Reading in a second language

I am new to learning a second language. The idea that one could some day read a book in a second language blows my mind.

My Korean language exchange partner is reading an English book called “The Job”. I wrote about us trying to get through the first page.

My conclusion? English is a cRaZy language! You need so much knowledge to read a book set in a foreign country.

I picture trying to make sense of this book just looking up individual words in the dictionary, the way I do now for Korean. I think it is true … words have no meaning in English. You only get to the point where groups of words in context have meaning.

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Ya, English has a lot of ambiguities and can often be very confusing for English learners.

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A few years ago, I´ve tried reading books in English but I didn´t finish even one of them. I guess it´s mostly because books have an “intimidating format” - I pick up a book, see that it has 500 pages and then I´m like “Ain´t nobody got no time fo dat!” (<— Ain't Nobody Got Time for That!-Original - YouTube )

I prefer reading short articles with spectacular headlines.^^

“I think it is true … words have no meaning in English. You only get to the point where groups of words in context have meaning.”
(Ozzy) “Ya, English has a lot ambiguities and can often be very confusing to English learners.”

I´ve made the same experience with German, French and Japanese.


@Paule89 English is my one of my Native tongues, and German is your Native Tongue. But we make mistakes, and it’s ok because it isn’t the end of the world.
You can read whatever you want, but one day you will be able to read an English book. I haven’t gotten to the stage where I can start reading books in German yet, but I will sooner or later if I want to improve.


I read a novel in German but it took me nearly a year because books are not usually interesting enough to compete with the internet. I started reading it after I’d been learning German for about a year and obviously it was easier to read once I got to the end a year later, but it really wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d imagined.
I guess the content makes a difference – your book about the crime in the Manhattan business world probably would be more difficult than my book about the loser protagonist’s daily life…
I also didn’t look up a single word when I was reading that book. There were tons of words I didn’t know, but when I encountered them, I either figured them out through context or just didn’t understand the sentence and moved on (okay, admittedly, the fact that I didn’t look up anything was partly due to the fact that I was never around a computer when I was reading, because if I had been around a computer, I wouldn’t have been reading that book, but still). I imagine that the amount of time spent looking up words would influence your perception of the difficulty…
I have no idea how much Korean you know, jreidy, but, you know, if you want to read a book in Korean, maybe you should give it a shot before you really think you’re ready to.^^

@Jreidy , I understand what you mean but just recently I’ ve realized that is always happens when you begin teaching your native language. It’s a great opportunity to become a tourist of your own language and love it more ! I started teaching English 8 years ago and I still haven’t lost that feeling so I thought it was the language. But then I started teaching Italian and it was the same thing all over again ! :wink: BTW I agree with @Lynkusu, start reading as soon as you can, possibly following Steve Kaufmann’s advice on the subject, it is priceless ! I’ll check your post, I love checking our your blog and seeing how things are coming! Now, I’ll get off my soapbox ! :wink:

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@ Paule & lynkusu

I don’t know what you kids are talking about. I’ve read a pile of books in German.


@ColinJohnstone I’m envious of you. You’re so far in to the German language, that you’re reading book after book. I wish I can just hurry up my learning to get into the good stuff.

Why wait until you’re better? Get into the ‘good stuff’ now and you’ll get better.^^

@ lynkusu I might get a little better, but I have like 691 words. Which might be 10 or at maximun 20%, so reading a book would do little good. I do read a little, or at least to try to read on wikipedia Germany. I listen a bit of Europe news in German and tagesschau, only understanding little. I don’t worry too much about not being able to understand somethings as long as I keep listening and reading the language, then one day be able to read an awesome Mystery book in German. Hopefully… (:


When it comes to start reading books in a new language, I want to “acclimatize” myself to it first, just open a random book and “challenge” myself, see what I can figure out. I think this way I get less afraid of later actually start reading. I also like to do it with two books (same) side by side. In my case it could be swedish/russian.

hey don’t worry even people who speak English as a native language still don’t understand a lot English books :slight_smile:


I love reading paper books and so thought I’d have no problem ploughing through books in German, even if I had to look up 10+ words a page. But after having started a couple, I’m thinking I’ll wait another few months or however long it takes till I can at least get enough of a gist without having to look up anything IF I DON’T WANT TO. I still expect there’ll be a huge number of words I don’t understand and I’m okay with jumping into that - but I’m so looking forward to reading the books I have collected so far in German that I want to make sure it’s pleasurable. You can only read a book for the first time once! In the meantime, I’m trying to read more magazine snippets - to me magazines are a little like the internet in print but with some of the physical satisfaction of a book! Somehow sitting at a computer still feels a bit like work for me. I can do it, but it’s just not the same as holing up somewhere for a couple of hours with a novel…

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I usually start with children books, I start fromt the books for younger kids and slowly move up. And then, I start on adult books. With books for children, you can count on the sentence structure being fairly simple even though the vocab is not. The trick is not to stop to check every word otherwise you will lose interest !


If you want to look up lots of words in a dictionary, read something short. If you want to read longer things, choose material that is very easy so that you don’t have to use a dictionary. Look for graded readers if possible.

I know it’s so painfully cliche, but this is first book I ever read in German

It’s a nerdy kids story about a boy who meets an new neighbour who is an astrophysicist and gets him interested in science. The book is a translation of an English book written be Stephen Hawking and his daughter (i.e. written entirely by his daughter).

I restarted learning German three months ago. I enjoyed reading Andre Klein’s short stories in German recently.


@Yutaka - thanks for the suggestions. I’m going to check them out :slight_smile:
@colinjohnston - I’m in awe of what you managed to read in German (the level, how much and how soon). I wish I could but let’s face it, it’s not the typical trajectory of the average mere mortal!

I find it hard to stay interested in children’s books yet am not at the level to easily read ‘regular’ novels (i.e. not high literature but genre fiction). I feel like I’m in a kind of no-man’s land so my plan is to just focus on keeping accumulating new words until I pass through. Every now and then I re-open a book to see how things are progressing.

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I think you should work your way to the advanced 1 level in LingQ (12500+ words) first. Then give it a try to reading a full book (e.g. a novel).

It helps when you have a reading habit in your first language. If you do, it shouldn’t be too difficult to move the reading habit to the second language, once you build your vocabulary to a good level.

@Paule89 - maybe you should buy a Kindle.

Reading books is a lot about developing an habit. Start with shorter, simpler books, with content you find interesting. (no shame with reading Harry Potter! And it’s been translated to most languages!)

The first book I read in Spanish was about WWII. I chose that one simply because it was something I found interesting to read.