Read read read. What do you make of it?

I have heard it said before that in order to become fluent after reaching a certain level of proficiency where you can express yourself comfortably in your target language, you have to read, read, read away. Read anything. Just keep reading.

What is your take on this “reading” method?

I wholeheartedly agree, except that I think it is even more important than you said.

In my mind, reading is the most important thing from the very start all the way through fluency.
I feel strongly about it, and here’s why I feel that way.

  1. language acquisition in my opinion boils down to the sum total of the brain impressions you have had with that language’s phrases and sentences (so that the brain eventually constructs its own map of it). You need a lot of such impressions in meaningful forms (i.e, in context, not isolated), and about the only way you can accumulate them quickly is by reading (and audio book listening which is another form of reading). To be functional in a language, one needs at least millions of such brain impressions. It is not possible to attain it any other way in my opinion.

  2. text is the form by which the broadest range of information (especially the conceptional kind) is conveyed. Because of time and other constraints, speech can never match text in terms of the range of expressions. You never get to see the full glory of the language in speeches, but only an abridged, lower grade version of it. If you don’t read, you are not aiming for full fluency, the “learned” level where you can freely read and write, and listen and speak.

  3. if you read a lot, you accumulate the language in your brain. This naturally stokes up your desire to do other things like listening, speaking, and writing. If you bulked up your vocabulary and developed a sense of the language, your brain is better equipped to tackle the other forms of learning. If you concentrated only on speeches on the other hand, you wouldn’t have the benefit of large accumulated knowledge, even though you might have more heightened sense on the speech side. I believe reading gives you the broad base for everything, like the basic nutrition.

  4. The world is primarily visual, and we all know vision is by far the most efficient faculty we possess. “Visual” consists of text and image, but image can’t carry a narrative and therefore very limited in conveying complex kind of information. So the good old text is always the way the bulk of the world’s information is passed around, especially the important and complex kind.

So to me language learning is for the most part reading.

I know people often talk about how children learn it without reading or studying anything.
But you know, if you have a brand new brain and have all your waking hours devoted to learning the language, with native speakers around you all the time answering any questions you might have, and on top of that have comfortable number of years to do it, of course you can pick it up.

But who other than children has that kind of luxury.

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Very interesting. I would just add that I read somewhere that the brain retains as a visual image of a word, not the thing that the word represents, but the written form of the word. The written word is the image. So I agree, and have always felt that the massive amount of reading that I do, can explain why I often seem to learn languages faster than many people.

I furthermore feel that reading with the yellow LingQs helps me to notice things that I am trying to learn.

And finally a word for listening, which we can do while doing other tasks. I find listening powerful for ingraining the sounds of the language and enabling me eventually reproduce them. It is the spoken words and phrases that bounce around in my brain, and which then come out when I need them.

But reading, that is what I do when I have dedicated study time. Obviously I can’t read behind the wheel of my car.

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To be honest, I may not have been reading enough.

There seems to be some disconnection between reading (input) and speaking (output - articulation). I know certain phrases and expressions in my mind, but when I try to use those expressions, they don’t come out naturally. I stutter and mispronounce them.

When you say “reading,” do you mean silent reading? Or speed reading if you can understand the content? If I read aloud books, blogs whatever I read, it takes much longer.

How should I eliminate this disconnect?

Steve, do you import what you read to LingQ, as long as you can, and read? How many times do you read the same text? On average, how many articles you do import on a daily basis?

I have been importing many articles to LingQ. I don’t have enough time to re-read them over and over because I keep importing new lessons.

In learning process, reviewing is crucial. This is where I am most weak at. I have never been a good reviewer of the materials I study. That’s another reason I didn’t like history in school which required memorization. Memorization requires repetition.

That’s not a method, it’s a statement. In my opinion it’s false, or at least misleading. Some questions:

What do you mean by “fluent”?
What’s this level where you can express yourself comfortably in your target language? A2, B1, B2…?
Why do you need to reach a certain level of proficiency before reading?
How much reading is “read, read, read”?
Why “read anything”?

I think all forms of reading is an efficient way to absorb the language.

Personally I just do normal silent reading of new material but it is still the fastest way to absorb new words and sentences for me.
With listening I often find it a bit difficult to sync with what’s said or read to me. It seems to me a bit of a downside when your goal is accumulating input.
When you read, you can do it at your own speed, reread a sentence if it’s unclear or particularly interesting, skim through unimportant part, and so on, which gives you complete freedom and speed.

The disconnect between reading and speaking is a complex subject, but after years and years of struggling, I concluded for myself that the number one reason I cannot speak is because I have not had enough input yet. I figure ones has to have a lot of input to be able to use some of it in his or her speech, like maybe 1000 to 1.
I believe no special speech oriented practicing will get me far. So I try not to get too hung up on speaking but just concentrate on reaching a point where I can comfortably read and listen first before taking on speaking (but I still do basics like reading out loud or building and say a sentence to myself).

So I tend to allocate my time like R(60), L(20), W(10), S(10) until I get really comfortable with reading and listening.

Just to clarify my points.

You can always start reading at any stage of your learning as long as you can understand 50~70 % of the content. You can work on difficult materials but most people would get discouraged by difficult contents. The most important thing is you keep reading.

How much to read?
Of course that depends on your time availability and motivation. I try to put in about 3 hours a day. Reading includes newspapers, books of your interests, blog posts etc.

By fluent I mean “comfortable” in that you can initiate and carry out conversations in the target language on a wide variety of topics.

Reading is important because by reading you can accumulate information.

At the initial stages in a language I may read the same text many times, since I just can’t get the flow, the sense of what I am reading. I am also quite tolerant of repetition since the novelty of the language makes it a challenge to read over and over. I get the sense that things are becoming clearer.
When I reach an intermediate stage, the novelty factor in re-reading has worn off, and the benefits of re-reading are greatly reduced. Then I tend not to review, but just to plow ahead and read more.
I am driven by my interest in the subject, what Krashen calls compelling content. To me this is key.
I try to listen to most of what I read in the beginner and intermediate stages, although this is not always possible. When I reach a high intermediate and better level, the reading and listening no longer need to be connected. I read some stuff and listen to other stuff.
The listening, at least to me, is key to prepare me for speaking. Whenever you start speaking it will be tough at first. However, if you delay speaking, at least you will be able to cover a larger range of topics, in other words have meaningful discussions, and probably have a better chance of understanding what the other person is saying.
I don’t memorize and don’t try to nail things down. I know from experience that it doesn’t work for me.

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The practice of reading a lot and then just listening, even to the material I just read, while I was doing other tasks did about ZERO for my ability to hear Russian. It simply did not work and it was unbelievably frustrating.

Only recently, after many years of study, has just listening added significant value. Maybe it is my poor hearing, but I need a lot of direct work with text and audio together. Maybe this is where you are very gifted or maybe it is where I lack normal language acquisition abilities. But, I simply cannot do your method.

For example, I am currently doing some reinforcing work with the 40 Russian lessons of Ress’ series - Как мы расстались “до завтра”. I can read it all super easily (maybe a few unknown words) and if I were to just listen cold without reading I would understand a large amount. But there are still phrasings and pronunciations I cannot hear and to reach a high level of comprehension I need to work the audio and text together.

I listen to these lessons in lingq cold without the text. If I hit a spot I don’t know I hit 5-sec rewind and try again - rinse and repeat until I can hear or until I can’t solve. If I can’t solve I look at the text. Yesterday I was shocked I couldn’t solve но он (‘no on’ but he). It sounded like ‘nan’ in this case. There were also some less common words that I can easily read but in my mind the accent was wrong and I couldn’t hear them in the audio.

So, to the original question, for me, I could read and read and read and still never hear Russian well. Given I need to work with the audio, it means that I sacrifice a lot of reading. There are books I want to read but simply don’t because my goal is to hear and speak above all else. I even sacrifice writing (although my writing is pretty good since I usually cmc back and forth with my wife in Russian).

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Every one has to find their own way. There may, however, exist a sort of placebo effect. I very much believe in reading and listening now, whereas I did not necessarily do so 25 years ago when working on Italian, or even 10 years ago when working on Portuguese. I had much more trouble retaining things, and understanding things then. Some parts of a passage remained unclear or incomprehensible to me, and it bothered me. Now perhaps I just don’t worry about the parts I don’t understand, but there also seem to be fewer of them when I start new languages.

Look at the thread I just posted. It is perfectly relevant. Miracle Kindle Method - Language Forum @ LingQ The kindle book is great for this, Japanese, German, Spanish, etc. Certain languages can be instantly translated on a singular word scale. It’s not so great with languages like Russian and yet I found a fabulous series of “News in Russian” it has the english translation for each paragraph, so if you have an intermediate understanding of grammar then hacking the language should be more like slicing butter.

I think reading is very paramount. It lets me dissect the grammar and the syntax of the sentence, so I can put it together in my mind.

It’s like listening but for the eyes.

I read about 1500 words a day. I’ve been using LingQ regularly for about 9 months, or about 1-2 hours a day. Some of it is slow concentrated reading, while the other is more fast, follow along reading (when I just follow the text while listening). I’m at about 100,000 words now.

Culturally speaking, I am Japanese and rather reserved. We tend not to voice our opinions. At least when I was getting education in the Japanese school systems all the way through High School. Things have changed but when I was in school, we didn’t ask questions. One reason for that is the we don’t project ourselves as an ignorant person to our classmates. School is where the uneducated receive education, and asking questions until one understands is crucial in one’s learning. Some teachers didn’t like too many questions raised during class. I guess they have to finish a certain amount of material in class. Class will for sure fall behind the schedule by answering all these questions. That’s another reason we didn’t raise our hand and ask questions. We hate to inconvenience others for our own sake. Some good teachers took questions after class, but most didn’t.

Unlike in American schools, we hardly gave presentations (on given topics) in class. It was like we obtained information necessary to pass the entrance exams to the schools of your preference and committed it to memory. I didn’t enjoy studies at all. Now that I am more curious and committed to learning many things I am interested in. I think that’s education. Teachers are supposed to pique the interests of their students, so they will think and learn for themselves.

Do you listen to audiobook as well? I can’t seem to concentrate much on the content. For the most part, I listen to my audiobook when walking my dogs and working out at the gym. I just can’t sit still and listen to them.

I think what’s most important in learning is you do it EVERYDAY. Keep up your study!

So this isn’t something that you’ve “heard said”, but your own theory? Here’s what I find misleading about it.

You don’t need to wait for some specific level before you start reading, and I would argue that you should start reading from the beginning to be the most efficient.

While I read a lot myself, and always advise other language learners to read regularly, saying that it’s a requirement to reach some poorly defined level is false. There are many cases of people who reach good levels in a language without reading. Some languages didn’t even have a written form until fairly recently.

The term “fluent” can mean anything, and therefore means absolutely nothing. Your additional definition was extremely vague. Please just use the CEFR.

“Read anything” is really bad advice. Ideally, a learner should read things that interest her, at a level of i+1. This isn’t always possible, but that doesn’t mean you should tell people to just “read anything”.

I won’t comment on your other posts, because I’m busy and I’ve already been mean enough.

Some people think that reading some sort of novel is very useful for inproving your communicatin skills in the target language.
Don’t you feel like reading romances(or anti-romances)?

Steve wrote " But reading, that is what I do when I have dedicated study time. Obviously I can’t read behind the wheel of my car."

Perhaps you’re not trying hard enough. Why just the other day, I saw a guy combing his hair while driving on the highway :). Not to mention all the texters while driving!


Yes I did heard it said. It is not my theory but I have already thought reading is important in learning, speaking from my experiences.

Please forgive my ignorance. I am not familiar with the CEFR and I can’t say I am at … level now and that I want to reach … level using the CEFR. Like I have said, by fluent I mean how comfortable one is in conversations. Can one give a presentation or explain some concept or yourself, let’s say, for 10 minutes without a written script (one may need a outline. Otherwise he or she will be all over). More specifically, can one make a video talking about a topic you are familiar with or passionate about for some time and upload it on Youtube, just like Steve Kaufmann and other polyglots do?

When I said “read anything,” I meant anything YOU LIKE or YOU ARE INTERESTED IN. I’m very sorry I wasn’t clear enough.

When I read, I tend to read non-fictions. I do like to read novels and think it is fun to read them. I can definitely learn new words from reading novels. I should read more fictions.