The first thing to realise is that there are two types of learning when it comes to languages; we have active and passive skills that need to be practised. It is to say that some skills you need to learn through conscious effort as you produce the language yourself, like when we write or speak. However, there are also passive skills, in which we receive the language and we need to understand it (reading and listening). Passive skills tend to be the most difficult to improve, but they can also be the most beneficial.
This post looks to address the importance of reading and how you can learn a language through stories and texts.
The first problem is that people, especially adults get frustrated with reading as they cannot understand the majority of what they are either reading or listening to. This is due to our fear of making mistakes or perhaps our insecurity at the loss of control that we feel when surrounded by an unfamiliar situation.
What we need to understand is that language learning can only be achieved through mistakes, so this feeling of insecurity is part of the process.
Reading texts, especially stories is a useful way to reinforce simple grammar structures and also see new vocabulary in context.
What we recommend is a mixed approach in which you read for gist and also when you analyse what you are reading and withdraw information to learn it with useful phrases.
Reading for gist enables you to read between the lines and understand unfamiliar words from the general context. You should focus on the what, who, where, when and why. This way you will not need to understand the finer details.
When you analyse a text, you need to take notes and write your own sentences using the unfamiliar words. We recommend the 5+ approach. This is a way of learning new vocabulary through context and repetition in bite-size chunks. You might also like to take a look at our recommendations on how to improve your memory for language learning.
So what we are trying to say is that you should read frequently, starting with the topics that interest you, but also be adventurous and try to read native level texts like news articles and story books. A great way to ensure some understanding is to read things you have already read in your native language and then use the text in the target language as a tool to improve your foreign language skills.
The final point we would like to make is the importance of staying relaxed. Stress is our worst enemy in language learning. You need to learn consistently and in a way that you enjoy. Focus on enjoying the journey, not just focusing on the destination. This way you will be able to take advantage of this unique and wonderful experience.