Wonder Woman. Mighty Mouse. Superman. The Hulk.
We all know the names. We all love the heroes.
And most of us spent hours lost between the pages of these comics—and so many others—when we were kids.
But let’s be honest.
Are they fun? Yes. Entertaining? Certainly. Only for kids? Absolutely not!
But comic books—and their heroes—aren’t even just a way that we continue to enjoy the entertaining stories we love, they’re also a solid force for language learning.
Not completely convinced? That’s okay, you don’t have to be. Not yet, anyway.
Let’s see if we can’t change your mind on this one—without using any superpowers!
Why Are Comics Useful for Language Learners?
Comics are excellent resources for language learners for a number of reasons, but one of the biggest is their appearance. Let’s face it, the graphic art is colorful, fun and visually engaging. Anything that catches our attention and holds it—while teaching us something—is a useful tool.
The stories are generally dynamic, so they grab your interest right from the very first panel. They’re also short, so they’re a fast read. Reading in another language is great, but most of us don’t want to take on lengthy epics for learning purposes. Comic books? They’re just the right size for rapid learning.
Comics are sequential art, which means the story is told through a series of art images. Those drawings actually force readers to align language with images, so a connection is made between vocabulary, image and action. You see what’s happening while you’re reading, which boosts your learning.
Images reduce the need to know every single word. And speech bubbles are such an excellent delivery system! They eliminate unnecessary words and convey meaning quickly. The fact that idioms, sentence structure and vocabulary are illustrated and tucked in between the action is a bonus!
Studies have even shown that comics can be motivational in language learning. They encourage reading, which favorably impacts second language acquisition.
Kablammy! Boost Your Foreign Language Learning with Comics
How to Add Comic Books to Your Language Learning
First, and maybe most importantly, choose comics that appeal to you. The variety is almost endless; it’s really not difficult to find a character or storyline that will get you hooked.
Devote some of your foreign language reading time to comics. It doesn’t have to be the only reading you do, but if you make a percentage of your reading time strictly for comics you’ll enjoy the benefits they provide. Even 30 minutes every day will power up your reading skills.
Comics are, like any other reading material, a prime source for learning vocabulary. So note new words and phrases with their meanings. You never know when being able to exclaim “Thud!” in your target language will come in handy!
Keep up with pop culture in your target language on FluentU. Comics and pop culture go hand-in-hand, so understanding the place of both in the culture(s) of the language you’re learning is essential. FluentU takes real-world videos and turns them into personalized language lessons, which means you’ll find videos and vocabulary relevant to the comic book world in the FluentU library, like this Italian trailer for the movie “Black Panther.”
If you’re a beginner-level language learner, start with basic comics. Try children’s comics first, then progress to more advanced selections as your skills improve. As you level up, look for more expansive vocabulary in the panels. Graphic novels often offer more adult content, so when you’re comfortable reading basic comics, look for bigger challenges.
Resources for Finding Foreign Language Comics
Comic books and graphic novels can be found in many places.
- If you’re really lucky, there’s a comic book shop near where you live. Check your local listings for one. Most good comic book shops or bookstores can special order foreign language titles if they don’t have them in stock. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, ask the owner for assistance. They love comic books! They’re there to help!
- Secondhand bookstores are also a good resource. The titles probably won’t be the latest editions but that really has no impact on their usefulness for language learners. Because they’re not current issues, they’re usually discounted. I’ve picked up a lot of Spanish-language comics in secondhand bookstores. They’re definitely worth checking out.
The internet is, of course, a no-fail source for foreign language learning materials. Comic books and graphic novels are no exception and, fortunately, many languages are available at the click of a mouse!
- Abe Books has a huge selection of foreign language comics. There are a number of languages to choose from and a variety of comics, both old and newer, available. Try doing a search for your target language and narrow the results to “comics” to find results that might interest you.
- Amazon, of course, also has a huge variety of foreign language comics and graphic novels, and it’s wildly simple to find some in your target language. Just go to Amazon, type in “[target language] comic books” and hit the search icon. You’ll be amazed by the number of choices that appear. It might be harder to choose which comics to buy than it is to find them! So if you don’t have a local comic book shop, don’t worry. Amazon has you covered!
Some Great Comics to Try in Different Languages (and More Places to Find Them)
Still not sure where to start? Here are a few ideas.
German learners might enjoy the online comic “Sandra and Woo.” It’s a comedy strip that tells the tales of a girl named Sandra and her daring pet raccoon. The strip is free and there’s an archive of “Sandra and Woo” comics that includes a few years’ worth of adventures. But remember, there are plenty of other great German comics out there.
Russian learners can find Russian-language versions of “Garfield” and “Dilbert” available on the site Russian for Free. Fun, learning and no cost? What an excellent combination! “Garfield” is recommended for beginners and “Dilbert” for intermediate and advanced learners.
The Man of Steel absolutely comes alive in Spanish versions. I’ve got to admit, I am a Spanish-language “Superman” follower. I snap this comic up whenever I see one I haven’t read. Learning Spanish with comics is extremely workable because there’s so much material out there.
Who doesn’t love “Wonder Woman”? She’s such an iconic figure—in any language. She’s always ready to right wrongs and save the world, and she’s a hero who deserves some space in your language learning program. Her action-packed adventures pull readers in and keep them turning pages. The linked comic is a triple-language edition, bringing Wonder Woman’s adventures to life in English, French and German!
“Kanji de Manga” is a Japanese comic that teaches reading and writing. The panels are basic, but the drawings are action-packed. Everything has English translations so even someone who’s an absolute beginner will be able to follow along. If you’re more advanced, start venturing further into the wide world of manga.
“Mickey Mouse” and “Batman” both deliver pure entertainment in Italian! Since both are such big deals in the comic book world, there are lots of books featuring these characters. Read one, and you may become hooked. These are my favorite comics, and I’ve been known to return from Italy with a carry-on stuffed with Italian comic books!
For Portuguese language learners, there’s an epic adventure graphic novel called “Dragões da Tempestade” (Storm Dragons). The graphics are stunning. But if dragons aren’t your thing, don’t despair. Just check out other Portuguese options!
As you can see, comic books can definitely add to a language learning program.
All reading—even fun reading!—promotes language acquisition.
And since comics are available in so many languages, practically any language learner can benefit from adding them to their bookshelf.
Try a few and see what happens. I suspect that you’ll come over to the foreign comic book side of reading as soon as you get a feel for how the artwork, fast-paced storylines and larger-than-life characters contribute to your fluency.
Comic books are the superheroes of language learning.
Pick them up for reading fun—and watch your doubts go crash! and kablammy! as your reading superpowers hit new levels!
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