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4 Easy Steps to Improve Your Foreign Language Reading

As some of you might already know, I have lived in Switzerland for the last six years. Before that, I lived for one year in Austria, which means that I have lived in German-speaking countries for a little over seven years now. In this time, I worked in multi-lingual companies as well as completing a Masters in German and English in Zurich and a year of my Bachelors’ degrees also in German. While I hesitate to use the word fluent because it’s meaning is extremely fluid, I am what many would call bi-lingual in German and English. Although, after several years in German-speaking countries, I sometimes forget English words! An example of this being the time I forgot the word ‘escalator’ in English and told my friend to meet me by the ‘electric stairs’.

I wanted to write about my experiences learning foreign languages, and I wanted to talk about the importance of reading in foreign languages and how this can help improve your vocabulary, confidence, and comprehension. It isn’t easy learning a foreign language, and anyone who decides to embark on that journey, I commend and respect you. I would also add that English speakers could do a better job at learning foreign languages. But this stems a lot from our school systems and the importance we put on learning foreign languages. And in English speaking countries, this is almost at the bottom of the list. It can be tough to learn a new language, but I promise you it is really exciting and amazing to immerse yourself in another culture and language.

Reading in a foreign language can be daunting, but I wanted to give some helpful tips for you to get started.


Child sitting on the ground reading a children’s book about fish.

It might seem a bit boring and naive to start with a children’s book, but this is actually a great way to start. Children’s books offer easy and simple narratives with lots of simple, yet descriptive language. It can be a great way to practice reading out aloud and to also help learn new verbs and nouns. Reading children’s books can also help you learn more about the culture of the language you are learning. Many countries have stories and fairytales specific to their culture so it can be a great way to learn about the legends and childhood character’s that inform people’s lives today.


Picture of a music store with vinyl records on display

Listening to music is my favourite way to learn. Print out the lyrics to a song you like in whatever language and sing along. It can be great to learn grammar structures and slang words. I used this a lot for German grammar because you only have to ask anyone learning German to know how difficult the German grammar can be.


German newspaper sitting on a table

Reading newspapers in foreign languages can be tough, and this is probably more of an advanced step, but it is still important to mention. Reading newspapers allows you to engage with current events and can help you in other aspects of your language learning journey like speaking and conversation. Newspapers also have a pretty clean and easy style to read, and the articles are fairly short, so it is easy to follow and stay focused.


Book Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and a ticket stub laying on a blue tablecloth.

When I first attempted reading novels in German, I read books that I had already read in English. This helped me immensely because I already knew the plot and characters, so I didn’t feel too intimidated by the new vocabulary or the length of the book. I would also recommend sticking with contemporary texts rather than reading classics, as the language can be tough at first. Also, fantasy and Si-Fi can be hard to start with, so make sure you work your way up to that.