Do not read, re-read

It’s fair if you ask me why this morning I am reading a letter addressed not to me, or why I read it twice, to myself and aloud, or why I did it for the third time this week.

“Surprisingly, a person cannot read a book: he can only reread it,” says Vladimir Nabokov, whose work I studied in my diploma work several years ago. He continues, “A good reader, a large reader, an active and creative reader, is a reader”, and then defends his opinion from the perspective of art: in order to enjoy a book and appreciate it, the reader must be able to feel it in the way they communicate with a painting : outside a linear time span, and at once, which is possible only when the reader knows all parts of the book well enough to comprehend it as a joint whole *.

* Vladimir Nabokov Lectures on foreign literature

But re-reading books is not only for the sake of art or a return to a long-read book. The practice of rereading one text for a day or in a row for several days is included in the arsenal of experienced foreign language experts. After mastering the basics of the language, perhaps there is no better way to get meaningful and understandable material on the language being studied, and, quite definitely, there is no better way to fix separately taken turns and phrases in memory.

One of the reasons why re-reading is so effective is that, although elaboration of a complex text yields a result, the real development of the language comes from re-reading the text in the understanding mode in “real time”. This may not happen until you read the text many times from beginning to end, but it is important to be aware that until you can read the text at a decent pace, while understanding it, real mastery of the language will not happen. If you hardly make your way through a text in a foreign language, look at a lot of words in a dictionary, translate here and there, then in the end you might understand what it says, but it will slightly advance you to fluency in the language.

I found that re-reading, along with complementing - listening, was the most effective factor in my mastery of the Latin language . Now I am re-reading Seneca’s letters addressed to his protege Lucius - I’m not only re-reading them after a while, but also reading the same letter for several days in a row: during the first week I read the same letter every day; next week another letter every day, and so on. Every Friday I make recordings of reading letters , so that later I can listen to them many times when I’m driving a car or doing household chores.

I re-read the five-act comedies of the Roman playwright Terence according to the following scheme: on the first and second day - the first act twice, on the third and fourth day - the second act twice, and so on. When I finish all the acts of the play, I re-read it all again, so I read it three times in 2-3 weeks. If the text is difficult to understand, I re-read each section even more times. My main approach is to re-read the text as many times as necessary so that I can read it at “full speed”, and then read it at least once more and no matter how many attempts it takes. (Sometimes understanding comes quickly, as was the case with Seneca's letters, but I still re-read them several times to fully absorb not only the language, but also the style and ideas of Seneca).

When I told my friend about this way of reading and mentioned a book of 35 chapters that I read about 15 times each, she said "you are probably very patient." This is not true. In fact, I just do not want to waste time. From the point of view of learning a foreign language, the only way to waste time is to read the text exactly once. If you do not read the text at all, you do not waste time. If you read the text many times, your language proficiency increases dramatically. Many students lose time making their way through texts that are too complex for them or quickly move from text to text without understanding and absorbing enough language elements and text content. By re-reading, you guarantee that the text will give you maximum for learning the language and that all the time spent re-reading will be beneficial. (Outside the sphere of language learning, there are many reasons to read the text only once: just to find out the news; to read so that you can say that you have read it; to read and understand that you will never read it again).

So, find a text that you will enjoy reading many times and forward!

I will be engaged in even more active promotion of re-reading in the article we read three times - it can be used as a repeating task for students.

Other related ideas are in my article on deep reading.

From the author of the translation : perhaps the article allows a different look at the aphorism “repetition is the mother of learning.” We repeat not only to keep something longer in memory, but to better understand! The approach works literally everywhere: so that you don’t read it, just have a complicated technical text, read it once today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow - each time it will be more clear and understandable!


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