Language learning

Skip what you don’t know for now

When it comes to reading in your foreign language there are two basic roads you can take. Two different techniques that every language learner should be utilising at different times. I’m talking about intensive reading and extensive reading.

What’s the difference?

Image courtesy of el_rogos on Flickr

Image courtesy of el_rogos on Flickr

Intensive reading is reading a text and taking the time to make sure you understand each and every word.

Extensive reading is reading a text and skipping over any words you don’t know to keep up the momentum.

Intensive reading is the more standard technique that most of us would have encountered in language classrooms. You’re supposed to wring every last drop of information out of the text and leave understanding the text inside out.

This is obviously a well used technique – probably the most common type of reading when learning a language – and you can learn a lot by reading this way. But sometimes it can be overwhelming. When you’re just reading for fun it can get annoying having to stop; pick up the dictionary; find the word; understand the definition; and then understand it in context.

That’s where extensive reading comes in. It’s more ‘fun reading’ – you try to get into a rhythm and just keep going. When you come across a word you don’t know you just keep right on reading. If it’s an important word word, it will pop up again. If you want, you can highlight or underline the word and look it up after.

Often I find that I can figure out a lot of words by the context or by it occurring a few times where you can connect the dots. The trick is to pick a book that you know the story of or is not too hard. There’s no point in underlining every fourth word because you’ll be missing so much. But missing a couple of words a page is no big deal.

Next time you’re reading for fun, see if you can find a version in your target language online. Maybe read it in English first so you know what it’s about and see how much you can make out in the target language.

Do you ever use these techniques? Which one do you use more often?

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2 thoughts on “Skip what you don’t know for now

  1. I am a writer-at-heart, not so much in-print and also a lover of Spanish, though I am just beginning (Livemocha and Duolingo). I found your blog through “mocha” and immediately found your stories and advice, fascinating and useful!

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