Responses to readers03-Aug-2012
A few months ago I wrote a blog entry about Readers and reading and said this: ‘I felt that it was a great step – to move from a teaching life in which I had come to believe that encouraging a love of reading was one of the most fruitful things an English teacher could do to publishing the books teachers could use in order to encourage reading.’ And I thought I should carry out an unscientific survey of what kind of impact learning to read in a foreign language and using Readers had on people who’ve learnt English as a foreign language – the kind of learners I used to teach. I think the people I asked were atypical in that my colleagues are all language learners who’ve succeeded to a phenomenal degree but here are their thoughts in answer to my questions: do you remember whether you used Readers at all? Do you choose to read in English now? Anything else you think relevant? See what themes are reflected in their various responses.
I must admit that reading played a very crucial part in my language learning. I suppose it was partly due to the fact that I love reading in general and the fact that I just thought that by reading I would quickly improve my range of vocabulary and see how to use the language. When I was using Readers, I was reaching for one level higher than the one I was on at the time. I just wanted to challenge myself and I believe it was a very good decision. When I was reading I wasn’t using a dictionary to look up the words which I didn’t know. Instead I was working out the meaning of them from the context and I believe that this way I developed a very useful skill which was of great help later on in my language learning, especially when I moved into reading full versions of the books. I must say that at the beginning it was difficult to get the meaning of the words from the context, especially because I was picking classics, but I didn’t give up and after a while I noticed that I just simply got it from the context. It was a great feeling! To help me to remember the new words, in my head I was retelling myself the paragraphs I had just read and I tried to use the new words or make up sentences with the new words. I still use this strategy today. I think that because I was challenging myself quite a lot I relatively quickly got to the stage when I started approaching full version books.
I still choose to read in English and I think I mostly read in English. I know that the work I put into using Readers earlier in my language learning pays back now; reading in English is not a chore but a pleasure. I still reach for classics and modern choices.
To answer your questions, we used Readers in school in German, English and French and, I think because we used them in German class too, I never really thought of them much as language-learning tools back then. Having said that, my French was never particularly good and I was really grateful for the graded language, vocabulary and cultural annotations the Readers provided!
Since I was a teenager, I haven’t read an English book in the German translation. There are a lot of people who try to read the English originals inGermanyas most fiction published there is translated from English and people prefer the originals. Some of my friends do this as a conscious effort to improve their English and my dad looks up words he doesn’t know when reading books in English. It’s a great way of broadening your vocabulary but I’ve never been a fan of it as it interrupts the flow of reading. It’s definitely a huge advantage of the Readers that they allow you to skip the step of finding the word in the dictionary.
When I went on to study comparative literature at university, we were supposed to specialise in two European languages, which, for me, had to be English and French as these were the only foreign languages I know. It was no problem for me to read English literature but I really struggled with French texts. So I chose the next best thing and got books that had the French original and the German translation side-by-side. It probably would have been best to use Readers but unfortunately university culture was not open-minded enough (Readers belong in school and have no place in higher education) and so people read translations instead of trying to deal with the original texts in a format they could cope with.
I had to think long and hard to be able to answer your questions and it became really obvious that the language level of the reader is important as I found using Readers in French really useful while my ability to read English texts was advanced enough for me not to care whether it was a Reader or just a regular book I was reading.
I did use Readers, but I remember one summer, when I was about 13, my English language teacher asked us to read a Sherlock Holmes book during the holidays: she meant the Reader version, but I thought she meant the original, unabridged one, so I went ahead and read that… I probably understood about 40% of it, but I really believe it allowed me to take a huge leap in my competence level. When I went back to school in the autumn I was much more confident.
I almost always read in English now: mostly out of choice, but also because living here makes it difficult to keep track of what gets published in Italy; I go back about twice a year and stock up then. However, something that’s still difficult for me is deciding in which language to read translated works – specifically, I’m a big fan of Russian novels, and I read them all in Italian translation when I was a teenager. Now I feel like re-reading them and my husband has many of them in the British editions, but somehow it feels very weird to read them in English… I guess it shouldn’t matter given it’s a translation anyway!
I remember using readers when studying English and French as a teenager. I was very interested in literature at that time and I had this particular impression that by increasing the amount of reading I would learn languages as if by telepathy. My intuition had its practicalities: although I did not learn by telepathy, I noticed a development in vocabulary acquisition as well as familiarization with the structure of the language. Readers did also help me to understand the mood, or shall I say, the “spirit” of other people who lived far away from where I lived. It is as if you suddenly acquire the eyes of the other and realise that there are as many worlds as there are languages. I still read a lot at the moment and find it amusing when I now see things with these new spectacles, as if those Readers performed some kind of operation.