I've now been experimenting for a week with ways of sneakily improving my German vocabulary by reading for pleasure. I've learnt quite a lot - not just new words and phrases, but also quite a lot about the process of vocabulary learning. Of course, I can only be sure that what I've learnt applies to me personally - we are all so different in the way we learn, and language teachers have to offer lots of different learning strategies to their students so that everyone eventually finds the way which is best for them. But, for what it's worth, this is what I've learnt:
- I'm far more motivated to work on my German when I'm combining it with an activity I find really enjoyable - reading murder mysteries.
- I'm far more likely to read in German if I do it in 15 minute chunks rather than sitting down with the intention of doing it all evening.
- I like using a dictionary app on my phone rather than a paper dictionary. For a start, the app is much more up-to-date than my dictionary and, more importantly, it means I can read on the bus or in bed without having to struggle with an enormous heavy dictionary.
- I like making a list of interesting words and phrases - some of them are new to me, but most are ones which I half-know - perhaps I understand them but wouldn't have been able to use them myself when I'm speaking.
- Although I believed that it was better not to write down English translations of the new words in my little notebook, by the end of the week I had changed that - now I write down the translation if it's not possible to write down a phrase which clearly shows the meaning. German has lots of compound nouns - where two words join together to give a new meaning - and often I can guess what the meaning is when I see it. Sometimes, however, it just isn't obvious, and I've decided I was not using my common sense to write only the German and then have to look it up again and again.
- I also like going through my random list of words and making a new list grouped more logically - see here.
What I've been doing this week is similar to what is called (in the world of language teaching) 'extensive reading' - that is, reading long texts which are not too difficult for the purpose of understanding the whole thing. The opposite is called 'intensive reading' and is more about reading shorter but more difficult texts - perhaps analysing fragments or seeking the answers to comprehension questions. There's a good article about it here, if you're interested.
I haven't yet had the chance to try out any of my new vocabulary on a real German (and in any case they might think I was a bit odd if I started talking about post-mortem examinations and obituaries), but I have most definitely built up my confidence as a learner. I have been pleasantly surprised by how quickly I am able to read my book (after a slower start at the very beginning) and so much of my forgotten vocabulary is coming back to me.
I would love to hear from other people about their experiences of reading for pleasure in a foreign language.