How to Read in Your Foreign Language and Why You Should

By OptiLingo • 6 minute read

Language is a method of communication. Although originally every language was only spoken, written evidence of languages dates back thousands of years. Literature became a fundamental part of human history. This is one of the reasons why modern language learners should focus on reading a foreign language whenever they get the chance.

Learning to read in German, French, or Italian is relatively easy for native English speakers. Thanks to Latin letters, these languages don’t require you to learn new alphabets. However, Greek, Russian, or any Asian language can prove more difficult. You will have to learn the look of the new letters, the sounds they make, and their meaning.  Learning these fine details of the characters in your new language takes a lot of time and effort.

And yet reading is a critical aspect of learning your chosen language.

If you think that you can get by with just speaking the language, make sure to read this article all the way through. While you can get a pretty good grasp of a language from speaking it, you will need to be able to read in the language if you spend time in a country that speaks it natively. Also, you are missing out on a lot of other opportunities by ignoring the benefits of reading.

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Reading as a Foreign Language Vocabulary Builder

Reading improves your vocabulary. Seeing the words on the page can help give you context. Although a greater vocabulary doesn’t mean fluency, it’s crucial to becoming proficient in a foreign language.

Chances are, you aren’t reading just for the vocabulary. There is a certain pleasure in reading. If you keep that in mind, you can select books that interest you. You will be able to learn new vocabulary words much more quickly because you will focus better.

You will also pick up idioms and phrases. This directly increases your fluency. You’ll understand everyday speech easier. When you’re reading, idioms and phrases are given a context in a safe space. You won’t feel embarrassed when you’re unfamiliar with a saying. Feel free to look things up as you go to understand.

As you read, focus on ideas and not just words. The point of reading is to comprehend what you are reading first, which you are much more likely to do if you aren’t too intent on single words. Vocabulary is just a great benefit of reading – it is not the sole purpose.

reading in a foreign language

Speaking Doesn’t Provide Everything Required for Fluency

Some say immersion is the best way to learn a language. Go to a country where your target language is spoken, and interact with locals. But this is not an achievable dream for many language learners. In fact, immersion is often not that glamorous. There are key aspects of language learning you may miss out on if you don’t incorporate reading into your learning.

Reading is part of what builds your language core. This is because talking requires a different way of thinking about the language. Conversations flow in a way that can actually be somewhat difficult to follow for someone who is not a native speaker. If you do not read, these conversations may be even more difficult to follow. We learn a lot from reading, which makes it easier to communicate ideas to others.

You don’t learn Physics, business, or tech jargon from talking (not most of the time). You truly learn these things from reading. Having a conversation is about discussing the ideas you have read. Without reading you are not only missing vocabulary, but you are also missing out on entire concepts.

Reading gives you a way to delve into a subject. Instead of going through 10 to 15 different subjects (as you do when having a conversation), reading gives you a single subject so you can really learn about the subject. You control what you learn when you read instead of relying on the ideas and vocabulary of the people you talk to.

Dedicated Time to Think about the Foreign Language

Reading is one of the best ways to make time to work on a language. This is particularly important since people have less time to talk (something to keep in mind if you rely on people in your home country to talk with you on a regular basis). Reading isn’t going to call and cancel plans.

Reading also lets you think about things you probably wouldn’t think about otherwise. The dedicated time to think about the language is actually very attractive. You are in charge of how much time you put into it, what the topic is, and where you want to take what you have learned.

Also, most people write very differently from how they talk – especially professional writers and journalists. They can better express themselves because they have had time to think about the wording. And the pieces have been edited so there are a minimal number of grammatical errors.

reading in a foreign language

Reading in Your Chosen Foreign Language

Reading in a foreign language should be a way to focus on ideas and vocabulary. Here are three tips to help you get the most out of your reading time.

  1. Start with short books and articles. By books, you should be reading children’s level books. If you are not comfortable doing that, stick to reading articles. You need the reading to be quick and focused. Longer books and documents will discourage you.
  2. Read hard copies. The digital age makes it easier to read online, but you are missing a lot of opportunities. For example, you can write on a hard copy, and that can help you learn words faster. Screens also tire your eyes faster, so avoid reading electronic copies until you are well versed in reading the language.
  3. Add notes and your own ideas in and around the text. Highlight phrases and things you don’t understand for future consideration. This helps you process what you read faster.

Writing is a critical component in learning a language. If you do not learn to read, you will have large gaps in your new language. Reading will help you advance farther in a shorter period of time.