How to Get the Most Out of Reading Books: A Guide for Language Learners

For language learners, reading books is a great way to improve your foreign-language reading skills. But it doesn’t have to end at just reading: books can help you hone your listening, writing, and even speaking skills, too. Indeed, with a little creativity and hard work, reading books can be a great help in your language-learning journey, for both novice and advanced learners. Here are some suggestions on how reading books can take your language skills to the next level.

 Image via  Pixabay

Image via Pixabay


1. Read childrens’ books and graphic novels

If you’re just starting out with a new language, trudging through an entire novel can constitute a seemingly impossible task. Indeed, someone who has just started studying Russian would be ill-advised to try reading the original version of War and Peace. Instead, put down the Tolstoy: it’s better to start small. Try revisiting your childhood by reading children’s books, or if you’re not feeling the nostalgia, consider reading comic books or graphic novels, which may have more age-appropriate themes.

These types of literature are excellent for beginners, as they typically involve simple language that’s not overly laden with flowery descriptions and advanced vocabulary (such as what you’ll find in War and Peace). In addition, they are typically illustration-heavy, so you can use the pictures to guide you if you get lost in the text.

2. Read out loud

Have you ever written something, and when you read it out loud, it sounded completely different from how it was in your head? The same goes for reading. When you’re reading, it’s easy to skip over certain words and focus only on the most important ideas of each paragraph. But if you read a book out loud, you have to pay attention to each and every word, and as a result, you’ll understand the book in a whole new light. Plus, reading out loud gives you great speaking practice in a non-judgmental environment, which will sharpen your pronunciation skills for when you’re having real conversations with native speakers.

3. Listen to books on tape

Especially for more advanced learners, listening to books on tape is the perfect way to practice your listening skills. Books on tape are always read by native speakers, making them good tools for studying how the language really sounds, especially if native speakers are not readily available in your area. Try to pick out a book that has a lot of dialogue, so you’ll be able to hear examples of conversational or informal speech in addition to narration. Another advantage of books on tape is that you can listen to them when reading would be impossible, such as when driving to and from work.

4. Start a book club

 Image via  Lola Audu  / flickr

Image via Lola Audu / flickr


Reading doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. In fact, it’s best to do it with others. If you know others who are also studying your target language, consider making an informal book club, in which you read target-language texts and discuss them every week or every month. Language is inherently communicative, and being able to discuss your favorite foreign-language reads with your friends is a great way to have interesting conversations while engaging with excellent literature.

If you don’t have the resources or time to start a book club in your area, consider joining online forums and contributing to conversations using your language of study. The forums on Goodreads, for example, have active discussions about a variety of books and authors.

5. Read with subtitles -- or create your own

For beginners and experts alike, reading stories with subtitles is a great help in improving your foreign language skills. Mobile apps like Duolir make this possible, as they provide original stories by bilingual authors that feature authentic translations. Being able to see both the source and translated text is essential, as you’ll get a good sense of how certain phrases and idiomatic expressions translate into your language of study. 

If you’re feeling brave, you can also annotate untranslated texts with your own subtitles. This is a fantastic way to work on your writing skills, and can be quite fun to do! If possible, try to check your translations with a native speaker, or compare it to a version of the text that has been translated by a professional.

There’s a whole lot more to books than just reading. From practicing your speaking by reading aloud, to perfecting your listening skills to books on tape, to trying your hand at writing translations, there’s plenty you can do with books beyond simply reading them. Indeed, with these steps, books can be an incredibly useful tool in improving your all-around language skills. And if you aren’t sure where to start, don’t worry: the Internet is full of foreign-language books suggestions for learners. Readers: how do you use books to practice language? What are you currently reading? Let us know in a comment!

Paul writes on behalf of Language Trainers, a language tutoring service offering personalized course packages to individuals and groups. Check out their foreign language placement tests and other resources on their website. Visit their Facebook page or contact with any questions.