Reading strategies

I’d be interested in others’ views on how best to approach reading books in the target language.

Specifically, should we mark words we don’t know and later look them up, write the meanings in the margin, use LingQ etc? Or not bother, and just be happy that the brain will make a mental note for next time. The latter approach is less distracting and would enable us to get through more volume, at the expense of getting immediate explanation of unknown words (which we will probably forget anyway).
I read quite a lot as a kid but rarely used a dictionary or asked people for word meanings, yet my vocabulary grew (obviously not just from reading, but this must have been a factor).

Also, is “speed reading”, where we’re not so much interested in understanding everything as increasing our reading fluency, better than a more careful, slower and methodical approach? Or should we use a combination of both?

Or does all of this not really matter? We do what we feel like doing.

I made the same experience like you. I only read for the fun of reading and it improved my skills very much. You can’t measure that improvement though, not as if you noted every single word you didn’t understand.
I’m far too lazy to really note every word, so I only rarely do that.
In addition to reading books, I always wrote as well (mainly letters as a child, nowadays emails and so on.) When writing, I look up words and those words I look up because I really need them for expressing my thoughts, usually stick very well. I usually review those.
Lately, I also came across the method of reviewing sentences, so I made an Anki deck consisting of Japanese sentences. I only read them aloud, when I’m reviewing them and make sure, I understand the meaning and pronounce them properly. This also helps a lot, I think. I usually take sentences out of emails, I receive or out of texts I read.

I’m lazy too, Fingerhut. I’m just wondering if, when we get to the stage of being able to read comprehensible input (with a relatively small number of unknown words), does our brain try to make sense of the words we don’t know through context? If so, should we just leave it to its own devices, rather than trying to force the meaning in? Could it be that this is actually a more powerful technique? Does anyone know of any studies on this?

Well, I definitely learned lots of words that way, without ever looking them up. For example all magic-related vocabulary in English through Harry Potter. You will know by the end of it what a ‘wizard’ is as well as what a ‘broom’ or a ‘wand’ is - you even learn words that only exist in Harry Potter’s world.
I’d highly recommend reading as a language learning tool.
Maybe initially you’re faster by noting all words, you don’t understand. You make things clear faster. But if you stick to reading only, you will expose yourself to much more of the foreign language, encounter the same word in different contexts and - what’s most important - won’t loose motivation as you stick to doing things that are fun to you. I can easily spend a whole day reading foreign languages, if it’s an interesting book. But I can’t spend the same amount of time noting things down and using the dictionary, as it’s far more exhausting.

Fingerhut said: “I only read for the fun of reading and it improved my skills very much.”

Yes, I think this is the real golden rule for reading in a target language - read the kind of things that you’re genuinely interested in!

In fact, I would advise people to avoid reading anything at all in a foreign language unless it’s something that they really WANT to read.

Of course, at a school or university people may be forced to read stuff they don’t want to - but unfortunately that’s pretty much out of a learner’s control. (However, in my own experience, I’m 100% certain that I have learned far far more German by reading detective-novels than I ever did at university!)

This is so true. I never did any English homework at school, so I ended up getting As in composition writing and so on an Fs in “vocabulary tests” that tested a list of vocabulary you were supposed to study from one day to the next.

Hi Jamie

I see you’re from the Netherlands

I’m learning Dutch. So far I’ve watched a lot of TV, about 300 hrs, and have just started listening to audio books. I’ve listened to Danntje de wereldkampioen once through and am going through it a second time. Then it’ll be Matilda, also by Roald Dahl.

I haven’t used a dictionary but I’m surprised that following the story is quite easy and even some of the detail comes through. Also with audio, you’re forced to move along and as you go along you soon reckonise words that come up often. At first I don’t understand their mean, but either they come gradually or they pop (eureka! that what it means). Some words and details are still a mystery to me. But at the moment, I’m happy with listening to the audio and following the story and sometimes just guessing what’s going on.

I suspect a mixture of intensive and extensive reading is best to develop reading skills.