Is It Easier to Read a Foreign Language or Speak It?

When you’re trying to learn a foreign language, you are wondering if what’s easier between reading or speaking. Some learners will say that speaking is easier, some will say that they prefer reading. But what’s really the best answer to this question?

Generally, speaking a foreign language is easier than reading. Why? Sad to say that people nowadays are lazy readers and I admit I’m one of them. We get bored easily in reading words we cannot comprehend. And by getting bored means that you won’t be able to understand what you’re studying. Makes sense?

Not everyone agrees that reading is easier than speaking. It varies from one person to another. So let’s try to analyze the differences between these two skills.

Differences Between Reading and Speaking a Foreign Language

As we talked about earlier, reading and speaking are both part of the four foundations of language learning. That means, even though one is easier than the other, you still need to perform both of them. There is no shortcut to the learning process, everyone has their own ways to master a foreign language.

Reading

Right now you are reading this article — your eyes are freely moving from left to right because this is a “familiar” language to you, isn’t it?

You don’t encounter any problems in comprehending because these words are already stored inside your brain. It’s kind of like “visualization.” When you see these words, you already know how to read them… without actually reading it. Technically, you’re just looking at these words.

However, it’s way too different when you read a foreign language or let’s say, an “unfamiliar language.” You’re starting to produce the sound from the first letter up to the last letter of each word.

For example, when you encounter imported products with labels written in a foreign language, your mind starts to be confused. Your eyes get bigger just by looking at the unfamiliar letters. Then after a minute or two, you will eventually give up reading those “alien” words, wouldn’t you?

But if someone tells you what’s written in the label, you would easily “mimic” the words and even understand it quickly.

That’s one of the reasons why learning to read a foreign language is quite harder than speaking it. Reading requires teaching and a lot of time for training. Your brain cannot effortlessly process the foreign language at once, you need time to study and absorb the words before learning to read it.

When reading, the brain works at its best in word recognition. Your brain reads by familiarizing with the sound of letters called “Phonics instruction.” Even when you were a child, you took your time to study the letters of the alphabet, until you grow older!

The purpose of reading is to grasp information. When you read, you must fully comprehend the words because failure to recognize and process every word will result in no information retention. But remember, reading alone will not make you a fluent speaker if you don’t know how to speak the language, too.

How to improve your reading skills?

1. Read illustrated books and comic books

When you were a child, you learned your language by looking at the pictures of your favorite fairy tales. Pictures help beginners follow the story even if you don’t know all the vocabulary words.

2. Read a good dictionary

Reading a dictionary will help you look up into new words anywhere you are. You can find the meaning of each word instantly and try memorizing words gradually. Some dictionary mobile apps are free and available offline — so many that you can’t even decide which one to choose!

3. Take down notes

To avoid forgetting every word that you’ve studied, jot down the new words into your notebook, or maybe type it in your digital notes.

Although we now depend on technology, I still recommend using a real notebook. Make sure it is handy and you can carry it around. I would also suggest investing in your favorite pen. This can make your writing and learning more enjoyable at the same time. Express how you feel by writing in foreign words. Make use of your time by reviewing your notes while waiting in long queues, inside the train or bus, or even while relaxing in your favorite coffee shop. You can also use mobile apps like Google Keep, MS OneNote, and Evernote.

4. Read newspapers or online journals

Newspapers are a great source of knowledge. You will have an awareness about the politics and culture of other countries by reading. Some Journals are available online in your target language. Aside from “just reading” it, at least you are aware of what’s happening to other countries.

5. Read blogs

Blogs have become a part of the online culture. You can read blogs written on your target language from any topics like travel, health, fashion, fitness, and beauty. There are a lot of choices that can match your interests, and make sure that you choose topics you prefer so that you won’t get bored reading the articles.

6. Start memorizing words or phrases a day

Think about your goal. You will learn 80% of the language within 90 days if you start memorizing 30 words or phrases daily. Use the “Mnemonic technique” to speed up your memorization process. Mnemonics are your own technique to remember difficult words and information.

7. Watch your favorite movie/show in your target foreign language

Of course, watch it with subtitles! Observe their intonation, how they use the words and phrases in a real conversation, and how they pronounce them correctly. Watch it repeatedly until you get familiar with some words. Let me tell you, I can always watch “Game of Thrones” in my chosen foreign language even for a hundred times!

Speaking

Every person, unless impaired, will learn to speak. Speaking is natural while reading is not. Human brains are naturally wired to speak while reading needs to be directly taught. We speak as our form of communication, we speak to express our emotions.

As a child, did you learn to read first before you speak your language? No, we learned to utter small words from the age of 7 months to 1 year. Then, we mastered reading skill from the age of 5 to 6.

So if you will ask me again, I would still say that it is easier to speak a foreign language than reading it. Just like when we were babies, it’s easier for us to speak first. In learning a new foreign language, we were also like babies, it might be easier for us to speak a foreign language than reading it.

How to improve your speaking skills?

1. Find a Language Coach

“Coaching helps you take stock of where you are now in all aspects of your life, and how that compares to where you would like to be.” – Elaine Macdonald.

There’s nothing wrong when investing with a language coach. Coaches bring out the best in their players or students that would never be possible by themselves. Just like Phil Jackson guided Kobe Bryant to his path to success. Coaching empowers learners to overcome challenges and they encourage you to keep moving forward towards your ultimate goal. Your teachers will assist you by teaching you new words or phrases every day. What’s good about this is that they have expertise in your target language and their lessons are easy for beginners. Get your conversation started with your teacher and ask for their feedback.

You will definitely find the best instructor for you. Check out 14 0f The Best Language Exchange Sites to see the recommended ones.

2. Find a conversation partner

You can look for a buddy to practice your speaking skills. It can be your friends or family members. It is more fun to engage with people who have the same goal as yours since having the support of your loved ones will speed up your progress. There are also Facebook groups for language learners, joining would let you hear the insights from other language learners.

3. Value ‘fluency’ rather than ‘accuracy’

Fluency is having a smooth flow of words in a conversation where you can express yourself freely in an articulate way. Accuracy is the ability to have perfect grammar and correct vocabulary.

Yes, it’s good if you use correct grammar and vocabulary words. But you should not stress yourself too much on having the perfect grammar. For example, Americans. Even if English is their mother tongue, some still make mistakes.

What’s more important is that you can continue the flow of a conversation, that is fluency. As long as you don’t run out of words to say, then you’re good to go!

4. Set a schedule

There is no such thing as “I’m busy.” It’s just a matter of priorities.

We know that learning a new language is time-consuming. But all you need to do is to build a habit — it can be as little as 15 to 30 minutes of practice in your spare time. Avoid wasting your time on social media, well, maybe you can do that after your study time. Setting a schedule will help you be productive.

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