5 hacks to reading better in a foreign language
Effectively learning a foreign language means mastering 4 core skills: speaking, listening, writing and reading. This last one is often very important to language learners, after speaking, as they want to be able to understand signs, read tourist guides and get a good idea of what’s on the dinner menu. Our personalised training, such as the Spanish courses in Leeds we run can help or more generally, putting on sessions to motivate the workforce – we’ve written an entire article about the benefits of that. There are also a wealth of other options as well.
Reading short snippets of language like road signs is functional reading. It’s something you do to find your way or order a meal.
Most learners want extensive reading. They want to read for pleasure. This could be magazines, feature pieces in newspapers, or novels ranging from classical literature to the latest bestseller.
This kind of reading can be really tricky, especially if you’re not fluent in the language. That is why we’ve come up with the following 5 hacks to help you read better, so you can enjoy reading in the language you’re learning more!
Use a dictionary
Some learners try to plough through articles and books without using a dictionary at all. While you will definitely be able to pick up a few words from context, there’ll be a lot you’re missing out on. It’s better to read less but understand more of it, than to read through 50 pages and understand about 10% of it.
So keep a dictionary nearby! This could be a traditional pocket dictionary or an online one. As more and more of us read online, like we often recommend on our Twitter account, using a simple online dictionary is far more convenient.
Make use of pictures
As adults, we often turn our noses up at books like comics and graphic novels. We often think they are for children and young people. However, there is a wealth of comics and graphic novels out there for adults, covering a wide range of topics, including fiction and non-fiction!
What’s really great about these sorts of books is that the imagery can help you to understand a lot. This is where you can get away with not using the dictionary all the time, as you’ll often be able to figure out what is being said thanks to the sketches in the book!
Some might think that relying on pictures is cheating, but think of it more as another learning resource, helping you to build up your vocabulary and confidence in reading.
Read a graded reader
Never heard of a graded reader before? These are often books but they don’t necessarily have to be. They’re also often fiction, but again they don’t have to be. In short, a graded reader is any book or article that has been specially written for learners of a language. Take a look a a pre-selected graded reader we found for Spanish learners.
In bookstores and online you can find a wealth of graded readers in many languages, written for a wide range of levels, including beginners!
One of the great benefits of graded readers is that they help you build up your confidence in reading very quickly! What’s more, they’re written in natural language – the only difference is that the words and sentence structure have been carefully chosen to match your level.
If you’re feeling more adventurous and have the time to do a bit of research there are over 60,000 free ebooks in a number of languages over at Project Gutenberg. These are not graded but can certainly give you a first point of contact if you want to get straight into reading in your chosen language.
Another option could be to type something like: “graded readers free [your-language]” into a search engine and have a look through the results. There shouldn’t be a reason to buy a book again if you don’t want to!
Listen to audiobooks
Now, at first you might think this piece of advice is more about listening. However, the recommendation here is to listen to the audiobook while reading the actual book! You’re not practising your reading skills in the strictest sense, as you’re also listening, but you are killing two birds with one stone.
This approach lets you practice listening to the spoken language while working your way through a book, magazine or newspaper. The focus here should be less on understanding everything and more on developing your ability to match the spoken word with the written word.
You can find these in many formats: novels, non-fiction textbooks, short stories, online articles etc. These are texts where on one side you have the original and on the other you have a translation.
The translation might be professional, in which case it will read as though the text had been written originally in that language. Or it might be a rough translation, which means it’s there more to guide you and help you understand the original text.
Either way, parallel texts are a marvellous way of improving your vocabulary and your reading skills. They also help you get an insight into comparative grammar. And best of all, you won’t need to use the dictionary as much!
So there you have it. 5 hacks to improve your reading skills. Why don’t you give some of these a go, and slowly but surely you’ll be mastering reading in your chosen language!
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A polyglot and international traveller. Anthony speaks 6 languages and loves sharing his passion of language learning through his writing.
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