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Mpls, MN, United States

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Le Pagine Della Nostra Vita

Last night I finished reading my first Italian novel... although, oddly enough, it was actually a translation from English of a Nicholas Sparks book. It was longer in Italian than I remembered it being in English, but I enjoyed it even though it was sappy. It was also definitely an educational experience; reading in Italian gave me a unique insight into the experience of some of my middle-school students. I'm not a speed-reader, but I've been reading for nearly 24 years now and am good at it; at least in English, I have a relatively quick pace and good stamina. Italian slowed me way down--and of course presented me with all sorts of unfamiliar vocabulary.

We teach our middle-schoolers a four-step process for understanding and remembering new words, and this recent reading reminded me what it's like to need those steps, which go a-something like this:

1. Say the word out loud.
2. Identify any word parts you recognize.
3. Develop a context definition based on clues in the sentence and paragraph.
4. Look up the word in your dictionary.

If students feel comfortable after step 3, we encourage them to skip step 4 and keep reading. I probably should have used my dictionary at points, but interestingly, didn't ever require it to know what was going on. Between the word parts and the context definitions (and having at least a faint memory of the story), I was able to keep going.

It's hard to feel fully absorbed in a book when your reading skills aren't quite up to it and you're both reading slowly and being buffeted with unfamiliar vocabulary. But it's possible--I'm proof! I'm not sure whether I'll ever be able to communicate the experience to students, or even their parents, but I do feel like I have a much better sense of the struggle these young (and generally weak) readers face, and can identify.

Now, I'm hopefully ready to move on to a real Italian book Ter brought back for me from Italy. I'm nervous, though--I Malavoglia was written in 1881, and has 282 pages to Le Pagine's 182. Maybe I'll go with Ellen's recommended A Field Guide To Getting Lost* first.

*Ellen and I are veritable genii at getting lost; I'm not sure a guide is necessary, but should be good reading.

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