Reading for Learning a New Language

Essays by Shalon Sims on education, creative writing and literacy

Reading for Learning a New Language

If you are learning a new language, the most useful and pleasant thing you can do for your study is READ!!!  As an ESL teacher, I have noticed that my students who are regular readers, really advance more quickly than students who do not like reading.  Therefore it is important to foster the skill of reading. (If you or your students do not like reading, you may have a basic literacy problem on your hands, in which case, see my post on the Importance of Sound for Learning a Language).

Reading is essential to master a language and if you do it properly, it will be very enjoyable as well.  Through reading alone, you can improve:

  • active and passive vocabulary
  • speech
  • grammar
  • writing

To do this, you must read intensively.  What is intensive reading?

  • you read every day
  • you read one book every two weeks
  • you share what you are reading with other people
  • you make a record of what you are reading and what it means to you

Tips for intensive reading

  • Read ONLY what you enjoy!  You will only be able to read intensively if you find the reading interesting.  If you have difficulty finding something – ask for HELP.  There are millions of books out there!
  • Find books that are easy for you to read.  Most libraries have ‘easy-readers’ for people who are beginning language learners.  Reading doesn’t need to be difficult to be good for your English!
  • Read every single day and take your book with you everywhere you go.
  • Do NOT look up new vocabulary that you don’t know – this will stop you from enjoying the book.  If you see a word that you don’t know – just guess what it might mean.  If you see it many times and you really want to know what it means – then look it up.

Happy Reading!

For educators, here are some links:

Advanced Reading Power (entire book for free on Scribd) is an amazing book to help you learn/teach how to read academic texts.  I have found it invaluable as a teacher for both native English speakers (NES) and ESL.

It also contains a list of the most commonly used words in English, which I have adapted to an easy to print format, and posted here for you to download.  Feel free to use it and make as many copies as you want for your students: 1000 most frequently used words.

This list, along with many other vocabulary lists are found on the website, which is a non-profit, academic resource for language learning based on scientific data and research.  It is a HORRIBLE website to navigate, but if you ever figure it out, you will be so happy you did. The page with all of their famous lists is here.

  • Their page for 1000 most frequent words AND most members of that word family (invaluable!) is here.
  • Their page for the second 1000 most frequent words AND members of that word family is here.


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