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Advantages of reading when learning a foreign language

Advantages of Reading when learning a foreign Language

As a German teacher and also as a fellow language student, I’ve worked with numerous textbooks. Don’t get me wrong, there are some pretty good textbooks out there and using one will help you at all levels of your language learning journey. However, whenever I grabbed a textbook, I felt that I needed to be in study mode now. On the other hand, when I read a compelling text or a novel in my target language, it doesn’t feel like studying at all. Unfortunately, it’s still common to think that you have to make an effort and work really hard if you want to achieve something. But science has long proved that a lot of learning happens unconsciously. Our brain is always busy processing any stimulus and input it gets.

Reading in your native language

Do you like reading? Did you read a lot as a child? Do you read to your own children? Or did your parents read to you? I was a real bookworm when I was a little girl. I would go to the library once a month and come back with a bunch of books. And I’m convinced that reading such extensively from an early age on helped me to speak and write correct German. With the exception of people who suffer from dyslexia, I haven’t yet met an avid reader who makes a lot of spelling or grammar mistakes in his or her native language. Apart from that reading non-fiction provides you with useful information and different point of views and reading fictions gives you the chance to dive into a new world. So take the chance and read whenever you can.

Reading texts and books in German

People who love to read in their native language are normally keen to start reading in their target language, too. When you’re a beginner or an intermediate learner of German, you probably don’t want to start with a novel written by one of Germany’s, Austria’s or Switzerland’s well-established authors yet. Fortunately, there is a large variety of Graded Readers German available on Amazon. Or you can browse through our books section to check out the books which I wrote or which were written by authors and publishers we strongly recommend. However, let’s now see why I’m such a huge advertiser of reading and which advantages it will have for you as a student of the German language.

Learn vocabulary in context

When you read, you will usually encounter new words. There shouldn’t be too many of them that you can’t grasp at all what the text is about. There will also be words that you understand by context but will probably never use. Don’t worry about them, if they are repeated often, your brain will add them to your passive vocabulary. However, you’ll also encounter new words in context which will be helpful in a conversation in the future or when you have to write a text in German. Some students like to write those words in a notebook or make flashcards out of them. It’s fine if you want to do it but it should not interrupt your reading experience too much. It’s more important that you see new and useful words being used naturally again and again. Trust your brain, the more you read, the more often you will encounter certain words and will remember them.

See correct German in context

Did you know that Germans make a lot of grammar mistakes when we speak? The verb is not always in the second position in a main clause and not always at the end of the sentence in a subordinate clause. Even our declension endings are not always correct. It’s totally normal that native speakers don’t always use a correct sentence structure when they talk. Our thoughts evolve automatically while we speak and as a result, grammar sometimes suffers. This doesn’t normally happen in a book, of course. So when you read a lot, you’re automatically exposed to correct German in context. No boring grammar exercises, you simply see the correct structures and they will soon become natural for you. Being able to speak and write with a correct sentence structure is a huge plus if you would like to live and work in a German-speaking environment.

Personal interest

As I mentioned in my introductions, textbooks are not always fun. They often present topics you’re not interested in. That’s totally different when you decided to read a book in German. Remember that you’re reading for fun. So choose a book you really want to read. If you’re not interested in classical literature, there’s no need to torture yourself with an adapted version of Goethe’s “Faust”.

Switch between intensive and extensive reading

Do you know the difference between intensive and extensive reading? I’ll write a more detailed article about it later on but would like to mention it because I know from my experience as a German teacher that many students (especially at the intermediate level) are simply not able to leave their study mode completely. In short, extensive reading means that you just read and try to understand new words and grammatical structures by their context. Intensive reading, on the other hand, means that you look up a lot of words and analyze the grammar. Reading a novel intensively is not recommended at all, then it becomes studying indeed. However, you may wish to switch to intensive reading once a day. Just one or two pages.

I hope you liked the article and that I have convinced you of the advantages of reading when learning a foreign language. Enjoy your next book.

Daniela is a native German speaker who has taught the language online since 2012. She speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese and some Hungarian. Currently, she's residing in Peru but maintains a traveling lifestyle as a digital nomad. In March 2020, she published her first book "Deutsch online unterrichten" for aspiring online German teachers and is now concentrating on writing fiction for German learners while pursuing some other small projects.

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