I’m feeling quite inquisitive this morning and would like to know, is it possible to be able to read a foreign language fluently without knowing the actual foreign word for it? As in if there is a language with a different writing system to it i.e Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, Hindi etc, could you read it like you read english (hearing english words in your head as it were), still make sense of it but not pronounce it in the foreign way?
If you have a look into the parallel thread "Is it important to learn IPA?’ you might find an interesting answer…
Sorry, what I meant was for example learning the written system on lingQ and then just reading for pleasure, not wanting to speak. Is that possible. Also, what is a parallel thread?
The thread that is going on in parallel to yours “Is it important to learn IPA?”, it’s in the list to my right as I speak.
As to simply reading Cyrillic or Arabic or a bit of Japanese, I can do that but, as for most of the content, I never know what I’m reading!
As I do like reading, I practise my reading skills like this from time to time and only wish the vocab would get into my head somehow.
As there is no law that states “thou shall speak”, it is up to you to do with your languages what you want to do. If you are happy to stick to reading that’s fine.
Should you, however, want to start speaking some time later, might it not be very difficult to get the pronunciation reasonably right if you’ve had a ‘personal’ sound in your head all this time?
On the other hand, if you’ve listenend many, many times on LingQ, you might get it right, after all.
I always sub-vocalize when I read in a foreign language. Even with non phonetic scripts, like Chinese characters, I generally sub-vocalize and guess at the characters I don’t know. Reading is closely related to listening. It is difficult to read what you cannot hear. I recommend that, especially in the early stages, it is a good idea to combine listening and reading.
I also feel that it is a good idea to read and listen right from the beginning. I started to learn French by just reading it. I now find it difficult to learn to speak French because I did not learn the sounds right from the start. Fortunately, I have an excellent tutor who is being patient with my speaking efforts.
"I’m feeling quite inquisitive this morning and would like to know, is it possible to be able to read a foreign language fluently without knowing the actual foreign word for it? As in if there is a language with a different writing system to it i.e Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, Hindi etc, could you read it like you read english (hearing english words in your head as it were), still make sense of it but not pronounce it in the foreign way? "
Interesting question. I may not be able to give you exactly what you are seeking, but I’ll try to do my best.
Yes, people who know related languages or languages that use similar symbols or ideograms, can often make out the message in languages that they don’t know and haven’t learned. It’s not necessary to hear the words in English. Just like with music, it’s possible to convey what the message means directly.
I believe the concept can be transmitted without knowing the correct sound for the symbol.
I heard the story of a Japanese or a Chinese speaker who had learned German on his own-in silence. This was a long time ago-probably in the nineteenth century. When he was finally able to go to Germany, he could read everything, but no one could understand him.
I have sometimes wondered how non-native speakers of English hear English when they read. Do they hear their own voice? Do they hear a native-sounding voice? Do they hear what they imagine the sound to be? Do they hear the “th” sounds, for example, or do they hear a kind of “d” or “t” instead?
Oh, sorry. I read your follow-up post. Yes, I “read” Swedish here just for enjoyment. I can’t speak Swedish.
Logic suggests it’s probably this: they hear what they imagine the sound to be. However, it depends on the learner’s personal education and his willingness to achieve a comprehensive idea of a language. When I become interested in a language, my first step is to familiarize myself with its prosody. Then (and sometimes even simultaneously) I try to learn its general grammar and phonology.
However attentive I may be regarding prosody and phonology, I am well aware of the fact that the image that is created in my head when I read may be very distorted. For one, writing rarely corresponds to speaking (since the former is usually a revision and sublimation of thoughts and ideas carried over a long period of time and the latter is a spontaneous process). Then there’s reduction, assimilation, intra-word formation, coarticulation, lenition, epenthesis, and more, all of which are characteristic of actual speech (and not just informal or relaxed speech).
Now, to answer the question of the original poster, here’s my opinion. I’d be hard pressed to call the process of acquiring information from a foreign-language text without any knowledge of the phenomena I mentioned above reading in the conventional sense. Reading in itself is a rather complex process, but here’s something to ponder over: in most modern languages, verbal communication (speaking and listening) comes first and writing and reading come second (or never come at all). Writing (and reading) both imply a great degree of familiarity and fluency of both the sender and receiver of the message with the oral communicative method of the language.
And, finally, here’s something else to ponder over: Did you know that before the late Middle Ages silent reading was considered to be an outstanding talent?
Here’s an excerpt from the book called A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel:
Ambrose was an extraordinary reader. “When he read,” said Augustine, “his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud.”
Eyes scanning the page, tongue held still: that is exactly how I would describe a reader today, sitting with a book in a cafe across from the Church of St. Ambrose in Milan, reading, perhaps, Saint Augustine’s Confessions. Like Ambrose, the reader has become deaf and blind to the world, to the passing crowds, to the chalky flesh-coloured facades of the buildings. Nobody seems to notice a concentrating reader: withdrawn, intent, the reader becomes commonplace.
To Augustine, however, such reading manners seemed aufficiently strange for him to note them in his Confessions. The implication is that this method of reading, this silent perusing of the page, was in his time something out of the ordinary, and that normal reading was performed out loud. Even though instances of silent reading can be traced to earlier dates, not until the tenth century does this manner of reading become usual in the West.
Thank you for that fascinating comment. Mine is a little off-topic but does link in with your post:
A friend of mine who helps people with dyslexia told me that one of the ‘missing’ bits in an dyslexic person’s reading strategy is the vocalisation in their head. This silent ‘vocalisation’ apparently helps us to learn to distinguish the sound of the we notice on a page when first learning to read. This is the stage coming after sub-vocalisation, I imagine.
Take a trip to Wales. You will soon find you can navigate around quite happily using Welsh road signs, despite the fact that Welsh is phonetically unpronounceable to an English-speaker.
Thank-you for your thoughtful comment. I am still thinking about what you wrote.