This is the first post as part of the Language Freak Summer Challenge, during which I will endeavor to read some books in French and perhaps some simpler material in other languages with which I am familiar.
When my dad was growing up in Belgium, comic books, particularly the adventures of Tintin and Lucky Luke, were incredibly popular, as they still are today. When I began to think about my Language Freak Summer Challenge, I wanted to warm up my French by reading a comic, so I asked my dad for a good French-language comic recommendation. He promptly handed me the Lucky Luke adventure Le Vingtième de Cavalerie.
Lucky Luke is an American cowboy in the Old West. In Le Vingtième de Cavalerie, one of the most famous Lucky Luke adventures, he negotiates a problem between the 20th Cavalry and the Cheyenne, loosely inspired by a historical incident involving the breakdown of negotiations between the groups over the illegal killing of buffaloes. When Lucky Luke steps in to help, a scathing satire of everything you can think of, including army life, ensues.
I caught the Belgian comic book bug with Lucky Luke, and I wanted to read more, so I selected the famous Tintin adventure Le Secret de la Licorne and its sequel, Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge.
Tintin has become so iconic that I hardly need to give an explanation. Le Secret de la Licorne is an entertaining mystery-adventure involving a trio of model ships, and Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge is an old-fashioned treasure hunt story, albeit one involving a shark-shaped submarine. In both parts, the colorful characters of the world of Tintin – including perpetually drunk Captain Haddock and the inept twin private eyes Dupont and Dupond – come alive with vigor.
The experience of reading comic books was definitely the right way to refresh my French reading skills. Most importantly, all of these comics were immensely funny, even though, at times, the humor bordered on politically incorrect.
Comic books for learning?
The ease with which I read the comics – I never once had to resort to a dictionary, and I felt that I understood everything – made me wonder why comics aren’t more commonly used in language classrooms. Or maybe they are, but I never remember being given a comic in my classes. Rather, in the last French class I took, we read Albert Camus’s The Stranger. Not the easiest or most enjoyable thing for students to read, as you can likely guess.
Comics represent a perfect medium for picking up reading in a foreign language. Having the illustrations alongside the text reduces the need for a dictionary, as even if you don’t know all the words, you can still follow the story, which reduces the initial pressure of reading in a foreign language.
The illustrations can also function as dictionaries of their own sort; for example, I was not familiar with the word hélice before reading Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge, but I could quickly determine that it meant propeller based on the illustration. In fact, learning through pictures is a more organic way of learning vocabulary than constantly consulting a dictionary.
I’ve reach precious few comics, even in English, but I found that reading them is like a mix between reading a novel and watching a silent movie. The images unfolded before my eyes, but I had to fill in the gaps in between the cells, thus involving my mind in the creative process.
My French reading muscles now warmed up, it’s time to read a French novel: Le mystère de la chambre jaune by Gaston Leroux.
What are your views on using comic books for language learning? Were you ever given a comic to read in language classrooms?