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Learning a language through books. Does it work?

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In any language course, as well as in other kinds of experiences you might go through to learn a language, reading plays a fundamental role. This also reflects on language exams, where written comprehension goes hand in hand with listening comprehension.

Even if you are an autodidact and learn a language independently, tackling different types of texts, articles and books can make a significant difference in the speed and quality of your learning. You can learn much more quickly and effectively than on grammar textbooks and word lists, concepts like vocabulary, the structure of sentences, the use of synonyms and words with slightly different meanings depending on the context, and so on. 

What many people do – and maybe you are one of them – is get an enjoyable book in the foreign language of their choice. Starting, for example, with a novel that you’ve already read in your mother tongue; you might exploit the fact that you already know the plot to make it easier.

But it doesn’t always prove that simple, right? 

Maybe you don’t expect it to be easy: in the end it is a learning exercise. On the other side, after a few reading sessions you might realise that the process sucked all the fun out of the book you enjoyed so much the first time.

What are you missing? There must be a reason why so many people recommend reading novels, newspaper and magazine articles. For sure it is supposed to be funnier than reading the made up dialogues from a language book, isn’t it?

There is a way to keep it light and enjoyable. The first thing you have to do is avoid using the same kind of mindset that you use when reading in your mother tongue.

It might sound easy. You do know that you are reading in another language. Yes, on a conscious level, you do. But on an unconscious level most people don’t act like it. In short, most people expect to understand every word they are reading

Why is that wrong if learning a language is your primary goal? Because it might be exactly the approach that leads you to get frustrated and give up learning the language. 

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn all the vocabulary you find in a text. It means that there is a right time to do that, and it’s not always while reading the text. 

It might sound confusing, so think about it in this way: you can divide the words you don’t know into two categories, necessary words and ancillary words. The first ones you need to learn immediately, the second ones not. 

Watch the video to learn more about the approach to reading a book in another language, about the mistakes you might be making when trying to read one and about ancillary words. Let us know your strategies and difficulties in the comments.

Enjoy the video, and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive more tips on how to excel at work, exams, and languages!

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Nathan Gonsalves-Williams
(Financial Consultant)

I started the course with a great deal of doubt, and this is probably one of the greatest things I learned from the course. That doubt was one of the main things holding me back. The course is an amazing eye-opener to the sheer volume of information you can learn and is also a demonstration to how easy it is for you and everyone else, by what you learn to do over the first weekend. After the course my reading speed increased by 4 times, I am now able to communicate in Spanish and I am using mind maps to prepare a quite difficult exam. I now know that I can learn a language quickly, increase my reading speed and have valuable techniques for exams and memory, all it takes now is consistency and practice which is really the true challenge.