Tips for Reading in English.
So, this topic has been bothering me for a while now. As I've told you, my native language is much more English than Spanish (and if you've heard me get tongue tied in Spanish, you know this). I've also been certified as a C2 Native Speaker, and a teacher at an ICELT level (this means I have the equivalent of a degree in English Language Teaching). And I'm also quite active in bookstagram, at an international level.
And I cannot even begin to tell you how mad it makes me to see "tips for reading in English" in bookstagram posts.
Sure, I'm getting a bit agitated. Sure "calm down Andrea", but listen to me for a minute (or two).
Learning English is a process. It's various different processes, and as a teacher you have to take SO much into account when teaching: what skill are you teaching? what subskill are you going to introduce? what are your students abilities? are they musical? physical? how long can you keep their attention? how will you expand the topic without going into more detail? how will your students react to the material you are presenting? This is just the beginning of a lesson plan. Now go to materials and timing and how are you going to make sure they learned something today? (and don't even get me started on the whole "American vs British English") and you have about 10% understanding of what goes into a one hour lesson for a group of 10 students.
I believe that society has taught us that if you are a teacher, it's because you couldn't succeed in the "normal" world. I also believe that there is nothing more beautiful than having a kid come up to you, 3 years after you were his teacher, and say: "thank you, because of you, I succeed", and that makes the 2 hours I spent planning every one-hour class completely worth it!
And it's also why it makes me so sad and angry to see these posts. Everybody is different! and generalising these "tips" is bound to make someone, somewhere, feel completely useless. Everything I learned as a teacher has pointed to this, ELT has to be personalised!
Firstly because everybody has a different level. And by level I mean the Common European Framework, because it's the most widely known, and not the % thing you see in job listings (because nobody can 100% know a language, like seriously?). So maybe if you are barely starting to learn English and how to introduce yourself, you should wait a little bit more. If, perhaps you are an upper B1, a person who knows all the tenses fairly well, can have a chat for more than a minute, can understand this text and you watch Netflix in English, you are ready to start reading a novel.
It has been scientifically proven that the best way to learn English (or any language for that matter) is immersion! Full absorption of the language, in every aspect of your life. And it's also completely logical if you think about it. We all know that one person that went to live in another country and a year after was completely proficient in the country's language, because how else are they going to get around, get a sandwich or find the library? So, learning and reading in English should not be exclusive of each other. Being a reader is considered a vital skill in learning another language, a way to keep expanding that language, and to keep practicing. When you read, you learn, as simple as that.
Of course, the basis of learning a language and reading in English should not be any different than how you started to read in Spanish. And of course, you cannot force yourself to read in another language if you have never been a reader in your own language.
So why does every booktuber/bookstagrammer have such "great tips"? (And why do they keep popping up in my feed?) I believe that the problem lies in the "starting" part.
From what I've seen, people doubt themselves so much that they don't know where to begin something that should be natural (or as natural as watching a movie in English), and let me tell you, that's not on you, that's 100% on your teachers. YOU CAN DO IT. I mean, if you got this far and you understood what I'm talking about, go get that book you've been dying to read. Don't even think about anything else. Get it, get comfy, light a candle and settle down and just START READING.
I've seen bookstagrammers recommending books to "start reading" because of their easy language in English. And let me tell you that they are wrong; it's a language, and as a book is a reflection of society (and a BIG part of society is the language) there is no "easy language". Get that term off your mind immediately. In any book you are bound to find words you have never seen before, or that you don't know what they mean. I've been reading for over 20 years in English, and still come across new words, so relax, it happens to everyone. Can't get over the "but how hard is it to read"? Well then, which book would you recommend to a foreigner who wants to "start" reading in Spanish? Why?
I've also seen booktubers recommending graphic novels or manga to start reading in English, as the images will serve as a visual helper to where the story is going. As a teacher I can tell you that for learning English, pictures are very rarely used to tell a story except with young learners. As a bookworm, I can tell you that you will never catch me reading a manga or a graphic novel, because I don't like them (which is also perfectly FINE). So, if you like reading manga in Spanish, go ahead. If you are doing it just to get where the story is going and not because you like it, I would recommend going to another book.
Another "tip" I've heard is "don't read High Fantasy books" and this is the one that makes me so passionately angry. The reasoning behind this is that authors tend to invent terms, words, names and even their own language (yes, JRR Tolkien) which would make the comprehension much more difficult for a new English reader. And this is SO WRONG. First of all, have you heard how kids talk nowadays? If you grab a contemporary book you might come across new(ish) terms you are just as likely to get confused about . Of course you shouldn't read Lord of the Rings if you haven't read it in Spanish (more of that in the next paragraph) because he is a bit difficult to read even if you are a native speaker! But that doesn't mean you shouldn't read fantasy. If you like to read fantasy, go browse the YA section and get yourself a book!
*This should not be interpreted as "reading YA is easier than reading adult fantasy", nope, I recommend YA because books are shorter and less tedious (I'm looking at you, Brandon Sanderson) and you can usually find stand-alones (not like GoT). If you have time and patience, go hit up the adult fantasy section!*
My least favorite "tip" is "underline every word you don't understand and have a dictionary handy". I love dictionaries and this has nothing to do with that. It has to do with freaking google translate. And underlining. We all know that one person who would underline the whole page if the teacher said "summarise", well, that's exactly what is going to happen. You should not get caught up in a word when you are reading, because that is not how you read in Spanish. If you don't understand a word, you don't stop, underline and get the dictionary (as a teacher, this can be a useful tool in a controlled activity, but usually with other types of texts when the objective is not to get the gist), you just keep reading, to get the context and understand what that word "kind of" means. Because if you underline, I can guarantee you are going to use Google translate and not the dictionary, which is bad for you because you need CONTEXT to properly translate a word. Someone who knows the language can help you better than Google Translate, because they can say which word fits best for the context. Next time you feel like reaching for Google Translate, remember English has fewer words than Spanish, which means a word can have like 50 different meanings depending on the context.
I saw this tip once, and then it got lost in the internet. But it's actually one I agree with 100%. "read something in English that you have already read in Spanish" so that instead of focusing on what you DON'T understand, you can focus on how the language changes your interpretation of the story, or even find some mistakes in the translation (which I've been told can actually happen). This my favorite tip for "starting" because it makes the experience less scary, after all, you're just visiting old friends but in another language.
So, I just destroyed your whole list of tips without really solving anything, and I'm sorry. I just have two things to tell you:
1. Don't read the classics. Chances are you will hate them and then blame the language, but seriously, who liked reading "Artemio Cruz" in prepa? because you will feel the same way if you start with "the classics". Do not even go close to Shakespeare, like just walk the other way, out the door and go get a coffee until the impulse passes. DO. NOT. READ. THE. CLASSICS. Unless you are part of a book club or have a buddy to read it with (still, avoid Shakespeare!) and you can discuss not just the story, but also the language.
2. GO FOR IT. Do not doubt what you want to read, do not second guess your ability. What's the worst thing that could happen? It takes you 3 months to read? You don't finish it? It gets to be "too much"? You just get another book and try again. And again. Until you get it. Because it has nothing to do with English, it is just you and a story waiting to be read.