This post will be a little different that past ones. Rather than write about a specific book or author, I want to share my thoughts on reading which have been challenged recently by my experience with some of the TPRS books (primarily written by Lisa Ray Turner and Blaine Ray) which have helped me finally begin accomplishing a goal of mine for a long time – to be able to read books in a foreign language.
This post is primarily about three crucial things I’ve learned about reading which I highly doubt would ever have occurred to me if I had never tried to read in another language.
First, I now understand that reading is tiring. Maybe that seems obvious. As a teacher who’s seen kids as young as 4 struggling to learn how to read, I already knew it can be difficult. But there’s a difference between seeing someone struggle and struggling yourself. And while I’m sure I struggled at one point just like them, that was a long time ago, and any memories of that time are remote (as are most of my experiences with bullies…oh wait, now that I think about it…).
Reading books in Spanish gave me the opportunity to relearn and better appreciate how difficult reading can be and, consequently, be able to sympathize more with those learning to read for the first time in any language. I was often exhausted after five pages, despite the stories being simple, the plots clearly meant to appeal to children.
That leads me to the second thing I learned – the content of what we read when we’re learning to read is incredibly important. In regards to these TPRS books, I doubt I would have made it through a single one of them if I didn’t keep reminding myself that reading simple stories was necessary if I wanted to eventually manage Don Quixote in the original, not to mention the countless other stories out there that are, currently, beyond my reach. But this also made me reflect on one of the reasons I believe more adults don’t read – they simply aren’t exposed to good stories. Books like 1984, the first novel to make me think, or Notes from Underground, that changed my life entirely – these books and so many more can and will change the lives of other readers for generations. But “literature” and “the classics” have always had a reputation for being difficult and that barrier is only getting more difficult to surpass. Sometimes it’s true – they are difficult. The sheer length of some books presents a problem even if all the words are intelligible because an inexperienced reader doesn’t have the mental focus to be able to get through it all. It’s like someone who’s only been playing guitar for a week trying to play a three hour show straight through. It doesn’t matter if the person’s a genius who can play anything – their fingertips have not had time to develop the callouses necessary to endure playing that long. But that only means we should try to exercise these muscles further and push ourselves to read books of increasingly difficulty. Because reading a difficult text provides a feeling of accomplishment that is lasting and nourishing, unlike any passive pleasure which, no matter how good in the moment, is fleeting.
I may write a future post on my thoughts about how to best encourage what I call serious reading, but for now I’ll conclude by saying I learned that while challenging, it is not impossible for a nearly thirty-year-old man to learn how to read in another language, and I’ve provided links below that can help you as well.
Because I have to say, as a reader, the idea that I could experience the great works of literature from an entirely new culture – well, it’s like an infinite library just doubled in size.
So go read (anything). Now.
(Especially something that’s smarter than you.)
1. Link to Benny Lewis’ website – an Irish polyglot who helps people of all ages learn to become fluent in another language in a ludicrously short period of time: