What Makes Reading Fun?

… and if reading in a foreign language isn’t fun, how can I make it so? If you want to read in your target language, there are ways to make it possible and enjoyable.

Enjoyment of a book depends on two factors: reading speed and the amount of interesting things per 10 pages. “Interesting things” may vary depending on the type of book (surprising facts in a non-fictional book, thrilling events or funny dialog in fiction) and of course depending on the reader’s interests. However, if you read very slowly, it is so much more difficult to stay interested in a book, because you don’t hit many interesting things when you read for 10 minutes. At that point you’ll sit back and think that nothing has happened or that you haven’t learned anything new, so of course you lose interest. If you’re a quick reader, lots of books suddenly become interesting that other people find boring, because within 10 minutes you find a lot more action or amazing insights.

What this means for language learners

As someone reading in a foreign language, your reading speed will initially be abysmal. You have several options to combat this and make reading fun:

  • Do exercises to improve your reading speed. Your reading speed will naturally improve in time, but to get a quick boost, I found Tim Ferriss’ exercise invaluable.
  • Choose an easier book. You can read faster if you recognize more words, but Easy Readers also tend to be more boring than regular books, so you might not gain much.
  • Choose a thrilling book. Suspense and unexpected turns count as “more interesting things per 10 pages”, so that reading at slower speed becomes more supportable. Dan Brown for example is a great choice for this.
  • Choose a book you’re dying to read. Again, there should be more interesting things per 10 pages. Ideally, you’d browse your favorite section of a bookstore in your target country, forgetting about the language issue and just picking whatever looks fascinating.
  • Choose an “oldie but a goodie”. There are books that we like to re-read many times, delighting in discovering nuances and foreshadowing, or maybe using them as a basis for philosophizing. These books won’t be boring when read slowly either, and the foreign language will even help you see the content in a new light. “The Little Prince” is such a book for example, and also has the advantage of being easy. Among my women friends, “Pride and Prejudice” is also a popular re-read.
  • Set yourself a challenge. No matter whether the challenge is to read “around the world”, to discover logical fallacies in the book or to find all the times the author uses a particular word, you will stumble upon more interesting things that make reading more fun.

If you’re not sure where to get books in your target language, try Bookdepository; they have a great selection even for obscure languages and they offer free shipping worldwide. If you click on “Advanced Search” you can search by language. Select “paperback” in order to weed out some mismatches.