Language proficiency can be grouped into three dimensions of academic literacy: linguistic, cognitive, and sociocultural. In addition, there are four language domains: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. A person must be knowledgable in each of these domains in order to be language proficient.
During the process of learning a second language, it may seem logical to segment your efforts and even prioritize these domains. In this line of reasoning, you might be tempted to think that passive domains (listening & reading) are easier than active (speaking & writing) ones or, conversely, that improving your oral skills is easier or even more important than mastering the written word. However, this depends on many factors, like the complexity of the language and its grammar, in what context you are thinking of using this language, or how much this language resembles your mother tongue or some other language you've already mastered. Truth is, none of these domains is more important than the other, as all are equally required to be proficient in a language.
In fact, all these domains are so intrinsically interconnected that it is better to study them together. So, how do you achieve this objective?
Immersion is the answer
Language immersion is the process of learning a language using only the target language for a specified time frame. That means no native language skills are used for communication of any kind. It's sink or swim, so you swim.
There are different ways to achieve language immersion: living abroad, dating a foreign person, an immersive classroom setting or online learning. Aprelendo is one of the latter.
Regarding online tools, there is a catch. Although many are more or less immersive, they are not complete, since they focus on one of the dimensions of the language you are trying to learn. For example, language learning platforms that allow you to hire language teachers or speak with foreign people tend to focus on improving your speaking skills. Other tools, especially those that use cards and spaced repetition algorithms, target vocabulary acquisition.
Aprelendo was designed to overcome this as well as other limitations associated with flashcards and spaced repetition software. Let's analyze them in detail before delving into the concept of total reading.
Why using flashcards might not be a good idea to learn a new language?
If you have ever used spaced repetition software like Anki you probably know that creating new flashcards can rapidly become a very tiresome and time consuming task and, after a while, reviewing them also becomes dull and monotonous.
Also, most of these programs are not specifically designed for language learning. If they are used correctly, they might help you achieving that goal and give you the impression you are advancing your language skills. However, the overall results will be suboptimal, to say the least.
The reason for this is that flashcard programs only help you train your card deck, which most probably has little bearing on the real situations you will face. Besides, they are very easy to misuse. They usually do not encourage you to add context or visual and phonetic cues to your cards. Dealing with different verb conjugations or words with more than one meaning is also usually a problem. Of course, there are ways to handle these cases, but they are often convoluted and easy to miss for the average user.
The benefits of reading
Reading alone has some nice benefits. It allows us to acquire vocabulary in context, by presenting words and phrases as they are used, including grammar, spelling, inflections, etc. Also, the importance of commonly used words or phrases is more evident while we read them.
These benefits are enhaced whenever we are interested in the topic of the text. In that case, the context of the words or phrases we are trying to learn becomes more relevant and memorable, therefore facilitating vocabulary acquisition. Learning vocabulary that we know we will often want to use ourselves creates a hidden need to incorporate it in our long term memory.
Reading has one final advantage: we already do it a lot every day as we surf the Web. We only need to take advantage of this to learn new languages.
7 steps to practicing total reading
Reading alone would only cover one of the four dimensions mentioned above. In order to practice "total reading", you should follow these steps:
- Read short texts (the length of a newspaper article or a short story, not a book). The less proficient you are in the language, the shorter the text. Also, make sure it is at your level or slightly above it.
- Start by focusing on understanding the general meaning of the text, then its parts (paragraphs, phrases and specific words)
- Search the meaning of words and phrases you don't understand and add them to your learning stack
- Highlight these words every time you encounter them, as a way to check if you understand their meaning in each particular context.
- Listen to an audio version of the text and pay attention to pronunciation.
- Read the text out loud, trying to imitate the recording that is being played. Training mouth muscles is key to achieving a good accent. A natural and stress-free way of improving speaking skills is by repeating someone else's words without thinking what is the correct way to say this or that, or how the phrase should be constructed. Eventually, it will become second nature.
- Finally, in the dictation phase, play the audio again and try to write the words that you had previously marked as difficult.
How does Aprelendo implement total reading?
Aprelendo allows reading texts in two modes: free and assisted. Free mode lets you read texts however you like. Assisted mode, on the other hand, leads you through 5 phases:
- Reading: try to understand what the text is about. If you see words or phrases that you don't understand, look them up in the built-in dictionary.
- Listening: listen to the -automagically created- audio version of the text and pay attention to the different sounds.
- Speaking: speak on top of the recording, trying to imitate the pronunciation of each word. You can reduce the speed of the recording if necessary.
- Dictation: type the words you marked for learning as they are spoken.
- Review: this is the most critical phase for long-term language acquisition. Review all the underlined words. Make an effort to remember their meaning and pronunciation, while also paying attention to their spelling. Try to come up with alternative phrases in which you could use them. The latter is essential to turn your passive vocabulary into active vocabulary.
As you see, by using Aprelendo you will be practicing all four dimensions of the language you want to learn at the same time, in a systematic and integrated way.
Is total reading a good method for complete beginners?
Our method has proven to be very beneficial, particularly for those who are on a learning "plateau" or anyone seeking to improve their language skills. It is true that complete beginners may encounter some difficulties with this system, as their initial vocabulary is very limited and due to the fact that there are not many curated texts adapted to their level freely available online.
In any case, a good recommendation to keep in mind is to practice using texts that are at your level (or slightly above it). Thus, if you are a beginner you should try to use very short texts, with very basic vocabulary. Intermediate and advanced users, on the other hand, can try using longer and more complex texts.
To alleviate the lack of curated texts, we created the "shared texts" section, which allows our community to add and share texts that fit different levels of learning.