen”, “stellen” or “legen” depends on whether an object is more elongated horizontally or vertically. Apparently, this is something most Germanic languages share that is absolutely traumatizing to foreign language learners, so I feel extremely lucky to simply have my correct intuition 😂

      And I still haven’t watched Dark! The first episode was so creepy and depressing that I never continued, but your more experienced verdict might be able to sway my opinion on this matter…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Line says:

        That about language learning is so interesting and I’m definitely going to use that as an excuse 😁 I still stumble upon English words I don’t know (often some flowery adjectives), but they make their way into my language even if I don’t look them up immediately. I do check their meaning though if I want to use them myself.

        German noun genders are a pain!! Not only do I need to know what gender a word has, I also need to know how they change depending on where in a sentence they’re placed. I want to have a serious conversation with the person who came up with that little fun twist.
        “-chen” neuter (because why would Mädchen be feminine 🙄) and “-ion” feminine. I’ll try to remember that!
        But yes, I’ve also heard that Danish is hard to learn because you can’t really go by any rules. I remember learning nouns’ genders in school by just saying a word out loud and decide “what sounds best” which just seems impossible for foreigners 😂

        You thought the first episode of Dark was creepy and depressing? Well… 😅 I think I got used to it along the way if that helps.

        Liked by 2 people

        • abookowlscorner says:

          When hearing people complain about German, I always feel incredibly lucky that in Russian, you can (in at least 99% of all cases) tell a noun’s gender from its ending 😂 But the different forms for different cases also drive me crazy. I don’t know why its so much harder to put something into dative plural than finding the correct preposition, but it is!

          I think it’s extremely logical that “Mädchen” is neuter, though 😁 “-chen” is something you can add to any nouns to make diminuitive forms, basically saying that something is small and cute, and it always changes the noun’s gender to neuter. The word “Magd”, which “Mädchen” was originally derived from, is feminine, so all is good 😂 But then the meanings developed apart so that today, you can only use “Magd” for female servants and “Mädchen” for all girls. There’s also a related feminine word, “Maid”, which is used for all young women, but it just sort of got kicked out of everyday vocabulary, so you only really hear it in fairy tales anymore… See how logical everything is? 😁

          Liked by 1 person

          • Line says:

            Sure, that long explanation makes everything sound so logical. Still thinking that having the word for girl be feminine would be the most logical but what do I know 😄

            Liked by 1 person

  4. Emily @frappesandfiction says:

    Wow, this post must be a sign! Becoming fluent in another language is one of my life goals, but I’m just so bad at it. I only know one person who speaks French (my piano teacher from Quebec) but I haven’t even told her I’m learning it because my accent is so bad I’m embarrassed to speak. And I’ve tried reading in French, but apparently my attention span can’t handle going from 650-700 wpm reading speed in English to like 50 wpm with constant dictionary in French. I’ve tried Duolingo to help me practice, but the levels don’t match up with what I’m learning at school so it always puts me at things I already know. It’s also veryyyy concerning that French is supposed to be one of the easier languages to learn from English and I still can’t seem to do it. You’re learning so many languages, that’s so cool. I definitely need to try some of these tips! Honestly, I probably just need to be patient with reading slowly and get over the learning curve

    Liked by 1 person

    • abookowlscorner says:

      The reading speed thing is definitely what is most frustrating for me, too! I just can’t take the slowness of it… 😅 But starting out with picture books and translations of my favorite books has definitely helped me a lot in that respect. I’ve found it really helpful when you just need a few successes to start out with!

      And I think that, in the beginning, movies actually help a lot more than books. You actually understand quite a lot just from the visuals, so once you get rid of your initial fears and turn the subtitles off (or at least switch them to the language you’re trying to learn), it really helps you get a feel for the language and accent. For example, some good French movies on Netflix to start out with are L’Ascension, Demain Tout Commence, and Intouchables, and a French TV show that I thought was pretty interesting was Osmosis… Although you can also just switch the audio of your favorite shows to French. That’s how I started out – rewatching old favorites is super helpful! Since you already know what’s going on, you’re able to focus more on the language itself and guess way more from context!

      I totally get what you’re saying about not wanting to talk to your piano teacher in French, though. I also feel awkward using foreign languages with people I know from “some other area” 😅 But luckily, I got to know several native speakers through learning these languages, and at least in Russian, I also have a really good university course where I can practice. Our teacher is a native speaker, which has been super helpful regarding accent…

      But yeah, I think the most important thing is patience! Although I also wouldn’t claim to be an expert on this topic – I still stutter like an absolute idiot when people try to have a conversation with me in French or Russian 😂

      But thanks for stopping by, Emily! I wish you the best of luck with your French!


  5. Abby @ Beyond the Read says:

    I love this post so much Naemi! First of all, I’m so glad to hear that you’re enjoying your stay in the Netherlands 😊 I’m also out of my home country at the moment—we’re visiting some family in South Korea, and as exhausting as all the Covid precautions are, it’s been a great time so far!

    I’ve never been confident enough in my Korean to try reading books in the language (despite the fact that I’ve been speaking it my entire life 😅) but this post has inspired me to give it a shot. I’m especially interested in reading books I’m already familiar with like you suggested—it sounds like it might be a really interesting experience!

    I’m also interested in checking out some books in Latin, which I’m decidedly less fluent in 😂 I’ve heard that there are Latin translations of some works of modern literature, which sounds really fun… but also really intimidating 😅 I’m definitely going to have to keep these tips in mind!!

    Great post! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • abookowlscorner says:

      Thanks, Abby! I’m happy to hear you’re also enjoying some time abroad with your family and hope your trip continues to be amazing! 💕 I’ve always wanted to go to South Korea – hopefully it will happen sometime in the future!

      And I wish you the best of luck with reading in Korean! I’m sure you’ll be zipping through those books in no time, seeing that you’ve had so much practice speaking 😉

      I’m also very impressed with your Latin ambitions! Since no one really speaks it anymore, my interest in pursuing it further has dwindled significantly ever since I left school 😅 I always feel very proud when I understand the Latin prefaces in classics, but apart from those, I haven’t really picked up anything in the language… But I remember thinking Harry Potter and the Latin versions of the Asterix comics were very funny back in school, so maybe those would be an option? 🤔

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Aisling @ Aisling Hamill Books says:

    I loved this! I’ve always used reading to try and improve my language skills, even though it’s exhausting sometimes 😅 I usually go for books I’ve already read in English so I know the plot and don’t have to worried about getting totally confused. When I had to read books in French/German for uni I would almost always google the plot beforehand so I had a point of reference if I started to get muddled (I never would have got through La Nouvelle Héloïse without the Wikipedia part by part breakdown lol). I also think it’s really important not to stop and look up every word you don’t know. If I don’t fully understand a sentence, I usually try and accept it or figure out the meaning from context. If I keep stopping I’ll never get anywhere. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • abookowlscorner says:

      Thanks, Aisling! I’m happy to hear I’m not the only one using some of these tactics 😁
      The googling the plot of books thing is actually something I don’t just do for foreign language books, but also for certain classics, although I do tend to read the summary alongside the book rather than beforehand to avoid spoiling myself. But for things like Shakespeare, for example, I just don’t trust myself to get all the references or metaphors myself, so Sparknotes is my savior! 😂
      And yes, exactly! The moment I stop to look everything up, my reading speed decreases to almost zero, I stop enjoying the story, and I don’t remember the words anyway. So guessing stuff from context is the way to go!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Maria @ The Character Study says:

    I loved and related to this post. I owe my English skills to books (and music). I honestly don’t remember at what point in my life I started reading exclusively in English but I know I was still in high school and my level was nowhere near where it is now. I remember I didn’t understand many of the words but it never really bothered me and I simply continued reading, which in my opinion is the best way to acquire vocabulary.
    These days I’ve started trying to read some picture books in Korean but that’s proving to be a biiiig challenge because there’s so much vocabulary and grammar that I still haven’t learnt and it’s a bit difficult to decipher, but I’m sure I’ll get there eventually. I’ve also been thinking about attempting to read a short book in Italian because even if I’m fairly new to the language, its similarities with both Spanish and Catalan (my native languages) definitely make it easier to understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • abookowlscorner says:

      Yes, exactly! I’m so glad you can relate 😊 I don’t think it’s ever not bothered me when I don’t understand what I’m reading, but I feel like it gets a lot easier the longer you do it. Your struggles with Korean sound very similar to where I’m currently at in Russian – I do know most of the grammar (theoretically 😁), but to read a novel, you just need way more vocabulary than we covered in my B2 class… But I’m not giving up! I’m a lot more comfortable in French, so if I keep at it, I’m sure I’ll get at least to that level in Russian eventually 😅

      It’s so cool that you’re learning so many languages, though! I’ve always wanted to learn an Asian one, since they’re so different grammatically from the ones I know, but the farthest I ever got was teaching myself how to read Hangul. I might have to try again with a proper course at some point. For some reason, it’s way easier to motivate myself to learn independently when I already know the basics 😄

      And it seems so useful that you can use your native skills to help you with Italian! I was also surprised how easily I was able to follow Dutch on vacation and actually understand quite a bit when I saw it written. Although its similarity to German also made it really hard for me to remember certain phrases because the German would always come to mind first and then I wouldn’t be able to remember what exactly changed in the Dutch version 😅

      But best of luck with your Korean and Italian pursuits!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maria @ The Character Study says:

        That’s so cool, and I’m sure you’ll get there with Russian. I studied it for a while (I wanted to continue but it clashed with my uni schedule 😢) and I remember it was a very interesting yet difficult language. I wish I can come back to it someday!

        I’ve come to the conclusion that I learn languages much better when self-teaching or taking one-on-one lessons, class settings just don’t do it for me. But I agree that the basics, especially in a language where the grammar is far from your native tongue’s, can be very tricky. After all, it’s the foundation to start learning, so if we get those wrong, we’re kinda doomed…

        I totally agree that having a similar native language to your target language can get confusing (I’m sometimes not sure if I’m speaking Italian properly or if I’m just speaking Spanish with an accent 😂)

        Good luck to you too with your languages, it’s quite impressive that you know so many!

        Liked by 1 person

        • abookowlscorner says:

          It’s always harsh when uni gets in the way of language learning 😂 I’ve always wanted to learn Icelandic, but so far it’s never fit into my schedule 😪 Maybe someday! But it’s cool that you know at least a bit of Russian! And I totally feel you on that accent thing, that was definitely me attempting Dutch 🤣 I’m sure you’ll get there, though!

          Liked by 1 person

            • Zaden Zane says:

              I learned Cyrillic one rainy afternoon when everything else was cancelled… when I say I can “read” it, people seem impressed. But I quickly explain that just means I can read old Soviet-Era maps. But they still seem to think it’s impressive.
              I also learned the Arabic, Hebrew and Thai alphabets, but only to the most basic level. Thai has a bizarre way of representing tones, and also has an implied vowel system where you can spell certain syllables in just consonants and the vowels are automatically represented. It would be a bit like spelling the word “above” as “abv” because the ə/”uh” sound is like a default vowel in English.
              I’m trying to learn Japanese at the moment… but it’s not that easy!

              Liked by 2 people

              • abookowlscorner says:

                I definitely relate to that! I also taught myself to read Arabic and Korean, and although I can’t speak a single word, it’s just cool to be able to decipher the script 😊
                Thai also sounds super interesting, especially the tones part. I still really want to learn a language that uses tones, but the Chinese writing system is so intimidating that I think Mandarin is probably out of the picture 😅 So maybe Thai would be preferable? 🤔
                And good luck with Japanese! I know they use a lot of Kanji in addition to their alphabets, so you’re probably going to have your work cut out 😄 But it still sounds very fun!


                • Zaden Zane says:

                  Actually that was a big part of learning Thai. Foreign and tones but no characters! I wanted to learn a language that was as foreign as possible. It had to be non-Indo-European (so Hindi was out) and it had to have its own script (so Vietnamese was out). The tones were a big plus. Also Thai grammar is pretty straightforward. The alphabet comes from India and a lot of letters that have the same value in Thai (there’s something like 5 letters that say S and 4 or 5 that say T (or th-, to be more precise, as in Thailand) but this was because in Sanskrit and Pali they sounded different. I think some of the S’s were more like “sh” which they don’t have in Thai…. the other factor was ideally it was language to a country nice to visit and ideally cheap which knocked Japanese out of the water. Plus I didn’t want to have to learn kanji.
                  Re Japanese and the incredibly complex writing system, nobody tells you they have actually dropped a lot of their kanji in many circumstances). I have a huge dictionary full of kanji compounds that are mostly written in kana these days, at least they are when they’re words of Japanese origin.
                  Thai has a basic Tai vocabulary but it’s full of loanwords from Khmer and Chinese, which are hard to spot. The posh loanwords, equivalent to our Greek and Latin come from Sanskrit and Pali and they are easy to pick out because they’re really long and have a more European sound to them. Modern words are borrowed directly from English. So “internet service” is borigaan inteenet บริการอินเทอร์เน็ต in Thai.
                  When I hear people expounding on the uniqueness of English with its basic Anglo-Saxon vocabulary overlaid with formal French and Latin terms, it makes me laugh. There are loads of languages worldwide with posh foreign vocabulary and basic native words! And the vocabulary of Thai comes from four totally unrelated language families. Nearly all English vocabulary is Indo-European, albeit from various branches.
                  The only thing I would point out is that Vietnamese seems far more popular amongst learners. I think it’s partly the Latin script that appeals. Plus it has something like 75m native speakers compared to 20-50m for Thai (Thai shades off into dialects and related languages which is why it’s hard to say who speaks “Thai” out in the provinces). Also Indonesian has something like 180m speakers, but of course both of those are in Latin script.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • abookowlscorner says:

                    Wow, all of this is super interesting! It’s so cool that you know so much about the historical and linguistic background of all these languages 😊 And the Thai script does look really cool! Although, since my former roommate is from Vietnam, I’ve also been told I should learn that instead 😂 I guess we’ll see what I end up deciding in the future!


  8. Zaden Zane says:

    When I did German at school we went from writing postcards with messages like, “Hello, I am in Germany. We are staying at the youth hostel. The weather is warm. it is sunny. It is a nice day. Today we travelled by train. We went to Berlin. Berlin is a city. It is big….” that type of thing to reading Kafka in the original. We never read children’s books. We barely ever saw German TV and this was long before the internet. The school had a couple of TVs with videos but they were fixed to giant wheely cabinets and just getting the thing into the right classroom was such an ordeal, most teachers didn’t want to bother most of the time.
    So the first book I read off my own back was Christiane F/Bahnhof Zoo. I kept a note book of every single word I didn’t know and couldn’t guess and wrote them down with the translation every single time they cropped up in the order they appeared, with page number. Some words I must have looked up 50 times or more, yet I still forgot them. The reason I did this was so when I read it back, I had a full glossary. I’ve got Christiane F: Mein Zweites Leben somewhere but it’s hidden, probably under a pile of other books.
    I wish we’d done French literature as well but we all said we wanted to do the language-only course (there was a choice at my school). I regret that now. I suppose what put me off French literature was the snob value and the fact that it seemed so “bourgeois”… I don’t know. It would have been great to read Rimbaud in the original…

    Liked by 1 person

    • abookowlscorner says:

      Oh yes, those postcards seem eerily familiar 😂 If you swap Berlin for London or Paris, I’m pretty sure you could find that exact same message in one of my old English or French notebooks… And funnily enough, we never really read children’s books in my English classes either, once I’d moved back to Germany. We had one page excerpts and stuff, but then moved straight on to The Great Gatsby and then Shakespeare… In French, though, we actually read several children’s books! I guess it mostly depended on the teacher? 🤔 And we did watch quite a few movies, especially once we graduated from the wheely TVs to phones and beamers 😂

      And wow, I’m really impressed you actually made it through Wir Kinder von Bahnhof Zoo looking up everything! I would probably have given up after half a chapter; I hate being torn from my reading flow and being forced to put the book down that often would have driven me nuts 😅 And I’ve actually never read anything by Christiane Felscherinow. I mean, Bahnhof Zoo is super famous and all, but knowing it’s about heroin addiction never really made it seem all that attractive in my eyes 🙈 But maybe one day! And I definitely plan on looking into more of the French classics eventually, too!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Zaden Zane says:

        What put me off French literature was the fact that it seemed so embedded in the culture, so that learning it was simply like fulfilling some kind of cultural expectation…
        Whereas with German literature I felt like I was on a voyage of discovery and my findings were a delight to me.
        I also had a thing about Goethe’s Faust, I loved the idea of a higgledypiggledy collection of poems that linked together and could be performed as a play; there was something intriguing about the whole thing. Dramatically speaking it wasn’t like Shakespeare, which has a fluency to the drama and the language, but… I don’t know. I really liked it. Having said that I read most of it in English translation or as a parallel translation. A lot of the vocabulary was way over my head….!!

        Liked by 1 person

        • abookowlscorner says:

          Discovering other cultures is actually one of my favorite things about language learning, so that’s part of what draws me to the books in the first place 🥰 But I also don’t like feeling forced to read a book because it’s somehow culturally expected. There’s always snobs who will look down on you if you haven’t read a certain “masterpiece’, which will make me even less inclined to pick it up…
          And I love Faust! At least I do now 🥰 Back in school, I didn’t really see what was so great about it, and it also ended up hopelessly confusing me, since I somehow got through the entire play without realizing Gretchen had had a child 😅 I was so puzzled what my classmates were talking about! So yeah, I guess even for native German speakers, it isn’t the easiest book to read. But the language is beautiful! Unlike Shakespeare, Goethe actually wrote quite a large portion of it in rhymes, which sounds really poetic when you see it on stage. Shakespeare does have better puns, though 😁


  9. Corrie.S.P. says:

    I have been learning Spanish and the trouble with me is that I can read OK in it but I forget the words sometimes.
    I want to try reading more books in Spanish. I agree it helps a lot.
    My school work gives me reading assignments in Spanish so that helps I can read and write in Spanish better than i can speak it. Hopefully I can keep improving.
    Great post! I know I would be confused if I read that the family went into their oven for the night😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • abookowlscorner says:

      Oh, I’m definitely better at reading and writing than speaking in all foreign languages I know, too… My mind will just blank on all the vocabulary and grammar I’d been studying and I’ll end up stuttering like nobody’s business! 😂
      But it’s really cool that you’re learning Spanish! Entiendo un poco de español, pero hablo muy mal 😉 I wish you the best of luck with it and hope you find some great books to help you along the way!


  10. Diana @ Thoughts on Papyrus says:

    Amazing post and I can totally relate. English is not my first language, Russian is, but I often read in Spanish too and once met all the obstacles you mentioned. I agree, picture books help at first and immersion in another country’s television and shows is so helpful! I am now trying to read children’s books in Japanese since I am learning the language now and though it is quite frustrating, I am also so happy when I can manage to understand a paragraph with relative ease! Small steps go a long way!

    Liked by 1 person

    • abookowlscorner says:

      Ты говоришь по-русски! Я учу русский язык почти три года и это мне очень нравиться, поэтому я может быть немного полона энтузиазма 😁
      But it’s nice to know you relate! I’m honesty really impressed that you’re learning Japanese because I’ve heard both the grammar and the Kanji can be notoriously difficult. Even managing one paragraph seems like a tremendous success to me!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Diana @ Thoughts on Papyrus says:

        А я удивлена что ты изучаешь такой язык как русский! Он очень сложный, но по- видимому ты уже говоришь очень хорошо! Seriously, if I were not already a native speaker, I would never had the courage to learn it. Its grammar is just so complex and even in my Russian school, it was considered one of the most difficult subjects to master alongside maths and science. And, yes, Japanese is very tricky, it took me ages just to learn the two main alphabets (hiragana and katakana) let alone read and write words, but I am also glad I managed to bypass the biggest hurdles!

        Liked by 1 person

        • abookowlscorner says:

          Спасибо! И да, я тоже считаю, что русская грамматика очень трудна – особенно аспекты глаголов… 😅 Но на мой взгляд японский язык ещё сложнее!
          Seriously, doesn’t Japanese have all kinds of word endings, depending on what shape an object has, whether it’s alive or not, and loads of other stuff? That sounds next to impossible to me, as do all the signs they use in addition to the alphabets… But I’m sure all the effort you’re putting into it is paying off, and it must be so rewarding to finally be at the level to be able to read stuff!

          Liked by 1 person

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