The importance of reading + tips and tricks

Today I will tell you about the importance of reading. It’s by reading that I learnt English and Dutch. Reading is very important because it helps revising frequently-used words as well as get familiar with the grammar. I read a lot during the holiday when I was still in secondary school and that’s how I learnt most, because I spent days only reading.

But how should you read when you want to learn a language and improve? How do you do that in a foreign language? Here are a couple of useful tips that I’ve been using for some time even after learning English and Dutch:

  1. Don’t try to translate every single word. You WILL encounter unknown and infrequent words. DO NOT TRANSLATE THEM! They will slow you down and won’t help your comprehension of the text that much. Only translate recurring words or words which really hinder your comprehension. I stopped trying to understand everything a long time ago. Even at a high level you will encounter unknown words, even in your native language. Try reading Plato’s Republic in your mother tongue!
  2. Analyze and observe. When I was learning the subjunctive in Spanish (mostly the present), I underlined them or put a cross in the margin. By the end of the chapter, I would go through it and look at the occurrences to try and understand the logic of the grammar point. Here is an example from when I was reading Harry Potter 1 in Spanish
  3. Compare theory and real language use. If you’ve studied a grammar point, look at how it’s used in the book. You’ll end up understanding how it’s really used. This is particularly useful when theory and real language use don’t match so much anymore (distinction in English between “will” and “going to” for example). That way you are sure to see how native speakers use the language, and that’s what matters right 😉
  4. Find a book with a language level which is slightly above yours (Krashen’s i+1 theory). A book which is too easy won’t teach you anything, but a book which is too advanced will make you want to give up.
  5. Write translations for the frequent words. And be selective! This way, when you encounter them again, look at the translation, but do not translate too many words per page. I usually try not to translate more than 5 words per page, but it highly depends on the subject, the level, … If you’re learning for enjoyment, reading shouldn’t hinder the joy. The level should therefore not be too high.
  6. Don’t be a perfectionist. If you read a same sentence 15 times and you still don’t get it, it might be because of a grammar point which is too advanced for your level. In this case, you have 2 choices:
    – You look it up on the internet, in a book, or ask someone;
    – You drop it. It will click later, when your level is higher. No need to swallow all the grammar rules at once!

Do not try to understand all at once. Learning a language takes time, and you will keep learning in 10 years. You will learn new things in the following pages/books, so don’t worry if you leave a word out 😉