You might spend almost all your life studying a second language. It could be English, Spanish, or German. And yet no matter how much you study, how many courses you take, how many certificates you earn, how many trips abroad you take, you still don’t have a genuine1 and complete grasp2 of the language you want to know as much as your own language.
I find that students of languages often overlook the power and necessity of reading.
Any person could make vast improvements in their second tongue if they were to devote considerable time to reading.
First of all, almost anywhere you’ll find that written language contains more words than spoken speech. One of the key aspects to mastering a language is to expand3 your vocabulary. And that’s something that can truly only be done through reading.
Reading is an excellent opportunity to know a language more intimately. You become more aware of its beauty and complexity.
And if you don’t have so many chances to speak with a native, then reading books and articles in that language is the next best thing. No advice can have greater value concerning this matter. If you want to master your second language, you must read, read, read! Constantly.
And through this activity, you’ll be exposed to all the subtle shadings4 a language possesses. For example, if you’re studying English, then extensive reading will allow you to learn all of its “colours.” This depends too on how greatly you vary your reading. Don’t always go for the easy stuff either. Challenge yourself! Once you can read books for children and commercial thrillers without having to look up words, move on to more difficult literature. Go through books with a more complex sentence structure. Read some classics and even poetry. You always have to keep striving5 for the next level.
Thirty years may have to go by before you stop running across words you don’t know.
Remember that you’ll be a student for life. Even native speakers run into words they don’t know, as you may have experienced in your own tongue. Also, continuous reading will solve the problem of forgetting newly-learned words. You’ll discover them again and again till you finally know them. You should try and force yourself to read every single day. It doesn’t matter how busy you are; you must find the time. One thing that helps is to have a daily page quota. For example, your aim can be to read 20 to 30 pages a day, maybe even 50. Personally, I prefer to read at least 100 pages per day. As you read, write down the words you don’t know, but don’t look them up immediately. First, try to guess what they mean based on their context. When you’re done, find the unknown terms in a dictionary and see if you were right concerning their meanings. If you have more free time, try to create sentences using these words. If you continue with your reading, the chances are high that sooner or later you’ll start seeing the same unknown words repeating themselves. After seeing these words several times, you won’t have any problems whatsoever remembering what they mean.
Don’t use “crutches6” or things that will make your way easier.
For example, don’t read those simplified novels designed for people who are learning English. In the end, they give you a false sense of knowledge. I’ve seen many students who have completely mastered advanced textbooks for studying English. They believed that they were very good because these books were easy for them. But what happened is that once they confronted real English for native speakers, they were in complete shock and found that they knew almost nothing. When you reach a certain level in your second language, it’s vital to completely stay away from easy texts designed for learners. A language is much bigger than whatever you’re learning in school. Within that context, they only allow you to play in “shallow waters,” and you’ll never have the chance to wade out7 into the depths.
Reading more challenging material will not only help your vocabulary to grow, but can also allow you to better understand complex grammar.
To extend the metaphor, you would never learn to swim well if the water level is too low. It’s the same thing with languages. Sometimes learning grammar through rules isn’t effective. It’s important to see it in practice and absorb it in this manner. No matter how well you know the rules, it can still be extremely difficult to apply them in real life situations when speaking or writing.
In essence, reading constantly is as great a way of immersing yourself8 in a language as living and working abroad.
Don’t just go for simple literature, because it won’t help you to grow. And if you watch films, try to never read Slovak or Czech subtitles, because then you will become dependent on them, and your skills will not improve.
Becoming great at the language you’re studying is not going to happen without a substantial amount of reading. No shortcut exists, I’m sorry to say. Don’t forget that this is a lifetime project and that with great dedication and discipline, you can reach your goals.
1/dženjuin/ pravý, skutočný – pravý, skutečný; 2ovládanie – ovládání; 3rozširiť, rozvinuť – rozšířit, rozvinout; 4/satl/ sotva znatelné, jemné odlišnosti; 5usilovať sa o, snažiť sa – usilovať o, snažit se; 6/krač/ barla, opora – berle, opora; 7prebrodiť sa von z – přebrodit se ven z; 8ponoriť sa, pohružiť sa – ponořit se, pohroužit se