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How to Read in Your Foreign Language and Why You Should

How to Read in Your Foreign Language and Why You Should

Really learning a new language requires that you be able to read it. Some languages are much easier to read than others.

For example, learning to read in German, French, or Italian is relatively easy for native English speakers. You will need to learn a few extra characters and you will need to remember the different sounds that familiar letters make. However, you already know most of the letters, so you aren’t starting from scratch.

Learning Greek, Russian, or any Asian language is going to mean starting from the very beginning. You will have to learn not only what the letters are, but what sounds they make, and how different combinations may make a completely different sound. As a native English speaker you know the sound that “s” makes, and that “sh” sounds really different. You will have to learn these fine details for the characters in your new language.

Regardless of how difficult it will be, 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.

Once you accept that you need to learn to read, I’ll give you some tips on how to improve your reading skills.

Reading as a Vocabulary Builder

One of the most important things that reading gives you is a much bigger vocabulary. Seeing the words on the page can help give you context. It isn’t the only important thing you get from reading, but it is one of the major benefits.

The odds 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, increasing your ability to understand them when someone is talking. Idioms and phrases are given a context in a safe space (one where you don’t feel like an idiot for asking as you try to find out what it means). You are much more likely to look things up that you are reading than to stop someone in midsentence to find out what they mean.

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.

Speaking Doesn’t Provide Everything Required for Fluency

As you have probably heard many times, the best way to learn a language is to go to a country where the language you are learning is spoken everywhere. While that will help you become fluent, you will be missing some key aspects if you aren’t learning to read as well.

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. Conversation is about discussing the ideas you have read. Without reading you are not only missing vocabulary, you are 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 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 Your Chosen Language

Reading 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 stuff that is on a children’s level. 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.