One of my classes this past semester was on teaching reading and writing in a second language. A fellow student shared the video below, of a TED talk by Lýdia Machová on the secrets of learning multiple languages. She describes getting bored with the book she was using to learn Spanish, and deciding to read the Spanish-language version of Harry Potter instead.
I was inspired to try it myself, and bought a copy of the first Harry Potter book in French. I tried to apply all the techniques I'd learned in class: Skim first for the overall meaning, then read again. Don't stop every time you come to a word you don't know. Try to figure out the meaning from context.
It was humbling. I found myself stubbing my linguistic toes multiple times in every sentence. I had no idea there were so many verbs to describe someone speaking - chuchoter (whisper), balbutier (stammer), glapir (yelp), grincer (squeak). Or how few of them I knew. And then there's the whole business of the dreaded passé simple. I'd kind of assumed no one wrote in that tense any more. (I was wrong.) How was I going to presume to tell an English language learner how to read a college textbook when I couldn't even manage a couple of paragraphs in a book ostensibly written for children, that I'd already read at least twice, and had listened to in audiobook format only last spring?
I set myself a goal of reading one page every night, and I did often find it a soothing way to decompress from reading journal articles and trying to write yet another paper. Some nights I only managed one paragraph. Some nights I looked blearily at the page, spiky with acute accents and circumflexes, and didn't try even a single sentence. And yet, gradually, over the course of a few weeks, the one page turned into two, and sometimes even three.
I'm still not sure you could call what I'm doing here reading. But two nights ago I found myself plowing on to the end of the chapter, just as I might in English, and I'm looking forward to picking it up again tonight. Hagrid has just shown up at the cabin on the rock and Harry has finally read his letter of admission to Poudlard, l'école de sorcellerie!
Un grand silence s'abattit soudain sur la cabane. On n'entendait plus que le bruit de la mer et le sifflement du vent.
- Je suis un quoi ? balbutia Harry.
- Un sorcier, bien sûr, dit Hagrid en s'appuyant contre le dossier du canapé qui craqua et s'écrasa un peu plus sous son poids. Et tu deviendras un sacré bon sorcier dès que tu auras un peu d'entrainement.