Teaching Reading

The ability to read is essential for full participation in society in almost every context and country. In literate societies – societies where communication takes place in written as well as oral forms – the ability to interpret and process printed text is assumed in almost every situation and is foundational to full participation in education, work, and community.

Your learners may be focused on developing oral/aural skills and say that they aren’t so interested in being able to read the language. To help them expand their thinking, you can point out that they use their first language reading skills frequently, and note that they will probably need target language reading skills for some of the same reasons:

  • To carry out everyday reading tasks (street signs, building identifiers, package labels, menus, train schedules) so they don’t starve or get lost when traveling in a country where the language is used for written communication
  • To read news, blogs, and other information sources on the web or in print so they know what’s going on
  • To read texts and social media posts from friends

In terms of language learning, reading has these benefits:

  • It is a great way to develop and reinforce vocabulary and increase knowledge of culturally and linguistically appropriate sentence structure, discourse organization, and writing style
  • It’s often the best way to learn about everyday life, culture, and customs in countries and cultures where the language is a medium of communication
  • It provides the main connection to the history and literature that make up a major portion of capital-C Culture

Of course, if your learners are planning to pursue higher levels of proficiency in the language, or take content-area courses in academic contexts where the target language is the medium of instruction, they will need to read extended text. Similarly, if they plan to use their language skills in business or other international contexts, they will need to be able to read and interpret relevant reading material.

You can also note that reading in any language has these advantages:

  • Reading content material broadens knowledge and deepens understanding in areas of interest
  • Because it is a complex activity, reading builds and strengthens brain connections and improves concentration
  • Reading for pleasure reduces stress and promotes relaxation
  • The more you read, the better you get at it

Read More on Teaching Reading

  • Goals and techniques for teaching reading
  • Teaching reading strategies
  • Developing reading activities
  • Using textbook reading activities
  • Using technology to teach reading
  • Assessing reading proficiency
  • Resources for teaching reading

Read Insights and Observations on Reading


Some material for this section was drawn from “Reading in the Beginning and Intermediate College Foreign Language Class” by Heidi Byrnes, in Modules for the Professional Preparation of Teaching Assistants in Foreign Languages (Grace Stovall Burkart, Ed.; Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics, 1998).