Starting to read a full-length fiction novel in a foreign language can be both an exciting milestone moment and perhaps also a rather nerve-wrecking one (with copious amounts of self-doubt). The completion of a novel will no doubt be an exhilarating moment for all 🙂
Sharing some tips and thoughts about when to start attempting to read fiction novels and how to choose a good one to start with!
When am I ready?
My advice over the past years has been consistent: You will never be ready unless you start. You are not going to wake up one day and feel “ready”. Nor is passing X level in a language proficiency test a good gauge – in fact, the process and progress you make in trying to read different types of texts will help you pass that proficiency test. Chicken and egg issue there 😛
That said, you will need some proficiency before you can attempt to read a novel. I would think a rough gauge will be when you are comfortable enough to read short articles in the target language. You need not be able to understand everything, but at least you can pinpoint what you don’t know – meaning you can parse the sentence and recognise where a word starts and end and what are grammatical structures/particles.
For example, you may not know the word in orange but you can recognise that it’s a word, and the character 을 next to it is a grammar particle. You may also not recognise the grammar point in green, but you kinda figure out that it looks like a grammar point.
늦잠을 자는 바람에 빵을 먹기는커녕 물 한 잔도 못 마셨어요.
Be prepared that you will be spending a long time with each sentence. I did and I enjoyed every moment though. I would probably highlight 5 words in one sentence and I’ll slowly search them up and write them down in my notebook. There’s no need to feel demoralised, it’s part of the learning 🙂
How to choose your first novel
Personally I’ll recommend an original novel in the target language which has been adapted for the big/small screen and you are familiar with the adaptation. This allows you to have some background when you first approached the novel and helps in the understanding too.
Choose a novel that deals with more generic topics – they could be easier than something more specialised such as a drama set in the courtroom.
One of the earliest (not the first) novels I’ve read was 우리들의 행복한 시간 (우행시). People who know me would know that the movie adaptation starring Kang Dong Won (my love) and Lee Na Young is one of my all-time fav movies.
I’m not too fond of reading translated novel (e.g. the Korean version of Harry Potter) as a start – although that might be quite intuitive to do so since you can reference the original work. I bought the Korean version of Twilight (LOOOL) and never managed to make any headway in it hahahha. Not all translated works are good and it’s also a bit strange to read about Edward and Bella in Korean?! Somehow I also think that if you know that you have the original work to refer to, it kinda creates a safety net and may make you too reliant on the original text.
Don’t be discouraged
I can’t emphasise how important this is. Especially if you know you are actually stepping out of your comfort zone to attempt reading a difficult material beyond your current proficiency. I love the challenge of searching up almost all the words in the novel when I first started – it’s a very slow process but it makes me happy. It’s important not to feel discouraged or feel that inadequate if you find it hard to read at the start – remember that you can only get better!
Share your experiences reading your first novel in a foreign language!