Dr. Stephen Krashen talks and writes a lot about the importance of free voluntary reading (FVR) in the process of second-language acquisition. Check out the following video of a lecture he gave in Hong Kong on the value of stories in acquiring a language.
When it comes to free voluntary reading, you have several types of literature that you can choose from in order to increase the exposure you have to the Hebrew language.
- Children’s Books. When I was learning modern Hebrew, I used two children’s books to supplement what I was learning in ulpan. The first was Winnie the Pooh in Hebrew translation, and the second was a series called Time Tunnel (מִנְהֶ֫רֶת הַזְּמַן). The good thing about reading literature for children is that it includes vowel points (נִקּוּד) and is normally shorter than adult literature.
- Original-Language Material. After I got to the point of reading literature without nikkud, I was lucky enough to find a reading group in Rehovot. We read through הַכֶּ֫לֶב הַיְּהוּדִי and הַנַּעֲרָה בַּמִּרְפֶּ֫סֶת מִמּוּל in addition to a few other books. It was tough, but I made it through (most of) the books on time for the meetings. That was a huge chance to improve my reading ability and to grow my vocabulary.
- Poetry. This is certainly the most difficult type of literature, but tackling some short poems increases confidence in the language. This is often most accessible through song lyrics, but there are also some great poem anthologies in the Hebrew language.
- Religious Literature. From the Bible (תָּנָ״ךְ) and the Mishnah (מִשְׁנָה) to ethical tracts like Mesillat Yesharim (מְסִלַּת יְשָׁרִים) and Pirkei Avot (פִּרְקֵי אָבוֹת – actually part of the Mishnah!), there is a ton of material for reading in Hebrew from the older times.
- Translation Material. In addition to the original-language material, I bought a lot of books in translation, from Harry Potter to The Lord of the Rings, from The Chronicles of Narnia to Plato’s Symposium. There’s so much vocabulary to garner from these texts, and the fact that they have been translated allows you to compare with the originals, to enrich your vocabulary to include expressions from your first language, and to see how professional translators get creative with cultural details (such as when “sherbet lemon” is rendered as קְרֶמְבּוֹ in the first volume of the Harry Potter series).
The key to free voluntary reading is to find what entertains you. If you like comics, find comics in Hebrew with themes that engage your imagination. If you like novels, read novels. If you like short stories, get your hands on an intermediate reader. There are so many choices, and it’s essential that you read – whatever you find interesting – to get Hebrew to really take root in your mind and heart.