Learning Languages More Effectively Through Extensive Reading Practice

Dr. Kató Lomb (1909-2003) spoke 16 languages. Born in Hungary she learned English her first language at the age of 24! She is also was one of the first simultaneous interpreters in this world. In this free pdf ebook she describes how she used extensive reading to learn so many languages. Many polyglots use the same approach as Kató Lomb.

Prof. Stephen Krashen is well known for his research on extensive reading. He says “is the most powerful tool we have in language education, first and second”.

To read in a foreign language requires effort. Therefore Stephen Krashen and Kató Lomb recommend to find text the reader really engages with. It should be something you would also read for pleasure in your native language.

The second recommendation is not to interrupt reading by consulting the dictionary for each new word. Kató Lomb says keep on reading. If the word is important it will show up in another context. Over time you will sense what the unknown word could mean. If you still haven’t understood the meaning of the new word or text go back and reread it. You will be astonished how much more you will understand the second time and then the third time.

Why this method works ? Our brains are build to decipher patterns. This is how we orientate ourselves. Think of the last time you had to walk or drive to a new place. And how was it when you walked or drove this new way the next time? How much more did you recognize along the way which you couldn’t when you navigated it for the first time.

See the example below how well our brains decipher patterns:

“fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too. Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can. i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghi t pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs forwrad it.”

Research on extensive Reading:

1) “Extensive reading enhanced vocabulary recognition, reading performance and general performance ” See

2) “Despite the fact that ER develops FL learners‟ L2 vocabulary, grammar, spelling, reading speed, reading comprehension and reading motivation, it did not improve the participants‟ motivation for speaking across the proficiency levels” See

One Response to “Learning Languages More Effectively Through Extensive Reading Practice”

  1. David Lloyd-Jones Says:

    Hi, Peter,

    A pleasure to run across you through your good “newspaper Chinese” contribution to Memrise.

    You seem to be one of the sane ones — which shouldn’t seem like an oddity, but apparently there’s something about language learning, and particularly the learning of Asian languages, that makes Westerners very often turn weird.

    Yes, I have theories about this. No, I won’t bother you with them. Back to my Chinese!

    But as I say, a pleasure to run across you. All the best for your studies, and of course for staving off the lurking dementia out there in the shadows.



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