Read in the original… Is this really the best way to learn a foreign language?

(blog article)

It is unlikely that there will be a person who would argue that reading a foreign language does not affect the level of proficiency. But is the effectiveness of reading for language learning really proven? And how to ensure a balance between the benefit and pleasure?

The most obvious benefit of reading in a foreign language is the enrichment of vocabulary. This is what lies on the surface and is confirmed in most of the following scientific papers. However, looking at the results of the experiments, it turns out that reading books helps to learn the language, even where this connection is not very obvious. This is not about specially designed exercises, but about reading for fun – extensive (free) reading that anyone can practice.

In particular, the recent research shows that reading in a foreign language will teach you to write better and will have a positive effect on spelling, speaking and hearing, as well as developing reading skills.

As we can see, reading books in a foreign language increases the level of language proficiency in general – but that’s not all. There is a kind of culturological superstructure in this process: any authentic texts are ‘impregnated’ with the culture that created them, and therefore, you will learn more about the native speakers of the language you are learning. Fiction will give you an idea of ​​the mentality, social norms, etiquette and cultural, historical, social background; non-fiction and professional literature will help not only to learn vocabulary from the field of your work or hobby, but also to be in a global context, on the edge of relevance.

A variety of reading texts will allow you to master different language registers – from spoken to high. Most likely, you want to speak a foreign language as its adult, educated speakers, namely the stylistic skills developed through contact with a melange of texts, and is one of the hallmarks of an advanced speaker.

Fluency in a language also means an intuitive understanding of syntax, which means that we are able to skip service words that peripheral vision has already noticed and the brain has automatically processed.

How is it that reading, which is just one of the language-related activities, helps to improve all other language skills as well?

First, it is a matter of quantity: when reading in a foreign language, we perceive a large number of examples of mostly correct speech and, because our brain learns best through repetition, we involuntarily learn new words, constructions and phrases. Secondly, everything is decided by the context: coming across the same word in different meanings and phrases, we intuitively begin to use it at the right time. Without this so-called ‘language sense,’ it is probably impossible to be truly fluent in a foreign language – when writing and speaking, you do not translate in your head what you want to say from your native language, but immediately use ready-made frames and concepts.

No less important factor is the complexity of the text itself. Of course, you want to immediately take the best examples of verbal skills and quote Hamlet’s monologue in the original, but a complex text will only lead to cognitive overload — that is, make your brain focus on unfamiliar words and constructions instead of actually reading and getting high.

The main thing is to remember that the idea is just to enjoy reading and realize that you read in a foreign language and understand everything. This encourages you to continue reading and gradually increase the level of difficulty, so that you eventually switch to the original texts.

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