It can be a real struggle trying to learn a new language. I had always enjoyed learning languages in school, but only recently did I start learning German. I found that I could understand and learn individual words easily, but when it came to literature, I really struggled. That was when my tutor at university suggested reading some children’s books printed in the target language.
At first, I felt a bit silly going on a hunt for a book designed for someone half my age, but then I realised that everyone has to start somewhere. As children, we are given these basic texts to familiarise our brains with certain vocabulary and writing structures, and from there, we can learn and develop. I started with books which are taught to us as children in the UK. I managed to find Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.
The beauty of reading books that were introduced to you as a child is that you are already familiar with the plot. As a result, you can work out some of the definitions of words with your prior knowledge of the story. At first, I used to read with the book in one hand and a dictionary in the other, but this method did not work well for me. The method I would recommend is to read a chapter of your chosen children’s book and at the end of that chapter, highlight the words you do not know and then look up the definitions. If you can wait a bit before you use a dictionary, you may be surprised what you can understand merely from the context of the sentence in the story. Additionally, a lot of children’s books have pictures which may give you a clue as to what or to whom the passage is referring.
If you can find a translation of the books you have read as a child, I would strongly advise reading those if you are a complete beginner and have not tackled any texts in English yet. However, if you feel a bit more confident reading in English, there are some great books in English written for children which may be more suitable for you. I would personally recommend the series of ‘Harry Potter’ books by J.K. Rowling or any of the Roald Dahl children’s books.
What was your favourite children's book when you were younger?