Books can be overwhelming, but approaching it gradually will make it look like not such a daunting task. It is totally doable.
1. Start with children books
I know it is not the funniest thing to read. But you do need to start somewhere. You started reading children books when you were a kid. The only difference here is that you may not enjoy the content as much. But when you are able to read children books from cover to cover, you will have a strong basis.
You can then move on to books that target slightly older kids, then make your way up. By doing so, the length, the vocabulary and the grammar used in the narrative will gradually get more difficult, making it easier for you to adapt and remember.
2. Read short stories and articles
Once you are comfortable with that (or you can also start doing it at the same time as step one), you can move on to short texts like the one you find in middle-school and high-school language textbooks, or even articles. Read about things you like. I used to hate the texts in textbooks because the subject matters and topics where so boring to me. But let’s say you are passionate about gardening, then read gardening blogs or magazines in your target language.
The con with reading content online is that, it is possible to stumble across things written by someone who makes grammar and spelling mistakes. If you are intermediate or higher, then you will notice them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people write « then » instead of « than » or « could of » instead of « could have ». When it happens, just take notice and remember that this is wrong.
But be careful, sometimes, you are the one being wrong. And if it happens, it doesn’t matter, it just means you learned something new. So make sure to double check if you are not 100% sure.
Coming soon : the number one reason people make spelling/grammar mistakes (EVEN in their MOTHER TONGUE)
3. Read a book that you’ve already read in your mother tongue
Extra points if you’ve seen a movie adaptation because the story line will already be familiar. You don’t jump right in without knowing what to expect.
3 bis. Read bi-lingual books
These are a bit harder to find but you should be able to purchase some on the internet. The number of books are limited and it varies more or less according to the language combination you are looking for. I know that for French-English bilingual books, you mostly find classics, preferably short ones like Shakespeare’s plays, for example.
You really have to find one that suits you and that is not too specific (Shakespeare had many old English words, it was not ideal for the high-school student I was), but once you find one, then it can be of great help.
Start by reading the part in your target language without looking at the translation first. See what you can grasp, what words you can guess and what you just don’t get. If you understand everything, then I suggest you go on until the end of the chapter/part or until you get stuck, and then check the translation afterwards. If you still struggle a bit, then a page or two at the time is the way to go.
Very often, the lines are numbered so it makes it easy to find what you are looking for from one language to another. Some bilingual books will even have explanations at the bottom or at the end.
4. Read while listening to the audiobook
Having someone reading the story out loud while you are following along helps in many ways. You will hear the correct pronunciation, you will have a pace going on (so that you won’t stay stuck on one sentence for too long or skip some), the tone used will help you understand the content. Overall, it will make the task smoother and easier while helping you on different levels.
5. Adapt the content
If you are a beginner, then you won’t make your life easier by reading detailed economic reports, or plastic surgery books. Read fiction or general topics, everyday topics. If you fancy reading something specific, then why not gather a bit of vocabulary before starting ?
6. Diversify, repeat, and have fun.
Like for movies, don’t force yourself to read books you find absolutely boring because it won’t help at all. You need to get the machine rolling and train so that you can eventually read comfortably.
Word of warning for Asian languages learners:
The most difficult languages for reading comprehension are, in my opinion, any language that use a different alphabet, especially Chinese, Japanese or any language with thousands of Chinese characters.
I say especially Chinese and Japanese because, languages with different alphabets, for most of them, still have a limited number of characters.
For example : Korean has its own alphabet, and though they also have Hanja (Chinese characters, kanji in Japanese), they barely ever use them and if they do, they are absolutely basic. In one week you can master it.
But let’s say your mother tongue is Spanish, and you are learning German. When you stumble across something you don’t know, you can quickly look it up in the dictionary.
But with Chinese characters, the difficulty is when you cannot even read it. How are you supposed to look up something you can’t even pronounce ? You have to first look the reading of the character, find the right one (for Japanese kanji), and then look it up on the internet. This my friend, takes such a long time. But the more you learn, the less time it will take. You never know how much you can remember by doing this, so it’s worth a try. Don’t let it stop you completely. You will find that it takes a long time at first, but goes quicker and quicker as you make your way trough the book.
As always, feel free to leave your tips below,
Good luck !