One of my personal reading goals for the past several years has been to read more in my second language of French. While I read lots of text in French on a regular basis (both for work and everyday life), I almost always choose English books when I’m reading for pleasure.
Part of that is comfort level, as I’m a native English speaker, and part of it is habit, I think. Although I’ve studied French off and on since high school, I didn’t really become fluent until moving here for the first time in 1998, and my husband would argue that I’m still not technically fluent–verbs and vowels still having a tendency to get away from me.
But I’m quite capable of reading books in French, and yet I very rarely do. Since I studied applied linguistics in graduate school, I know that a lot of research has gone into understanding how reading in a second (or other multiple) language is different from reading in your native language, but it’s one thing to understand it from an academic standpoint and another to live it first-hand.
When I’m reading in French, I miss a lot of details. It’s a sensory experience–I get a general idea of what is going on in the story, and I start to build up a picture in my mind. I see the characters and the places mentioned, but there are blanks that can only be filled in if I take the time to look up unfamiliar words (which I rarely do). It’s like that old game show where you’d only get one piece of the puzzle at a time and you had to guess at what the picture represented as quickly as possible.
I’m sure that reading in their native language can be like this for some people. I think part of why I find it difficult to read for fun in French is that I’m so used to being a good reader; I have those skills down pat in English, and I don’t have to use additional strategies to fill in the blanks. I don’t have to try.
So I think it’s probably really good for me to keep pushing myself to read in French, even if it’s not always a comfortable experience. And luckily there are moments, when I’m reading the right book, when I can get caught up in the story enough that it doesn’t feel like trying anymore. I want to have more of those moments, so I’m going to keep reading.
What about you? Have you ever read books in a second language? Do you find you have a preference for one or the other?