Reading aloud as a way of learning a language

At the Newsam Library’s first ever reading aloud session on World Book Day, IOE lecturer Sam Duncan listed, from her initial research, many occasions on which reading aloud still forms part of our culture, amongst them family life. Yes, it certainly forms part of my family life – although our family consists of two adults only.

Reading a novel by Colette over a coffee in Albi, France

Reading a novel by Colette over a coffee in Albi, France

First of all, there would not be a family without reading aloud, because my partner and I met at a poetry reading…! During the first years, we read our way through a number of poetry anthologies, usually at a dose of one poem a day. Some of those poems were rhymed and others were not, some of them scanned evenly and others went with the flow of the language, some were in English and most in other languages: but we would always read them aloud, at least twice.

Looking for wisdom in the Rue Voltaire in Arles, France

Looking for wisdom in the Rue Voltaire in Arles, France

When my husband and I meet up or go out now, there is still a threefold motivation, and I am not sure which is the strongest: spending time together, having a cup of coffee, and reading some French aloud. It is a foreign language for both of us and laborious to get through – ordinary sentences are as complex as a Rubik’s Cube, verse does not seem to scan, fiction does not seem to boast a plot, and newspapers are so learned that you would need a doctorate in Classics to get the allusions. Yet it is all worth the labour – to discover a new country and nation, enticing and multi-faceted, through print on paper… and a new language and literature, elegant and melodious, through reading aloud.

The best way to learn to use a foreign language actively (short of being five years old) is obviously to live in a country where it is spoken, and the next best way is to listen to and talk to native speakers. But there is no excuse for not persisting anyway: you can always listen to radio and recordings; you can always talk to other learners; and you can always read aloud!

Sculpture by Jaume Plensa in Bordeaux, France

Sculpture by Jaume Plensa in Bordeaux, France

So why not turn to the vast foreign-language collections of the Senate House Library and University College London – or to our own collections, starting with dual-language picture books and story books? There is a search for Curriculum Resources only, which includes children’s literature, and you could look up “bilingual” or “dual language”, “Spanish language texts” or “Text in Spanish”. I am staring at the big bright picture of a banana as I am writing, labelled “banana = plátano”, and I hope it will help me find a banana one day when I need it…


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