Reading in a foreign language that you wish to one day become ‘fluent‘ in, is an amazingly beneficial way to reach your language learning goals!
If you are learning a foreign language and you are NOT reading text in that language regularly… what are you doing???
Seriously though, if you don’t have any disabilities that prevent you from reading, why are you not helping yourself become more advanced in your target language?
Reading in your target language has a multitude of benefits.
Below are the top (but not all!) benefits to reading that you need to take advantage of today!
As well, there are some important tips and even 3 reading strategies at the end so you can get started learning more effectively today.
P.S – Do you want to start reading, but just aren’t sure where to buy good books in your target language? Check out this post here for some great recommendations on where to buy books and even what to buy based on your level!
What are the benefits of reading in general?
Before we go into the benefits specific to reading in a foreign language, what about the benefits of reading in general?
As in, in your native language or any language!
Academic Study 1: Development and Achievement
This study titled “Social inequalities in cognitive scores at age 16: The role of reading” from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies from University College London found that reading for fun is more important for British youth’s cognitive development than their parents’ level of education.
They also found that reading is even more powerful in determining life achievement than the child’s socioeconomic background!
Academic Study 2: Better Job Prospects
The University at Oxford conducted a study that found that the only out-of-school activity 16 year olds do that is linked to getting a managerial or professional jobs later in life is (surprise, surprise!), reading.
Academic Study 3: Increased Brain Connectivity
Emory University studied the brains of students (via fMRI) before and after reading a novel. They found that there was increased connectivity in the brain areas involved in receptivity for language, and even surprisingly in the areas involved in physical sensation and movement! This effect lasted for up to 5 days, as well!
Here is an interesting quote from esteemed neuroscientist Gregory Burns:
“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist. We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”Gregory S. Burns, MD, PhD
Academic Study 4: Just 30 Mins Per Week Leads to Massive Benefits
Quick Reads, Dr Josie Billington of the University of Liverpool, and Galaxy (yes, the chocolate company!) produced a large study titled, “Reading Between the Lines: the Benefits of Reading for Pleasure“. They found that:
– Readers are 20% more likely to feel happier about themselves and their lives. They report less feelings of stress and depression than non-readers and many report lower feelings of loneliness, as well! Non-readers are 28% more likely to report feelings of depression.
– Readers have higher levels of self-esteem, coping abilities, empathy, creativity, and community spirit.
– Readers are 27% more likely to strike up a conversation with a stranger and 50% more likely to enjoy it! On top of this, they are 37% more likely to get greater pleasure out of their social lives.
– Readers are better able to make decisions, plan and organize, and to prioritize.
– Readers are 57% more likely to have a greater understanding of cultural diversity and social issues and 21% more likely to have greater general knowledge.
The best part is: reading for just 30 minutes a week (which is so easy!) is already enough to lead to these amazing benefits!
Keep reading below to see what benefits specific to reading in a foreign language you can obtain too!
1.) Reading in Your Target language helps you learn vocab.
It is no secret that reading will expose you to a lot of new vocabulary! However, do you realize just how much?
Dawna Duff, J. Bruce Tomblin, and Hugh Catts led an academic study that measured the impact of reading on vocabulary size. The study, “The Influence of Reading on Vocabulary Growth: A Case for a Matthew Effect” found that readers who read often “experienced a higher rate of vocabulary growth than did average or non readers [and] the effect on vocabulary size was large“.
Another study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that by the time children are five years old, they will have heard just under 5,000 words if they were never read to. If they were read to daily, they will have heard almost 300,000 words. If they were read five books a day, they will have heard almost 1,500,000 words!!
You might be wondering how this applies to teenage or adult learners of a foreign language, but think about those numbers!
Young children are also learning a new language – their native language – and they are hearing over 1,000,000 more words within a few years, if they are read five books a day, than those who are never read to. We are very similar to the young children in this study.
If we give ourselves enough input, we can imitate these results! You can skyrocket your language learning.
Reading is a very simple way to do this.
As you read, you are becoming familiar with, and eventually learning, idioms, set phrases, slang, colloquialisms, and so much more. You become used to nuances in a language and see everything written down and in context.
For example, in Spanish, many beginners often confuse porque and por qué when speaking or listening. If you read in Spanish, you can clearly see the difference and you can also clearly understand each specific meaning, based on context.
On top of this, all of this typically appears naturally in order of usefulness (just think about how often you read the top 100 words in your native language over and over again in books).
You also get the great benefit of repetition. If you read a fantasy book, you will likely come upon words you don’t know in your TL (target language), like the equivalent of ‘dragon-slayer’ or ‘rogue’, etc. Depending on the book length, you can see those words again anywhere from a handful of times to hundreds of times. This ensures that these new and unique words you see make their way into your long-term memory!
It is abundantly clear that reading (and reading often) will drastically improve your vocabulary and therefore increase overall language fluency.
2.) Reading in your Tl improves your grammar.
Lots of people know that reading can improve grammar, but I have had many people be surprised to hear that your grammar is heavily impacted (in a very positive way!) by reading in your target language!
The study “The Impact of Extensive Reading on Grammatical Mastery of Iranian EFL Learners” from Ali Akbar Khansir and Naeeme Dehghani shows a very clear result of mastery of grammar being improved greatly by extensive reading.
As mentioned above, reading offers a great learning environment due to the naturally occurring order-of-usefulness and the repetition of the text.
This can help you learn new words, but it can also help you learn and master grammar!
This is because not only do words naturally occur in order of usefulness, but also sentence structure, verb tenses, participles, prepositions, etc. All grammar!
And you get all of this in context! This allows your brain a better and easier way to remember something.
Having a set phrase that you know the meaning of makes it much easier to recall and correctly define something like a specific gerund than learning one, random gerund via a flashcard. With a set phrase, you get an example of the grammar in action!
3.) Reading in your tL helps you improve all language skills.
Reading doesn’t just improve reading!
It also improves your speaking, listening, and writing!
Speaking is impacted, as you now have a wider span of vocab and grammar knowledge and are able to sound more fluent, using what you learn from reading. You will also likely be drawing from correctly written sentences that natives would truly use! Not rigid textbook phrases too formal for real life.
In the same way, you are also able to write better! You can take set phrases from what you have read and implement them into your writing, swapping out new vocab (also learned from reading!), as needed!
You will also likely be able to instinctively know if a sentence is off. After reading thousands of correctly written sentences in different types of context, you should know when something is wrong. You might not know exactly why a certain sentence sounds off, but you will likely know it is off. Very likely, though, you will know exactly why it sounds off and you will be able to correct it right away!
And lastly, listening is impacted in much the same way as speaking and writing. When you have a large foundation of knowledge, you are able to catch more in spoken conversation.
Perhaps you want to chat with a group who uses a lot of slang and colloquialisms that most textbooks will not teach (or are just too old to teach!). If you read modern texts regularly, you will probably be able to catch a bit of what they are saying – if not all!
You also learn skills such as critical thinking, educated guessing, and thoroughness while reading in a foreign language. You will need to understand what you are reading, make smart guesses about meaning and context, and be careful to not skip over any crucial words or parts of speech! Your brain learns to work hard to grasp all of this as quickly and effectively as possible, while you read. The more you use a skill, the more it grows!
This all impacts how well you learn most all other skills in your life, but especially skills related to language learning.
4.) Reading in your Tl exposes you to culture, history, and knowledge.
Have you ever read a fairy tale or fable from a specific country and in the end learned a great deal about their customs and history?
Reading text from a specific culture (especially when written by a native of that culture!) leads to much knowledge.
If you are learning Swahili, for example, there are hundreds of amazing short stories and fables for you to read. Each one shows you the values and morals of the cultures behind Swahili. You also often learn about the history of the country, as well.
You can learn what matters to a group of people and where their priorities lie through their stories.
There is also almost always much more text in the native language of a people or location than there is translated into another language!
Take advantage of this and read authors who natively speak your TL! This will open your eyes in a great way. You can read whatever you choose! There are tons of genres that will help you learn about a specific country or people.
After all: learning a language is not just about the language. It is also about the customs and cultures surrounding the language. You cannot expect to be 100% comfortable in a language, when speaking with natives, if you know nothing of the culture and reasoning behind what they say and why they say it!
5.) Reading in your Tl improves your native language and other learned languages.
When we learn our native language, as babies, its typically without much explanation and just a lot of baby talk and repetition. So most adults know how to say something, but they cant typically explain why it is that way.
Learning a foreign language and reading in it forces you to examine language as a whole.
As you read, you might look up new words in your native language to see what they mean. Sometimes, you might encounter a word in your native language that you have never heard of!
Or perhaps you come upon a unique part of grammar you don’t recognize in your native language, but you then learn all about it! Or maybe you encounter a hilarious idiom and discover that there is actually a similar idiom in your native language you didn’t know about!
According to Alberta Educations “Learning Another Language” article, studying a second language will significantly improve native language skills in reading, vocabulary development, grammar and communication.
The more you learn, the more you expand your knowledge in both languages!
And if you are learning another language, you can improve knowledge in all languages!!
Tips & Strategies for reading in a foreign language:
There are two common strategies to reading in a foreign language, and a third that is my favorite. The third combines the first two!
Strategy 1: Relaxed Reading.
This is where you do not look up any words, grammar, context or anything, while you read. You just start and keep going until you are done for the day.
This copies how you read in your native language (typically). You do not usually sit down with a notebook and a dictionary, you just relax and read.
The goal is to improve your critical thinking and overall fluency, while keeping the activity relaxing and helpful.
It is okay to understand only 70% of what is on a page. You can use your critical reading skills to make educated guesses based on context clues!
If you find yourself understanding less than 60% of what is on a page, however, it might be a good idea to downgrade a bit. Find a shorter text or an easier text and try again! The idea is to be able to make educated guesses (about new words, verb tenses, context, etc) and be right most of the time!
Strategy 2: Active reading.
This is where you actively study while you read – looking up new words and topics you come across.
This is, as stated, an active study method that aims to really push you in your studies!
The goal is still to enjoy your reading, but also to learn roughly the same as a usual study session. Your aim should be to increase your vocab, grammar knowledge, and overall grasp on exactly what the text is talking about!
Oftentimes, learners will read with a notebook on hand and look up every unknown word and keep track of all new topics. Perhaps you will also make flashcards as you go along. Maybe you stop to look up a grammar feature and then spend a few minutes learning about it.
Slow and steady is the idea here! It is not about how much you read, but about the quality of your studies.
Strategy 3: (My favorite) Combo reading.
This method combines the two above methods!
You read a page or chapter or even a whole book without looking anything up or stopping (relaxed reading) and then you go back and work through it actively (active reading).
I find this the best strategy by far! It allows you to relax and work on your critical thinking and reading skills, while also allowing for the active study that will skyrocket your skills.
I personally like to underline words, phrases, grammar features, etc that I either dont know or am just not very comfortable with as I read. I’ll ignore it all until I get to the end of the chapter.
Then, once I finish the chapter, I will set aside a study block where I go back through and study everything I underlined. Sometimes it wont be too much, but sometimes it is quite a lot. I make flashcards for vocab and phrases, I will look up grammar and either study that day or make a note to study it more in-depth at another time, etc.
It is completely up to you what this method looks like!
Whether you go back after a page or a chapter (or any other measurement!), if you study right after or a day later or more, how you study what you didn’t know, how much you actively study and for how long, etc.
– Smart small and work your way up. Even if you have already ‘Animal Farm’ in your native language a hundred times, you should probably not jump right into it when you pick up a new language. There are tons of amazingly well-written childrens books, simple poems, fables, etc. to read as a beginner (or even intermediate) learner! If you start too big, you will only cause frustration and stress. You don’t want to fully overload your brain trying to understand a too complex piece of text. The goal of reading in a foreign language is to enjoy yourself and learn at the same time!
– The best way to read as a language learner is with an audiobook, if you can find one! Audiobook services should have most foreign language books, but YouTube is surprisingly an audiobook goldmine, as well. And its free! I am sure it goes without saying, but listening to the words you are reading will not only help with pronunciation, cadence, and not skipping anything, but two forms of input (visual and audio!) will also help your brain learn and remember much better!
– If possible, read a physical copy of the text! Screens are certainly great. They are easy to use and so transportable, but they lack any tactile experience. Combining sight and touch in the physical act of reading is amazing for helping your brain learn and remember better. If you also take the tip above and combine visual and tactile with audio, you are really setting yourself up for success!!
– Actively study what you learn! I know that just relaxing and reading is so nice, but it is very useful and highly recommended for fluency to study and recall what you are learning. If you can even just find and study a pre-made vocab list on a site like Memrise or talk with your tutor about the book on italki, this is so helpful!
– Use critical reading comprehension questions to help you! If you want to ensure you are understanding as much as possible, try some comprehension questions and prompts! Here are 10 great reading comprehension questions. Going through these after reading a chapter, or short story, etc, will help you understand and recall what you read. This, in turn, increases your fluency and eases your reading of that book or a similar topic next time!
– Lastly, remember that reading is individual. You set the pace and the level and the topic. You decide what to study, when, and how much. You are in charge of how you use reading as a resource and how much it progresses your language level. If you use it effectively, it can be immensely beneficial. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for reading easy books or reading very slowly. It does not matter how you progress, so long as you do progress!
I hope you are now set on reading in a foreign language and are grabbing a book right now!
If you use these strategies and tips, you will certainly reap all of the aforementioned benefits – and more!
Let us know in the comments below if you have any other helpful tips and let us know what your favorite book is! I personally own Percy Jackson in 4 languages and that seems to be my go-to for starting to read novels in my target languages 🙂
Don’t forget to check out my language learning printables on Etsy! 🙂
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Let’s be friends! 🙂