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6 ways to read yourself to language mastery

Part 2

By Victor - 15/feb/2021 #Language and Education

In Part 1, I highlighted two excellent strategies for reading yourself to language mastery—devour literature and study up on your passions and interests.

Here are four additional approaches you should consider:

3. Be a news junkie

What’s the best way to stay informed, avoid getting ensnared by filter bubbles[1], and rapidly improve your fluency?

Read the news in a foreign language!

If you’re getting all your news from the same sources in your native language or letting the Facebook and Google algorithms choose what you read, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Ironically, while the Internet makes countless sources of information available to everyone, there seems to be an ever-greater trend toward ideological isolation. Buck the trend and boost your language acquisition by actively searching for foreign news sources.

Research shows that foreign language study helps people develop greater empathy and make better decisions by incorporating alternate perspectives and mitigating cognitive biases. Getting your news from international sources in a foreign language is a sure way to augment this benefit.

A further advantage is that you will always have conversation topics with native speakers if you follow news sources from their country.

You can find online newspapers from the country of your choice here.

4. Change the language settings

Set your computer operating system, Internet browser, cell phone, and other devices to display in your target language. Granted, this will not single-handedly make you fluent, but it will provide three small benefits that add up:

  1. You will regularly get a few extra minutes in your target language. Even just 1 minute per day would add up to 6 extra hours of language study in a year.
  2. Your language immersions will be enhanced. Let’s say you’re in the middle of a conversation class and you need to check something on your phone or browser. Depending on your language settings, you’ve either just sprung a leak in your immersion or reinforced your brain’s ongoing creation of integrated neural networks in your target language.
  3. Since using these devices and systems is part of your daily routine, by repeatedly reading menus and messages, you will effortlessly begin to think in your target language.

5. Just Google it

I remember, growing up, that when people disagreed on a point of fact, each party often left the discussion certain that they were right, but with no way to prove it. Unless someone was willing to go all the way to the library, there was no resolution.

Nowadays, a 10-second Google search usually settles the point.

Likewise, if you’re curious about anything in the realm of history, science, or any field at all, you can immediately delve into it on the Internet.

Why not use this incredible power of search engines in the language you are studying?

In other words, if you want to master a language for life, you shouldn’t engage solely in structured study during set times, but also whenever you have occasion to follow your curiosity. Don’t miss a chance to read in your target language—including when you are browsing the Internet.

This recommendation is really a subset of recommendation #2, but since we spend so much time online nowadays, I think it merits its own separate mention.

6. Combine reading with listening

While you read, you can simultaneously improve your listening skills. Here are four powerful ways to synergistically combine the two goals:

  1. Listen to audiobooks as you read the original text.
  2. Study lyrics while you listen to music you enjoy.
  3. Find movies, series, and other videos where the subtitles match the audio exactly.
  4. Read transcripts of Ted Talks, interviews, and podcasts, such as the Natural English Podcast, while you listen.

An important caveat is that to effectively combine reading and listening, they must match exactly. Your brain cannot do two things that require significant attention at once. For this reason, if you watch a movie with subtitles—all in your target language—that is a (not-so-great) way to practice your reading, rather than your listening. Since they are worded differently, you will tend to read the subtitles and tune out the audio. The exception is when the subtitles or closed captioning match the audio precisely.

If you have questions about these six ways to read yourself to language mastery or would like to share your own experiences and challenges in reading, please send me a message or comment below and I will get back to you.

In my next post, I will follow up by addressing frequently asked questions about reading in a foreign language.


[1] According to Wikipedia, a “filter bubble – a term coined by Internet activist Eli Pariser – is a state of intellectual isolation that can result from personalized searches when a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the user, such as location, past click-behavior and search history. As a result, users become separated from information that disagrees with their viewpoints, effectively isolating them in their own cultural or ideological bubbles.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filter_bubble

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