Reading: One of the Best Ways to Learn a Language

best ways to learn to learn a language

Reading is one of the best ways to learn a language. Dr. Stephen Krashen – one of the most respected researchers in second language acquisition – did a study of two hyperpolyglots. These people each spoke more than ten languages each. They credit their success to their investment in input.

More on Krashen’s work:


Many have FVR time and/or dedicated reading assignments regularly in our classes. These can be done while learning online or for independent learners. This is a great time to have students find reading they enjoy in their target language. I think it is important to offer some broad criteria for them to find their own reading based on topics they enjoy. Think recipes, music, sports – whatever a person likes.

I wanted to share a few tools for reading in a new language for teachers and learners.

  1. Highlighters and Pens

This first set of tools just involves very low-tech things you can write with. Obviously, they must print out the reading. To the best of your ability, write and mark up all over the text that you have. You can highlight every word you don’t know. Underline every word you don’t know. Write in the margins. 

Where you might be able to read something once or twice in your own language to get it, you might be reading it four and five times to really understand all that vocabulary and truly comprehend the piece in a new language. Just know that. Maybe the first time, you have to go through and really mark it up and look up all these words and make notes on the text. I like using photocopies for this purpose, and then go back and read it again and again, and then end with a writing activity. This is just marking your paper up as much as you can so that you can walk away with a whole new set of vocabulary.

2. Paper. I love paper tools to learn languages. Post-its are a great example. I know that oftentimes it’s not realistic to actually write in a physical book. Maybe the book belongs to your school, or to your library. In college, if you want to get the money back, you had better return the book. Using Post-its for the same purpose I talked about really works. You can use tiny Post-its to mark vocabulary and maybe bigger Post-its to write notes in the margins.

Another option is a frame. All you do was cut out the middle of a piece of paper and frame it over a book, make all your notes. Again, we’re not writing in the physical book, that’s not an option. You still get to have that hand-to-brain visual, making all those notes of all that unknown vocabulary.

2. Readlang browser extension.

Great tool to provide support and make flashcards to read text in other languages. Even offers an abundance of content suggestions.

3.  Google Translate. Culture is a huge part of learning a language, and reading is perfect for teaching this. However, if a student finds something they absolutely MUST read but it isn’t in the target language, they can put in the URL into Google Translate. Now, the reading is in the target language.

4. Multiple Passes

I use these methods to help students along the way to reading independently in new languages.

Reading in a foreign language just isn’t the same. You need to read deeply and closely to understand and acquire new vocabulary.

I normally start with scaffolding by setting up the background information needed to understand the selection.

Next, students work in pairs or small groups. They take turns reading out loud (great for pronunciation). As they read, they create questions and answers from the text (set the number based on your judgement).

After they have completed this, we read together. I also like to play the audio if available as well. We stop frequently and the groups ask one another the questions. It becomes a nice speaking activity.

Lastly, we extend with writing. This could be a summary, a reaction, a letter, a journal response, a critique, or an opinion- the possibilities are endless.

I know that FVR should not have anything other than reading. However, I love to maximize the language learning benefit of reading by also having a writing or speaking activity as an extension. It is truly one of the best ways to learn a language. This can be as simple as a summary, write Q’s and A’s, or a few sentences of commentary.


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