Mastering a Language Through the Power of Reading

Learn how reading builds your vocabulary and grammar, motivates you to learn a language, and keeps your brain healthy

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In this age of gamified language learning, reading might not be the trendiest way to learn a language. But it is one of the most effective. Sure, living and working overseas is the best way to learn a language. For people in their home country though, there’s no better way than reading to gain new words and grammar structures, or cultural insights.

Learning a language through reading is effective but it isn’t easy. It takes time and determination, but if you stick with it, you get a deeper understanding of your new language. In this article, you’ll learn all about the benefits of reading and how you can use it to master a new language.

The benefits of reading on language learning

Reading gives you a firsthand look at your new language's core components. You see new (and learned) vocabulary in context. You see how to structure grammar. And you get to have fun reading whatever interests you. Let’s take a deeper look at the benefits of reading for language learning.

Reading improves your vocabulary and grammar

Reading indirectly teaches you new words and grammar (as long as you read enough). It doesn’t feel like studying but, actually, you’re learning a lot. You see how words interact with each other and how grammar is structured.

Reading exposes you to different writing styles

You can read fiction or nonfiction. You can read academic books, graphic novels, or blog posts. The beauty of reading is that you can choose texts you’re interested in. This also means you get to see a bunch of different writing styles. You get to see how to use your new language to communicate in different contexts.

Reading is good for your brain

Reading helps delay the onset of dementia. And when you combine this with the brain-training nature of learning a new language, you’re doing everything you can to keep your brain healthy.

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Reading and motivation

Reading is not only effective at teaching you vocabulary and grammar, it’s also a powerful motivator. Motivation is key to learning a language because it’s a long — and sometimes difficult — process. There are no shortcuts to learning a language. Having the motivation to keep going can help you achieve your goals. For example, extensive reading (more on that later) has both cognitive and motivational benefits for language learners. By choosing understandable and engaging books, you can gain a lot. Let’s take a look at how reading can increase (and maintain) your motivation.

Enjoyable reading promotes learning

People are naturally motivated to do fun things. This is exactly the same when learning a language. So, when you’re reading in your new language, choose texts you’re interested in. Choose texts that aren’t too difficult. And you’ll find yourself having a good time. This enjoyment motivates you to read more, and as a result, you learn more.

Tangible progress

When you start reading in your new language, it’s going to be tough (unless you’re lucky enough to be learning a language that has a lot of graded content — more on that later). You’ll come across words and phrases that you don’t know. But as you practice, you’ll start to recognize words and structures. The amount of times you don’t understand will decrease. This is tangible progress and progress like this that you can see is great for motivation.

A sense of achievement

When you finally get through a reading text without being confused, it’s a significant accomplishment. These victories keep you motivated and eager to read more. So you read again, and you get the same sense of achievement again. It’s like a vicious circle but not vicious — it’s a virtuous circle which is great for motivation.

How to learn a language through reading

Here are some tips on how to use reading to boost your language skills:

1. Read extensively

Read a variety of texts that you find manageable and enjoyable. And read as many of them as possible. The focus should be on quantity and overall meaning rather than obsessing over every single word or grammar rule — this is extensive reading.

Extensive reading helps you build a natural feel for the language, as you'll see patterns and common phrases in context. You’ll find yourself learning words and structures without having to study them.

2. Read intensively

Sometimes challenge yourself with more complex texts. Focus on understanding language features such as vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure. Unlike extensive reading, spend longer with one short text. Analyze its language. Pay attention to its features.

Good options for intensive reading include academic articles, news stories, articles, and official documents in the language you're learning.

3. Choose texts that interest you

Reading shouldn’t feel like a chore, so pick materials that capture your interest. Whether it's a mystery novel, a fashion magazine, or a cookbook. If the content interests you, you're more likely to stick with it. When you enjoy what you're reading, the language learning process feels less like work and more like a fun hobby.

4. Choose texts you can understand

Getting stuck on a text that’s too difficult for you is a shortcut to frustration and lack of motivation. Pick texts that you can understand. For extensive reading, these should be at (or slightly above) your current level. For intensive reading, choose challenging — but not too challenging — texts. This balancing act is tricky. But choosing the right materials is key to the success of your reading, so think carefully.

5. Listen and read at the same time

You can boost your language learning gains by combining reading with listening. For example, you can follow along in a book while listening to the audio version. This will help reinforce vocabulary and improve your pronunciation. This dual method also enhances your listening skills, so you get a nice added bonus. Try audiobooks, podcasts, or even music lyrics in the language you're learning.

Useful reading resources

Remember, for best results, find resources that match your interests and language level. Luckily, there are tons of places for you to find suitable resources. Here are some of the big ones.

Bilingual books

These books offer text in both your native language and your new language side by side. They’re great for learners of all levels — if you can find them. Not all languages have a huge selection of these books.

Graded readers

These books are perfect for language learners. They take well-known stories or books and grade the vocabulary and grammar to suit the level. You can find them in levels from complete beginners to upper intermediate. Just like bilingual books though, not every language has a wide range of these. English learners are lucky because they have access to hundreds (if not thousands) of graded readers.

E-books and audiobooks

Services like Audible and Amazon Kindle have a vast selection of ebooks and audiobooks in various languages. You can adjust the speed of the audiobooks to match your comprehension level. And you can read along with the e-book (or the physical book) for extra help.

Online articles

There’s lots of free online content too. All newspapers have websites now (some not behind a paywall) and there are blogs and blogging sites — like the Busuu Blog — where you can find reading materials about grammar topics and language learning.

Reading is one of the most effective ways to learn a language

Reading is an invaluable tool for language learners. It boosts your vocabulary, deepens your understanding of grammar, and provides cultural insights. It’s also a fun and motivating way to learn.

Reading is a receptive skill. For a well-rounded language education, combine reading with productive skills like speaking and writing. Reading is a fantastic way to learn a language but it’s not enough on its own. Write about the things you read. Find people to talk to about the things you read. When you integrate reading and interacting like this, your language skills will soar.

If you need help finding conversation partners to exchange ideas and get recommendations for great books to read in a language you want to learn, check out Busuu’s community of millions of language learners and native speakers.

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With Busuu, you're just a few swipes away from a community of millions to interact with. You can practice with native speakers, complete free online courses, and learn in your own way, on your own schedule.