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Foreign Language Learning Essentials – Reading

Learning to read is the first step towards learning to write. Reading implies understanding the lettering system of a language, to begin with, but also its sound patterns, sentence construction, structure of text, and grammatical rules. On the other hand, as long as one does not read written discourses in a foreign language, one will not become familiar with written aspects of the language – that is, grammatical structures and the like.

Learning to Read – Overcoming Barriers

Whereas some languages – as for instance most European languages – share a common system of lettering, that is the alphabets, learning to read in some foreign languages is made difficult when the system of lettering is utterly different from the foreign language learner’s mother tongue. For example, Chinese and Japanese use a set of lettering symbols that represent morphemes (words with meanings) rather than phonemes (sounds), more or less similar to the Egyptian system of hieroglyphs. Learners of these languages whose mother tongue is a European language will certainly find this system of lettering rather confusing, hence learning to read in the foreign language becomes difficult. Therefore, it goes without saying that the very first step towards learning to read in a foreign language is learning the system of lettering and sound patters, followed by learning methods of sentence construction specific to the language in question. Indeed, every language has its own system of sentence construction and punctuation, which a foreign language learner should recognize so that s/he may learn to read in the foreign language in question. Whereas in most languages, writing starts from left to right, in Urdu and Arabic writing goes from right to left, whereas in Mandarin Chinese it is often done vertically. Hence, it is equally important to understand these aspects of the writing system of a language so as to be able to read in the language.

Written v/s Spoken Language

Spoken style varies greatly from written style in most languages. Therefore, in order to attain a satisfactory level of proficiency in a foreign language – that is in both written and oral aspects – the learner should learn to make out the differences between these two aspects of the language. As far as sentence structures are concerned, spoken style favors short sentences whereas written discourses comprise longer sentences. This feature often presents difficulties to foreign language learners while they are attempting to read in the foreign language. Becoming familiar with the system of puncuation equally helps in learning to read in any language. Furthermore, spoken style in most languages allows for omissions like pronouns and auxiliary verbs, while written language does not. Moreover, whereas spoken language tends to incorporate contractions and colloquialisms, written style is more cautious in using the same. Grammatical rules are indeed more rigid when it comes to the written aspect of a language, which may hamper reading. Hence, becoming familiar with the basic grammatical and sentence construction structures equally helps in reading.

Conclusively, it is relevant to mention that unless one learns to read in a foreign language, one can never becoming familiar with the culture behind the language, and unless one understands a culture, one cannot fully understand a language.