I only read short stories. When you read for pleasure, you’ll start acquiring vocabulary by the bucket-full. When I read short stories, it doesn’t matter if I start out by looking up almost every word, because I CAN SEE THE END. I know that when I get to the end, there will be some kind of resolution or realization… unlike news articles, which lead with all the important information and then piddle out into specifics, speculation, and man-on-the-street reactions. I do read novels occasionally, but if I don’t get some action or resolution within a few pages, I lose interest, and reading becomes a chore. With short stories, you can read and finish and feel that sense of accomplishment before that feeling of “this is a chore” sets in.
Here are the short stories I read, when I was studying these langauges:
- In French I read short stories by Guy de Maupassant, and Alphonse Daudet… and more recently, Le Petit Nicolas. These are all very charming. I think I read Pagnol’s full-length novel Jean de Florette to see if I could, but getting through it seemed like a chore and it didn’t stick with me much. French teachers always want to you to read articles about unrest in the Parisian suburbs; which, while a very important and worthwhile topic, turns me off to reading in French. And to the French language. And to France, and French people in general. I’ll stick with Lettres de Mon Moulin for now, thank you.
- In Italian, I read Racconti Popolari Italiani, which is basically a lot of folk tales, many involve wish-granting talking fish. I remember reading that while in Rome, and then for the two weeks I had back home before moving to Ann Arbor for graduate school. After that, Spanish became my dominant language and I didn’t have much time for Italian… I do miss it.
- In Spanish, I read microcuentos, micro-short-stories. These are amazing, because Latin American writers (Denevi, Benedetti, Rulfo, Borges, Cortazar, García Márquez… they all took microcuentos as seriously as novels, so they pack a real literary punch. Here, just get the anthology. Or this anthology. Or this anthology.
- In Chinese, I’m reading some graded readers: Tales and Traditions, Chinese Breeze, and a few short stories collections we found in a bookstore in Taipei. I’m not sure what happens when my reading level advances past intermediate; I hope I can find more to read on my kindle.
Yes, I consume other forms of written media, but short stories are the best, and the shorter the better, for my attention span. I do watch videos in the target language, feature-length and youtube shorts, and yes, I do occasionally enjoy popular music. But short stories are the way to go. At first it seems like you’re looking up every word, but keep at it and before you know it, you’ll be skipping the dictionary.
One thing: people who don’t have experience (or don’t remember) learning a second language are always telling me, JUST READ CHILDREN’S BOOKS, as if they didn’t totally just make that up, as if they knew what they were talking about. As if there were people in the world who’s grammar, vocabulary, and interest level were somehow served by Clifford el gran perro colorado.
Here’s my advice: read for pleasure, and you will become literate. If that means Bonsoir Lune, then by all means. But if you’re interested in reading something where the author was trying to entertain and engage adults, then you have my recommendations above.