Kindle – A Great Tool For Language Learning

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Education / Language Learning / Online Education / Study Tips / Teaching Methodology

Kindle – A Great Tool For Language Learning

A Kindle is a device, also known as an e-reader, that allows its users to read many different forms of writing and digital media on it. You can encounter different options such as having to download, buy, and possibly even borrow books. Therefore, you can almost think of it like a digital library that you can browse for as long as you need to. Until you find the right material for you, of course. Instantly, it might appear to many that Kindles are only used for recreational use, and for reading things that you enjoy. However, it is relevant to note that you can also use it for the purpose of learning and studying. This includes learning a language. This article will highlight just how useful for language learning it can be. 

  • Reading in a foreign language.
  • Useful features to enhance your learning
  • Productive Learning with foreign content
  • A Kindle isn’t perfect
  • Final Thoughts

Reading in a foreign language

It can seem like a pretty daunting task when you’re getting started. There’s a tendency for students to read a few pages then give up because they don’t understand everything they’ve read. Don’t let this be you! Reading is one of the best ways to gain fluency in your target languages. It undoubtedly exposes you to a wider range of language than a textbook can. It gives a good idea of how sentences are structured. Reading also helps students get familiar with the nuances of expressions and words that you may find difficult to manufacture in the classroom.

Over the years, we’ve found that one of the best ways to get students to read and keep reading in the target language is by encouraging them to use a Kindle. Using a Kindle is unique as it allows the reader to look up unfamiliar words in the target language. And they don’t have to reach for a physical dictionary or online translator to do so. Instead, you can immediately look up unfamiliar words by clicking on them. See below where I look up the word ‘grele’ during my reading in French.

Useful features to enhance your learning

Each Kindle has dictionaries in the library which are automatically added when you purchase a book in a foreign language. Kindle also has a translation feature, but the dictionary is what you should use. It provides multiple, nuanced definitions for each word you look up. You may even sometimes get examples of how the word is used. You can change the dictionary you’re using by clicking on the dictionary’s name and selecting the other option. This feature is the most convenient on a physical Kindle. You can also download the Kindle app on your phone or use the Kindle cloud reader on your PC to use the same feature. 

The dictionary feature may be the most useful for foreign language learners. However, it is not the only benefit of using a Kindle over a physical book. Kindle’s highlighting and notes features are also an invaluable tool that lets you save words to look up later. Similarly, if there’s a sentence or grammatical structure you haven’t seen before and you want to go over it with your tutor you can highlight it for later. The highlights you’ve taken have then been categorised by their page and chapter.

Best of all, you can export these notes by clicking ‘export notes’. It will then send a pdf and excel spreadsheets version of the notes you’ve taken to your email address. The new Kindle Paperwhite also has a feature called ‘vocabulary builder’. It speeds up this process by automatically saving any words you have looked up the definition of. Amazingly, you can practice these as flashcards on your Kindle itself. Revising the language you find in books is the best way to improve your language skills through reading. 

Productive Learning with foreign content

Reading books or watching films in your target language are passive learning exercises. Whilst they are enjoyable ways of practicing your language comprehension, they won’t necessarily make you better at writing and speaking the language. To ensure that you are embedding what you are reading into your long-term memory, it is important that you use active learning practices like flashcards.

Once you’ve exported your list of vocabulary and phrases you can easily make them into flashcards on Anki or Quizlet. Anki is an application that uses spaced repetition to help get vocabulary acquisition into your long-term memory. So if you get an answer wrong it will repeat the card the next day whilst correct answers will be repeated a week later. Only by using these kinds of learning practices can students put to use the reading they are doing in the target language. 

Another way of transforming passive reading into active learning is by reading out loud to practice pronunciation. Re-read sentences you trip up on until the words flow effortlessly. This kind of physical practice is extremely useful for speaking later. If you’re unsure about your pronunciation of words it is also a good idea to get an audio version of your book. You can listen to it whilst reading then mimic the speaker’s pronunciation. Some books even have a companion book on audible so that you can read both simultaneously. You can see if any of the books you’re reading have an audio companion if you follow this link

A Kindle isn’t perfect

Although the Kindle seems like a cure-all learning tool, many students still fall into a couple of traps. The first is to look up every unknown word they come across. Despite the Kindle making the look-up process far quicker, it is still not worth translating every word because you just won’t be able to remember all of them. Furthermore, it is likely they won’t be useful to you in the future. Stick with the timeless language teacher suggestion of only learning the words that come up repeatedly. If a word is important you may even learn it from its context which is a much more effective way of acquiring language as it gets you to think more. However, this only applies to beginner readers for whom looking up EVERY word would ruin any fluency in their reading. 

Hiring an experienced tutor from Learn&Co is a valuable idea as they can explain any words or phrases at a level that can be understood by the student most efficiently and effectively. Once you are more confident and understanding most words you can begin to look them all up and even highlight difficult grammatical structures. As Kato Lomb writes in How I Learn Languages, ‘at first, we should read with a blitheness practically bordering on superficiality; later on, with a conscientiousness close to distrust.’ By using the built-in dictionary sparingly, the reading process will be much more enjoyable. As a result, the language acquisition more gradual but longer-lasting. 

Final Thoughts

The reason we recommend using a Kindle is that reading is a good way to improve fluency in a foreign language. By reading fiction you begin to familiarise yourself with a language and improve upon your vocabulary. As Toussaint wrote, ‘we learn grammar from a language not language from grammar’. 

But what to read? Firstly, choose something you find interesting, and that you will want to keep reading. This will be different for everyone but it’s a unique way of exploring a differing cultural perspective on a thing you love. I can also recommend adapted classic texts for language learners which will also familiarise you with a foreign culture. Check out this guide on how to find foreign language books in the Kindle store. Alternatively, a selection of short stories or plays (like those by Leonard Confino in French) could also work if the idea of a novel is intimidating.

Some people, such as Learn&Co’s founder Maria Toubbe, prefer reading translations of books they already know so that the plot is less important than the language they are acquiring. More intermediate or advanced learners should read contemporary books which you can find on prize lists like the Prix Goncourt or Booker Prize.

To conclude, the introduction of e-readers is great for language learners. We are no longer weighed down by heavy bilingual dictionaries and can instead find everything we need at the click of a button. If students avoid a few key mistakes they can utilise this new feature to their advantage and begin to learn through reading. If you would like to find out more about learning languages and think you’ll need support with your foreign language learning, look no further than our incredible teachers at Learn&Co. They will be more than happy to help you with your book-related queries. 

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