Lire: une mode vie
From what I have seen, French people adore reading. When I have visited friends in France their flats are invariably filled with books. If you travel on the metro, there are usually a fair number of people with their head in a book looking casually intellectual. One French friend who lived in Brazil for a year, told me that when he went to the beach, whilst all the Brazilians would run out into the sea or play beach volleyball, he and his compatriots would get down some serious reading.
Clearly being able to decipher the written word is an integral part of learning a language. But reading also plays a vital role in helping build up your vocabulary and your understanding of the language. It also improves the sophistication of your speaking and makes you sound more intelligent.
La liberté du lecteur
When you are immersed in what you are reading, when the subject or the story transports you to l’imaginaire, you are only intermittently conscious of making the effort to understand the language. You experience the same thrill of liberty that you felt when you are first able to access the world of the written word in English. That joy when you first learn to ride the literary bicycle and propel yourself along at fantastic speeds! The idea is to create a virtuous circle in which the more you read the easier it becomes and the more you enjoy it, and so in turn the more you want to read.
Ma méthode à moi
Marilyn Lewis in her book How to Study Foreign Languages strongly advises against reading with your dictionary next to you verifying the meaning of every unfamiliar word as this inhibits the exercise of the skill of ‘prediction’. C’est-á-dire deriving your understanding of words and phrases through an analysis of the context within which they appear. Ultimately, you might end up reading the dictionary instead! This can be interesting in itself but is not le but du jeu.
I tend to ruin the potential sell-on value of French books by highlighting and/or noting words and phrases in the margins that I don’t understand or that I think would be interesting and useful to employ on future occasions. If you wanted to be very organised you could employ different colour highlighters for verbs, adjectives, nouns etc. However, if you find yourself reaching for the highlighter all the time (when the white space is in relief rather than the colours!) the text may be too advanced and maybe you should consider reading something else.
Afterwards I go back over the book and review the highlighted words and the notes. I enter these items of useful vocabulary and grammar in various tables for reference in order to practice and learn them. I might also consult a dictionary and run them through online tools such Linguee to identify other types of contexts in which they are employed.
Tout et son contraire
Reading is something that takes time; a scarce resource in our world, so it is good to know how to get the most of your reading activity. So what and how should we read? The answer is as wide a range of material as possible: newspapers, magazines, novels, poems, song lyrics, non-fiction books, and formal reports. I will explore some of these on the pages within this section. I try to indicate what might be useful, not primarily in terms of literary value, but for improving reading comprehension and building vocabulary and grammar knowledge.
If you are reading to improve your general comprehension, it is important to read something that is stimulating and not overly burdened with new and unusual vocabulary.
Lire pour analyser la grammaire
However, tackling formal academic studies or scientific reports, which do not have entertaining the reader as their primary goal, also has it merits. They are generally clearly and logically structured and are much less liable to the obfuscation of meaning common to more subjective prose dealing with emotions and feelings. Formal texts often contain a wealth of useful transferable phrases and vocabulary that you can deploy later on.
Here you might want to take different approach to your reading. You are often reading less for the purposes of the overall comprehension of the text and more to grasp the meaning of particular words and phrases within a given context. Therefore you might spend more time going over particular sections of the text and working out the function of different elements of grammar.