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The Multilingual Book Project

Being trapped in the frozen tundra of monolingual English speakers while in between travels to non-English speaking countries is hell to an avid language learner such as myself. So as self-given homework (I know, I know, I couldn’t be a bigger nerd) I have developed what I am calling the Multilingual Book Project.

This sort of began back in May when I was in France (as you may remember) but it has escalated dramatically since I returned from South Korea. While I was in Korea I picked up a few more books to help me round out the projects I wanted to carry through with the scaffolding I needed.

From my previous posts or if any of you reading are linguistics/teaching ESL majors out there you may be familiar with how vital it is for language learners to have support when they are reading. In a classroom and as a younger person, the teacher hopefully blends this scaffolding seamlessly into the lesson, so that as the student reads they have the tools they need without needing to think about having them.

Learning independently and as a semi-adult (I’m too terrified to say I’m a real adult because even though I graduated from university a few short weeks ago it doesn’t feel real yet) it is important to remember to scaffold and to keep your interest while reading in a foreign language. And while speaking and memorizing grammar points and writing are all key elements in learning a language, and certainly are things that shouldn’t be forgotten about, I think that reading is one of the best ways (probably the best way when you are learning independently) to come across and to remember new vocabulary and grammar structures–which can then later be used in writing, speaking and listening.

So the goal of the Multilingual Book Project is to increase vocabulary in other languages while maintaining the level of comprehension that I attained abroad. The books I am using were chosen based off of my interest and my having had read the books already in English with a desire to read them again (multiple times over).

The books I chose were:

-The Davinci Code by Dan Brown (Korean, English, French)

-The Hobbit by JRR Tolkin (French + English)

-Harry Potter by JK Rowling (Korean, Japanese, French, English)

-Norwegian Wood by Murakami Haruki (Korean + English)

As you can tell none of these books are necessarily a beginner level or books that one would associate with language learning, but for me they are books that captivate my interest and they are the kind of books that I pick up in English and read for fun–and my goal is to one day be fluent enough in other languages to do the same with books of that language.

For the last week I have been working on The Davinci Code/다빈치 코드.


My basic structure so far is to read half or one entire chapter in English, and then repeat the amount I read in the Korean version using an active reading technique (underlining, circling, writing in the margins, etc). The next day I will start by re-reading what I read the previous day in the Korean addition, and then move back to the English text and repeat the process from there. After every three to four chapters, or at the end of one week, I go back and re-read all of the Korean chapters before moving forward in the English text.

This takes a lot of time, and it is a lot of re-reading so if you try this at home make sure you choose a book you are going to be okay with reading slowing and repetitively.

It is also important to not stop and look up words or grammar structures you don’t know while you are reading. The point is to read fluidly and to accept unknowing and learning gradually. If a word or structure comes up repetitively in a days reading, at the end of my session I will go back to the question marks I left and will look up the words or structures either in the English version of the text, by asking a Korean friend, or worst comes to worst I will look it up online. Because of the scaffolding of already knowing the storyline and reading the text in the same time in English, there really shouldn’t be too much confusion that would keep you from continuing with your reading.


It is important to actively read to both maintain your attention and to remember words and structures that confused or interested you, so that you can easily go back to give those parts more attention after your daily reading is finished

As I am interested in translation I like to keep notes when I find a particular sentence translated in an interesting or confusing way, or when I wouldn’t have thought to translate it in such a way or if I would have translated it differently. If I had an infinite amount of time and other people crazy enough to do this process with me it would provide the basis for a great multilingual book club…. But for now I just bother some Korean speaking friends with my musings every once in a while. 😛

It can sometimes be hard for learners of a language once they surpass elementary school, as the easiest ways to progress into heavier reading is by going through the same process that children go through as they begin to read in their native language–by going first from picture books to easy chapter books and slowly progress with their grade or reading level. But unfortunately there are only so many picture books an adult can read before they start hitting their head against the wall in boredom.

I was already using this method of study with my copy of The Hobbit before I left for Korea, and my goal is to finish reading The Davinci Code and hopefully get back to The Hobbit before I leave for France in March…though I’m already feeling guilty because I’m neglecting my Japanese…………… -_-;;

How do you practice reading in another language? Have you tried the scaffolding method before on your own?

I’ll be back soon with more commentary on language, travel and baking! Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more posts in the near future!!





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