Reading in another language is a wonderfully rewarding experience. Developing your second language literacy skills involves time and persistence, however, as you work through piecing together vocabulary, grammar, and meaning.
Here are some tips to help you navigate foreign language texts.
1. Pick material that’s at or just above your level. Reading texts that are too advanced will soon frustrate you. A good rule of thumb is to quickly scan the first few paragraphs for new and unknown vocabulary. If you count 5 or more unknown words, then it’s above your level. Skip it and move on.
2. Get out a pen or pencil and take notes in the margins while you read. When you finish reading a complex sentence or when you arrive at the end of a paragraph, take a moment to summarize what you have just read. Often times learners will go through a passage reading word-for-word. By the time they reach the end of the page, they’ve no idea what the text was actually about. Use this easy summary strategy to force yourself to make sense of the text as you read.
3. Connect to the text on a personal level to make it more memorable. When you’re learning a language, you’re learning to read, not necessarily reading to learn. As such, when you’re done with a passage or chapter, try to connect the ideas and concepts back to your life, personalizing the story as much as possible. Here are some great questions to connect to reading:
- Have I read this story or something like it in my first language?
- What would I have done in this situation?
- How is this story similar to what happens in my own country/culture?
Again, when you take a moment at the end of a reading session to connect the story to your own life, it makes it easier to remember the vocabulary later on. This is as much a memory strategy as it is a reading strategy.
4. Read when you’re feeling alert. When you are struggling through a text in your second language, you’re giving your brain a massive workout. I always find that even after a single page of a difficult text in Spanish that I’m ready for a siesta. Choose a time when you have extra brain cells alert and ready to focus all of your attention on the task of reading. If you find yourself yawning and rubbing your eyes, then it’s time to get up and take a break.
In summary, these are easy strategies all language learners can incorporate to read strategically. Try them the next time you read. When you go back to review the article or vocabulary, you’ll be amazed at how much you’re able to remember!