A Habit of Reading in Other Languages

A little more than a year ago, I began a new daily habit of reading in languages I wanted to learn. I was very ambitious, and very excited.

I decided to put myself way out of my depths. I was reading Homer and Aristotle in Greek, Horace in Latin, Hegel in German, Rousseau in French, and still others as well.

My plan was to read slowly, with some sort of dictionary. Slowly read the first page, and then reread it until it became easy, and then move on to the second page, and continue like this. In no time, I thought, I should be breezing through the languages.

It turns out, that was a poorly conceived project. I’m surprised I stuck with it as long as I did — nearly half a year! But it was a frustrating, largely fruitless endeavour the whole time.

However, within my bad idea was the seed of a good one. As that gruelling half a year was wrapping up, I didn’t abandon the habit. I just shifted it.

What if I put the same sort of effort into reading something that’s more like a graded reader? I’ve long been attracted to Ørberg’s Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata; what if I read artificially instructive texts like that and slowly became proficient at more challenging texts in my target languages, rather than diving straight into the difficult stuff?

The major downside is that I wouldn’t be spending time immediately reading the authors that interest me, in the original languages. It felt pretty cool, in one way, to be doing that. The objection to that disappointment, though, is obvious: if I take the longer and slower path, I think I’m much more likely in the long run to be able to achieve and sustain a habit of that sort. I’ll get back to reading great books in their own languages! But there’s just a very important little detour I need to make first.

So now I’m reading through some graded readers, each at its own pace. It took me several tries to find a Greek one that I like, so I’m behind there, but the other languages have been coming along nicely. I need to be patient; my guess is that, at the pace I’m going, it’ll take at least a year or two before I can go back to reading real texts. But at the same time, I find that amazing. In just a few years from now, maybe I’ll be comfortably reading difficult texts in foreign languages, at the cost of only a few minutes a day between now and then. It’s hard not to be excited.

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