Developing your reading skills is a big part of becoming fluent in another language. Reading is important for all kinds of language-learning goals. Whether you want to be able to navigate day-to-day life in a foreign country, conduct business in another language, or fully engage in your favorite manga fandom!
The best way to build your reading comprehension and fluency in a new language is to spend a lot of time reading. Though that sounds simple, you’ll find that you’ll need to make a lot of choices in your reading practice: what to read, how much to read, what to do while you read, and what you should be thinking about while you read. If this seems like a lot, don’t worry! In this article, we’ll give you advice on how to choose what to read, and will go over some strategies you can use to get the most out of your reading practice. Let’s get started.
1. Think about what you want to get out of your reading
Before you go out and buy a book, you should think about what you want to get out of the time you spend reading. In other words, think about your reading goals. Your goals will impact both the types of text you should read and what you should do while you read them.
One thing to think about is the kind of writing you’ll eventually want to read. Are you learning to read Hebrew so you can read historical or religious text? Or because you want to be able to get by in Tel Aviv? Modern and historical Hebrew are different in grammar, style, and word choice. There are even differences in the scripts that are usually used to write each. This same principle applies to other languages. Try to first think about what you want to read, and then practice with similar types of texts.
Think, also, about the different types of language skills you want to practice while you read. If you’re trying to learn vocabulary that will help you in the workplace, maybe read a novel set in an office. If you’re trying to practice older or more formal grammar, read a book written a hundred years ago. More interested in learning slang for casual conversation? Comics, magazines, or blogs might be the way to go instead!
2. Read a text in both English and your new language
A great way to improve your reading skills is to read something both in English and in the language that you’re learning. Reading a text in two languages lets you use your knowledge of English to help bridge gaps in your target language. It also gives you the opportunity to notice similarities and differences between languages! Now, there are a couple ways to go about reading a text in English and your new language:
Approach #1: Read something you’ve already read.
Reading a translation of something you’ve already read can be a good way to make sure that you can stay focused and engaged in what you’re reading, even if you don’t understand every single word. Since you already know what happens, you can guess anything that you miss. This can help you pick up on new words and expressions!
Approach #2: Put the two texts side-by-side.
Putting an English version of the text beside a version in the language you’re learning while you read can be good for focusing on language structure. For example, you can think about how you might translate a short passage from one language to the other, then compare your phrasing to the official translator’s. Are there any differences? If so, why do you think the translator made that choice? You should also be on the lookout for translations that aren’t word-for-word. These might be places where an idiom or cultural reference in one language doesn’t translate well, and can be an opportunity to learn a new expression!
Trying to decide what to start with? Here’s a list of popular books that have been translated into a huge variety of different languages. Most beginning or intermediate readers should find these accessible:
- Harry Potter (79+ languages)
- Asterix and Obelix (89+ languages) – A good start if you like comics!
- The Chronicles of Narnia (47+ languages)
- The DaVinci Code (44+ languages)
- Discworld (37+ languages) – One of my favorite series of all time!
- Anne of Green Gables (42+ languages)
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (174 languages, plus a translation into emoji!)
3. Gradually increase the difficulty level
Gradually increasing the complexity of the text you’re reading is a good way to continuously improve your reading skills. By starting small and working your way up to more challenging texts, you can make sure that you’re not lost but are still learning something new each time you read.
Think of it this way: When you’re training for a marathon, you start by running a mile, and gradually increase the distance until you can do the whole thing. That works for learning to read, too! Just make sure that the text you read is challenging, but not so hard that you get stuck.
Studying a language with Mango? As you move through the chapters, we provide you with special reading activities specifically designed to match your skill level at that point in the course. You can practice reading a passage, and we’ll ask you questions to quiz you on your comprehension. We provide other tools as well, like a list of new vocabulary words and recordings of native speakers reading them aloud.
Here are some examples of different types of texts you might want to try at different levels:
Now that we’ve talked about picking the right text to read, let’s talk about some of the things you can do as you are reading to maximize the effectiveness of your practice!
4. Read aloud to yourself
Other benefits of reading aloud include:
5. Make sure you take breaks on a regular basis
Learning a language with Mango? You can set reminders in the app that will help keep you to a schedule, so that you remember to study a little bit every day rather than trying to cram all your learning in when you remember to do it.
6. Find a reading buddy
Finding a reading buddy is a great way to add structure to your reading practice and help you stick to a regular reading schedule. Here are some great activities to try with a reading buddy:
7. Divide your reading time between focused reading and leisure reading
While you’ll learn more per page by reading something challenging (focused reading), there are also benefits to reading something a little more casually (leisure reading). Here are some of the benefits of each method:
Benefits of focused reading
Benefits of casual/leisure reading
To get the most out of both types of reading, split up your reading time. Spend some time reading difficult text and taking notes, and some time reading easier text in a more casual way as well.
How can reading help you learn a language?
Reading can help your language learning by exposing you to new words, idioms, grammatical structures, and cultural knowledge. Unlike with listening or speaking, with reading you can pause and think, look things up, take notes, and peel apart the details of how the language is being used. For this reason, reading can help you to uncover new skills that you can later put into practice in speaking, writing, or listening.
In many languages, people also use different sets of words, grammatical structures, and idioms when they write compared to when they speak. If you want to learn how to write well in your new language, you’ll need to learn to how to write in specific ways. And one of the best ways to learn this is to read. Check out our article on how to improve your writing skills in a foreign language for more!
Does reading help you build vocabulary?
Reading is an excellent way to build your vocabulary in the language you’re learning, and is a particularly good way to encounter new words. If you want to discover new vocabulary in your target language, try reading about new topics, and exploring different genres, styles, and dialects. By doing this, you’ll be able to get an idea of how words are used in real life, rather than just learning their dictionary definitions.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can build your vocabulary through reading, have a look at our article on the methods for building your vocabulary!
Does reading help you build pronunciation and fluency?
Reading aloud in your new language, as we discussed above, is a great way to build pronunciation and fluency. Any time you spend saying words in your target language will help you build the motor control you need to pronounce unfamiliar sounds. Studies show that people who speak more in a language they’re trying to learn end up with pronunciation that sounds more natural.
Be careful! Make sure you double-check the pronunciation of any new words you learn. It can be very hard to go back and fix incorrect pronunciation down the road. Find native speaker recordings to compare your pronunciation to, check out an online dictionary, or ask a native speaker to listen to you read aloud and give you some pronunciation tips!
Studying a language with Mango? Try using the voice comparison feature, which lets you both see and hear your pronunciation of words and phrases beside pronunciations of native speakers
What makes reading in a foreign language challenging?
Many new language learners find that reading a new language is intimidating. Sometimes this is because it’s hard to read the words themselves, due to different writing systems or spelling conventions. Other times it’s because the style of the language requires you to learn new words or grammatical rules.
If you’re worried about any of these things, you can try explicitly studying the writing system, spelling, or styles of what you want to read. Be on the lookout for what kind of vocabulary and grammar structures are used.
However, you should also be aware that diving right into reading can sometimes be the best way to learn. For example, though you may want to start reading Arabic by learning the pronunciations of each letter using a flashcard deck, you won’t find yourself feeling comfortable reading complete words until you actually dive into a reading text!
Farias, M. A., Oblinovic, K., Orrego, R. (2011). Engaging multimodal learning and second/foreign language education in dialogue. In Trabalhos em Linguística Aplicada, 50 (1), 133-151. https://www.scielo.br/j/tla/a/pGrJM8FF3HYNpnhJhVPQ9kG/?format=pdf&lang=pt.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Brief diversions vastly improve focus, researchers find.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 February 2011. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110208131529.htm.
Association for Psychological Science. “Back To School: Cramming Doesn’t Work In The Long Term.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 September 2007. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070829122934.htm.
Cousins J.N., Wong K.F., Raghunath B.L., Look C., Chee M.W.L. The long-term memory benefits of a daytime nap compared with cramming. Sleep. 42 (1). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6335868/
Trofimovich, P., Kennedy, S., & Foote, J. A. (2015). Variables Affecting L2 Pronunciation Development. In M. Reed & J. M. Levis (Eds.), The Handbook of English Pronunciation (1st ed., Ser. Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics, pp. 353–373). essay, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (free read access)