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Learning Languages through Comics

26th August, 2015 I by Eve Olson


Everyone knows that learning a new language is a task that requires a lot of time and practice. Language learning in a classroom environment consists of formal lessons, explicitly teaching grammar, and a lot of repetition and memorization. While this is one of the most standard techniques used for second language learning, it can be very dull and tedious. If you are thinking about learning a new language but feel intimidated by traditional classroom learning, there may be another, much more fun option.

If you want to study a new language, why not try reading comics in the language? Many non-English speakers love English comics like The Hulk or Spiderman, and some of them have used the medium to learn how to read and understand English. Students of Japanese have found Manga to be a very enjoyable way to practice the language. Whether you read comic strips or a graphic novel, there are many reasons why comics are a great way to get exposure to a language.

The most obvious advantage of reading comics in another language is that every piece of text is accompanied by an image. You can use the context of the pictures to piece together what the text means. This is an even bigger benefit if you are a visual learner. Reading words alongside images allows you to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words without having to use a dictionary, which is better for memory and comprehension.

Comics may also be a more useful means of learning a language since they provide you with colloquial, everyday language instead of the overly formal dialect often taught in classes. Comics are full of common idioms, metaphors, and slang, and they often present language that is actually spoken by native speakers. Comics also provide great exposure to the culture of the language. They are full of cultural, historical, and societal references and norms. Mediums of entertainment like comics truly are some of the only ways to see the heart of a culture without living in it or spending time with a native.

If you have ever read a comic book, you likely noticed that many comics contain fairly simple language and for the most part are written in the present tense. Of course, this applies more to child-friendly comics, but it can apply to many adult comics as well. These factors make comic books much more accessible than other written texts like novels, which more often utilize complex vocabulary and a variety of tenses and grammatical structures.

Naturally, this form of language learning has some negatives as well. Unlike traditional classroom learning, comics do not teach grammar, conjugation, and other proper usage. If a reader uses only context to understand unfamiliar words, they are likely to misinterpret the exact meaning of the word and may misuse it later on. Learning a foreign language through reading comics is certainly not a traditional method, and it may lack some of the formality and comprehensiveness of language classes. Still, if you are resisting learning a language because you fear the tedious and boring methods of a classroom environment, comics provide a fun, entertaining alternative. If you love comics, if you want to learn a more colloquial dialect of a language, or if you are a visual learner and feel like piecing together pictures and their captions would be effective, you should consider studying a new language by reading its comics!

Have you read comics in another language? Do you like Manga? What is your favorite non-English comic? Give us your take in the comments below!

4 responses to “Learning Languages through Comics”

  1. Carol Gullidge says:

    “… comics do not teach grammar, conjugation, and other proper usage. If a reader uses only context to understand unfamiliar words, they are likely to misinterpret the exact meaning of the word and may misuse it later on”

    Interesting idea, but for the reasons you mention above, it would be impossible to actually learn a language this way. Without basic grammar and with only a few basic sentences to go on (much of the dialogue in comics consists merely of quips and rejoinders), the level of expertise could never really reach much beyond something resembling pidgin English (albeit very colloquial pidgin English!).
    Unfortunately, mastering any new language really involves getting down to the nitty gritty of grammar at an early stage if you wish to avoid sounding as though you are using baby talk…

    • Translation Excellence says:

      Great points, Carol! I think the best strategy to language learning is to use a variety of tools, starting with basic grammar and vocabulary lessons and advancing to resources in the target language, be it television shows, novels, or comic books!

  2. Ekereobong says:

    Copy that totally Eve! My favourite non-English comic series is Asterisk and Obelix. “Ils sont fous, ces Romains…one of my favourite expressions ????

    • Translation Excellence says:

      That’s a great one! There’s actually a really interesting museum in Brussels called “The Belgian Comic Strip Center”, which has a 4-foot-tall statue of Asterix. It’s an excellent museum that goes into great detail of the origins of comics as well as the current state of this art form – I highly recommend it!

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