I have seen many pieces of advice about how to improve understanding in a language. One regular popping up is reading in general. I don’t believe there can be any proof that it doesn’t work.
However, many people have advised reading children books, stating that they allow you to read easier sentences aimed towards young readers.
No matter the language being learned, the two most common books recommended are the Harry Potter series and The Little Prince. They are indeed good books which deserve to be read at one point in your life.
But I deeply trust that those should not be your point of entry in a language’s literature. There are too many disadvantages to using them.
But first, let’s observe why those are being recommended.
Why are you told to use them?
The reason is simple: their simplicity in the writing itself. Books written for children are made to be easy to understand. For instance, while Harry Potter may have a story with unexpected aspects and intrigues, it is overall made to be easy to follow.
Furthermore, sentences are built in a way so that even without much practice in reading, like a child who hasn’t read as much as an adult, the sentences can be understood easily. For a language learner, this is almost like a dream come true. Indeed, this allows you to see sentences which are not only correct but also simple, with details in it but not too many so that it would become too hard to follow.
The two above advantages are so useful they seem hard to balance out enough for me to say that children books aren’t a good choice, right?
Books for children will make you waste time
Yes. They will.
But first, it is important to know how much people underestimate such books. As stated above, we believe we will be able to see easy sentences one after another and thus progress quickly.
But children books also look for one thing in their readership: imagination. They call out the children’s imagination, attract them with strange stories with characters often out of this world or with personalities unusual to them. Whether it’d be a fox talking, a sorcerer, a giant, etc. This can complicate, and thus slow down, your reading because your mind is programmed to imagine things in a certain way due to your experiences as you grew up. If you know the story beforehand, it indeed simplifies it but then the brain doesn’t work as hard to figure out the sentence because it’ll have recognized enough keywords to allow you to process to the next sentence.
So basically, if you do not know the details of the story, it complicates the understanding terribly and if you do know them, it doesn’t use enough brain cells to remember new aspects for long after.
Above this, however, is the waste of time of learning words not used much, or at least not in the first stages of language learning. When you barely know how to hold a simple conversation but start learning words such as “to tame”, “sorcerer” or “ fragrance”. Those words may come in handy at one point later in your learning journey, but they are not what you need to learn first.
Starting to read with children books provide you with words and expressions rarely used and thus will make those not only harder to remember but also take the precious time you could have spent on learning words you need in daily life and haven’t encountered yet.
Finally, and this does not apply to all children books you could get your hands on, the probability of a children book recommended online to have been written in the language you are learning is rather low (unless you are learning English, French or some other very “popular” language). This means that the text you will read will not be entirely natural and will not showcase any aspect of the culture of the country of which language you are learning. While this seems to be a small detail in the grand scheme of things, culture is an intrinsic aspect of a language and should be apprehended in the midst of your learning.
Now. I am not saying that children books are a horrible idea for eternity now that you are an adult, but choose well which one you dive into. And don’t go in that territory as a starter. You should be aware of the risks and time-wasting aspects of it.