An important insight for learning French
Learn better with this change of mindset
Most of my newsletters are in French, for obvious reasons.
I’m trying to give you content and resources to improve your vocabulary and understanding of spoken and written French and insights into Quebec culture.
But I also have this Tips series where I talk shop.
I share my strategies for learning French, which are in fact my own strategies for learning languages that I’ve used for learning English, Spanish, Italian and German (and bits and pieces of other languages).
I write those Tips in English to reach all of my readers, from beginner to advanced, to steer you in the right direction and hopefully give you some useful strategies.
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Today’s insight is perhaps the most important of all.
And it occurred to me as I was considering what to include in an article about my language learning philosophy, a list of techniques I use or don’t like.
I was, of course, going to talk about why I love to read in other languages, and how I attribute most of my success to this one activity.
I used to read more than I do today. But in the last two months, I read the following books.
754 días, by Christian Byfield (in Spanish)
Todos los cuentos, by Gabriel García Márquez (in Spanish)
La promesse de l’aube, by Romain Gary (in French)
Cien años de soledad, by Gabriel García Márquez (in Spanish)
El amor en los tiempos del cólera, by Gabriel García Márquez (in Spanish)
El síndrome de Ulisses, by Santiago Gamboa (in Spanish)
I’m reading a lot in Spanish because I’m trying to improve my Spanish. I’ll probably shift to another language after, and of course continue reading in French.
I don’t read absurd amounts of time every day. But I’m a consistent reader. By reading 30 to 60 minutes a day, it’s amazing the number of books you can read in a year.
Now I’m getting to my insight.
Most people will say that you need to read a lot in a language to improve your vocabulary.
In fact, there are a number of strategies that you can use to learn a language, reading being just one of them.
But I realized that it’s not the reason why I love reading in a foreign language.
I don’t read to learn the language.
I learn the language because I want to read.
My insight is simple.
I didn’t read those books just because I wanted to improve my Spanish. That might have been my initial motivation, but I needed much more than that, to go through several 400-500 page books.
I was motivated to read those books because I enjoyed them, and I saw that my reading comprehension was getting better. I was motivated to look up many new words because I wanted to understand the books I was reading better, not because I wanted to “speak better Spanish.”
My insight is that it’s always going to be better to learn the language in order to do something enjoyable, rather than doing something in order to learn the language.
It’s easy for me to focus on reading because I became an avid reader at 12, after discovering the works of Stephen King (in French). And since then, I’ve developed a keen interest in literature, so it’s normal that I approach learning languages through that lens.
But if you replace reading with any other activity, my point is that the more focus on the activity itself, rather than “learning,” the more you’re going to be motivated to continue and invest more time into it.
Learn French because you want to watch great movies, rather than watching boring movies to practice your French.
Learn French because you want to participate in stimulating conversations, rather than doing dry exercises to try to speak better French.
Read in French because there’s a book you really want to read in the original language, rather than just reading because you want to “improve your vocabulary.”
Learning French should be viewed as the key to a door that gives you access to new friends, interesting conversations, great books, great movies and great culture.
If you change your mindset to focus more on the process, you might just start to make more progress!
Here are more articles you can read from my Tips section.