You can go so far with free material found on the Internet, but one day you reach the point when you’ve done all the good stuff.
Which means it’s time to SPEND SOME MONEY!!
So yesterday I hit my local book store and splurged on graded readers, simplified books which will help me improve both my reading and listening skills in French (and can help you improve your Italian!)
Improve your listening with simplified books
First buy, borrow or steal some graded readers, the ones which come with audio CDs of the story.
I blew around €30 yesterday on three volumes from the Cideb Black Cat series. Mine were for learning French, obviously, but here’s the link for their Italian catalog so you can see what I’m talking about.
Other publishers do these too, so shop around. If you live in a big city (as I do) you should be able to find a book store with a good selection, or there’s the Internet.
As my current level in French is A2, I decided to buy myself an A1 (nice easy start, to gain confidence), an A2 (to work on next) and a B1 (my eventual target).
The books have simplified grammar/vocabulary appropriate to the student’s level. As it’s been decades since I studied formally, I figure doing the A1 and A2 will also be useful revision, as well as building me up gradually towards my target level.
Insider tips on getting the most from graded readers
This is the advice I usually give my students (and intend to follow myself). It’s a bit contra-logical, but tried and tested, so bear with me.
The objective is to build confidence reading and listening, NOT to understand every word. In fact, the opposite. To read and listen effectively, it’s necessary to develop strategies to deal with the inevitable words you won’t know. Get used to guessing, or just ignoring them (really!)
That said, the more you read and listen, the more your vocabulary and grammar will improve naturally, and the easier you’ll find these skills.
But you do have to put in the practice. For this reason, I normally advise ignoring the exercises and supplementary activities. They’re useful, even fun, but inevitably distract from following the story and so can’t help but slow down the whole process.
Which means reducing the impact on your reading/listening skills.
Which means that, in the long term, you’ll learn less, not more.
But it’s up to you…
Anyway, here’s what you do:
1. Read the story and listen to the CD at the same time. DON’T stop to check new words. Do a chapter at a time if you must, but ideally do the whole book in one sitting. An hour should do it… Don’t worry if you don’t understand much. The objective is simply to get to the end of the story.
2. The next day, or whenever you have more time, re-read the story, this time without the audio. Again, no dictionary. The objective is simply to read the whole thing. But no rush. Without the audio, you’ll be able to take time to ponder the bits that puzzle you.
3. On the third day, or in the third study session, listen again but this time WITHOUT the text to support you. The objective is to listen to the whole story. Don’t worry if you miss whole sections. Just get to the end.
That’s it. You’ll probably be bored stiff with the story by now, so time to move on!
If you find your chosen level challenging, go get another book at the same level (or even a lower level).
You’d be wise not to move up to the next level until you can do the three stages outlined above without feeling too fazed.
But that day will come!
You can always come back to readers you’ve already done and listen to them again… The texts are long and complex, so it’s likely you’ll get something new each time you listen.
If you’re on a tight budget, try swapping readers with other students, or reselling them on E-Bay to get back part of what you paid.
On the other hand, if you’re awash with cash, why not buy the whole series? You can always give them away as you finish each level. Other students, or local libraries will be happy to take them off your hands!
P.S. There are still plenty of places for the more advanced conversation group on Friday (it’s free!)
If you have a level of B1 or above, click here to see details and to register.
(Sorry, tomorrow’s lower level group is full…)