groupreadingI often joke that I like to learn foreign languages because it feels so good when I stop. It’s not a process that comes easily to me; whatever side of the brain it requires isn’t my strongest.

But I recently came across a website that offers tips on learning a language, and it occurred to me that many of these apply to encouraging kids to read, too.

For instance, did you know our brains are programmed to remember words learned in conversation better than words learned from textbooks? Yes, learning in a social setting is more stimulating and effective. So, reading with your child is probably that much more effective than setting her up with a book in the corner.

Indeed, some of my fondest memories are of my father reading to the six of us kids by kerosene lantern in a vacation cabin or tent. Or my mother gathering us on the back patio in summer to read classics to us. They taught us a love for words before we were even able to read.

Another tip: One hour of foreign-language conversation is the equivalent of 5 hours in the classroom and 10 hours of studying by yourself. Wow, that’s pretty specific, and my own experience supports it. (I’ve studied Spanish, Russian, German and French, but am competent only in Spanish.) That basically reinforces the tip above. I.e., kids probably thrive on picking up new words from conversation, so it behooves us to pause when they ask what something means.

Next tip: When you learn a new word, try to use it several times immediately. Okay, we can make that into something fun when teaching children to read.

The rest of the tips may be more specific to foreign-language learning than inspiring a love of reading in children, but here they are anyway; convert them as you wish!

  • You need only 500 to 1000 words to hold a conversation, and it’s more important to chat with simple sentences than it is to concentrate on learning lots of new words.
  • Try not to be a perfectionist. Making embarrassing mistakes is part of the process.
  • Try to think in the language in between conversations, and carry a foreign-language dictionary (pocket-size or downloaded) to ensure you do so effectively.
  • Small classes are more effective than large ones, and one-on-one tutoring is the most effective use of time.
  • Textbooks and flashcards are useful mostly for the early stages of learning a foreign language.
  • Studying intensely for a short time is more effective than studying a little once a week or less.
  • 100 words form 50% of all spoken conversation
  • 1,000 words form 80% of all spoken conversation
  • 3,000 words form 99% of all spoken conversation
  • Finally, date a native speaker (!), or find conversation partners through organizations like Live Mocha, ConversationExchange.com or Meetup.com foreign-language conversation groups.

These tips are from MarkManson.

Thanks, Mark!