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“What is important is not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us. Jean-Paul Sartre”

Learning Language Through Reading

It is possible to learn a language in many different ways. One way that appeals to many people is reading. What is important to remember that if you wish to speak, nothing will replace the activity of speaking. However by learning to better use your reading time you may well be able to accelerate your learning of speaking.

Instinctively most people read for meaning. Of course this is the reason we read, so there is nothing surprising about that. However when we learn another language there can be other uses to which we can put reading. There are skilled language learners who undoubtedly read for more than just meaning when they are reading (not all the time of course, but it is a skill many have developed and use as required). They use their awareness to look at parts of the language that many not so skilled language learners may not. Through this they come to better understandings of how the language “works”.

Some of what I suggest may not feel comfortable for you or may appear hard to adapt to. Don’t be put off. Have a look through the suggestions to see if at least one of them may be something you could entertain taking on board.

I will list here a number to alert you to the power that reading has for the skilled learner:

  • Reading to see how the language fits together.
    Let’s say you have an issue with the English articles ( a, an & the). Try reading a piece of text that is an easy comprehension level for you and then find every article. Then go over each one and try to understand why they are the way they are.
  • Reading to see how language flows.
    Sometimes in different cultures people develop arguments in different ways. This is especially true in non-fiction writing. However, sometimes even in the same culture this can happen, especially between the women and men! 
  • Reading for punctuation.
    Every punctuation mark has a different purpose ( sometimes even more than one) By being observant it is possible to find out their uses
  • Reading for vocabulary.
    Many language learners run to a bilingual dictionary as soon as they come across an unfamiliar word. Don’t be so hasty next time and see if you can guess the meaning from context.
  • Reading for style.
    There are many styles of writing, compare the style of a newspaper for example to a magazine, to a textbook. All this can be understood by the reader who pays attention to more than just the meaning.
  • Reading for emotional content.
    Different texts can engender a feeling of warmth, or a sense of sadness, or of apprehension. Read carefully and see what devices are used.
  • Reading to see what differentiates the written language from the spoken language.
    You will need to pay careful attention to see if what you hear/say from other is the same as what you read/write.
  • Reading aloud to yourself, starting with really easy books.
    There are many elements to work at when you are reading: timing, articulation, tones, your breath, etc
Put another way, by focussing your attention and awareness on different elements of the language you are reading you can deepen your understanding of it and hence you may well accelerate your learning.
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If you have other ways you have used reading, by all means note them below in the comments.

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