How to Learn A Foreign Language Using Your Kindle

How To Learn a Foreign Language Using Your Kindle

I recently decided to improve my reading skills in German. I studied German for two years in High School and another year in college but have never taken the time to become well versed in the language. Since lot’s of studies show that learning a second language is great for your brain, I figured this would be a good way to give my ageing mind some exercise. Besides, I just think it would be cool to be able to pursue my passion for reading beyond the boundaries of the English language.

The idea came to me when I discovered the German language version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen) available free in the Kindle owner’s lending library. Given that this first installment of the Harry Potter series was written on a fifth and sixth grade level, I figured it would be a good test of my ability to read in German. However, what I discovered next, was even more helpful.

If you have a Kindle, you know that you can have the device provide a definition of a word by placing the cursor just to the left of the word. The definition then appears at the top or bottom of the screen. However, did you know you can change which dictionary the Kindle uses as a reference, even choosing a foreign language dictionary?

I purchased the German – English Dictionary by Daniel Eichhorn and downloaded it to my Kindle. I then made that my default dictionary. Now, when reading in German, words I don’t understand can be translated on the fly. This has proven enormously helpful. Reading is not just recognizing the individual words on the page but interacting with the words as they flow from sentences to paragraphs to chapters. It’s virtually impossible to get into the flow of a book if you have to stop every few seconds to consult another book to find the meaning of a word.

At first I was looking up multiple words per sentence, but now I’m having to look up fewer and fewer words as I read. Once you’ve placed the cursor on “Zauberer” a couple of times and see that it means “wizard”, you begin to remember that and just read right through it from then on. I sometimes now read an entire page or more before having to translate a word. That doesn’t mean I’m getting 100% of the words, just that I’m getting the gist of the meaning, enough to follow the story. Of course it also helps that I have a general idea of the story line ahead of time. Having three kids all of whom devoured the Potter books and saw all the  movies, I kind of know what’s coming next in most chapters.

Currently I’m about 35% through the book after a little over a week. A much slower pace than if I were reading in English but much better than I would have thought when I began this experiment. Once I’m finished with Harry Potter, I plan to try a book I’m not as familiar with to see how I do with that. Who knows, I may even expand to other languages eventually.

What about you? Have you leveraged your Kindle as language learning tool?

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