Reading- An Approach to Language Learning

I’ve recently joined a language group whose focus is to read ‘The Hunger Games’ in thhunger-gameseir target language. Yet, within this is also the extra focus of exploring a range of reading strategies. Whereas normally I would be quite linear in my approach to reading – using my dictionary when needed but always with a incentive to move forwards – now I’m considering a whole range of possibilities to approaching the book. Two polyglots that we are considering are Benny Lewis and Olly Richards, both established in the field of language learning and both who inspire would-be polyglots. I’m always reading a number of books in Italian but I’m now going to explore some of their principles in practice. The links to their full articles can be seen at the end of this post, but for myself I’m going to follow just a couple of their key principles..

Benny Lewis – Reading

2. Comparative Reading: Keep Two Books Side by Side

This strategy is more work than keep a dictionary to hand. Nonetheless, it is absolutely worth it. I call it “comparative reading”, It involves reading the original book and a translation at the same time.

This method is not solely about reading. It is also about taking notes. What kind of notes? Well, writing down interesting excerpts, commentaries, vocabulary, everything you figure will help you to learn even more. Again, these notes need to be taken in a reliable notebook, and should be easily available for future reference.
Extract interesting passages, great sentences, and new vocabulary.
Another way to apply this strategy is to use bilingual books. This is easier because you only need to handle one book at a time. But, you still have to take notes and follow the same rules: write your notes in a reliable notebook. Extract interesting passages, great sentences, and new vocabulary.

Olly Richards ‘simply try to keep reading’

How to be a smart reader

With this in mind, here is the thought process I recommend you have when reading books in your target language:

  • When reading books, enjoyment and a sense of achievement are vitally important because that keeps you coming back for more
  • The more you read, the more you learn
  • The best way to enjoy reading books, and to feel that sense of achievement, is by reading entire chapters from beginning to end
  • Consequently, reaching the end of a book is the most important thing… more important than understanding every word in it!

How to deal with words you don’t know

If you find yourself stumped by an unknown word, here are five ways to tackle the problem:

  1. Look at the word and see if it’s familiar in any way. There is often crossover in the vocabulary of different languages. Take a guess – you might surprise yourself!
  2. Go back and read the problem sentence many times over. Using the context of that sentence, and everything else that’s happening in the story, try to guess what the unknown word might mean. This takes practice, but is often easier than you think!
  3. Make a note of the word in a notebook, so you can check the meaning later. Then keep reading.
  4. Sometimes, you might find a verb that you know, conjugated in an unfamiliar way. For example, in Spanish:
    hablar – to speak
    hablarán – they will speak
    hablase – speak (subjunctive)
    You may not be familiar with this particular verb form, or not understand why it’s being used in this case, and that may frustrate you. But is it absolutely necessary for you to know this right now? Can you still understand the gist of what’s going on? Usually, if you’ve managed to recognise the main verb, that is enough. Instead of getting frustrated, simply notice how the verb is being used, and then carry on reading!
  5. There will be times when you’re simply dying to know the meaning of a particular word. Fine – but if you stop to look up every word, you’ll never get anywhere. Instead, only look up words that seem to be cropping up again and again – they will be the key to understanding what you’re reading

Now that we’ve dealt with the big issue of difficult vocabulary, let’s look at the reading process itself.

The six-step reading process

  1. Read the first chapter of the book all the way through. Your aim is simply to reach the end of the chapter. Therefore, do not stop to look up words and do not worry if there are things you do not understand. Simply try to follow what’s going on.
  2. When you reach the end of the chapter, try to summarise what you’ve read – the characters, places, ideas, events etc. You could make a few notes in the target language, maybe writing down some of the main characters and events.
  3. Go back and read the same chapter again. If you like, you can read in more detail than before, but otherwise simply read it through one more time. As before, don’t worry about understanding everything. It’s a gradual process that can take time, and I call it “reducing uncertainty”.
  4. At the end of the chapter, continue to jot down notes about what you’ve read. This can be whatever is in your mind – it’s yet another way to help you process what you’re reading.
  5. By this point, you should start to have some understanding of the main events of the chapter. At this point you might like to continue to re-read the chapter, this time using a dictionary to check unknown words and phrases. Just remember – avoid the need to understand everything. Use the skills mentioned above to deal with words you don’t know and focus only on the vocabulary you think is vital to the narrative.
  6. Otherwise, if you feel you have followed the main events of the chapter, you should continue on to the next chapter, and enjoy the book just as you would in your mother tongue.
For Benny Lewis’ ideas see

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