Everyone learning a foreign language is familiar with the concept of ‘level’.
Some materials are just too hard for where you’re currently at, others might seem just right, whereas the texts you worked on months ago will now, hopefully, feel easy.
We all know that it can be difficult (impossible!) to understand films and so on in the languages we’re learning, or to read an authentic article, say from a newspaper, which is written for educated native-speaker readers.
And yet, clearly, listening to the language as it is really used, and reading articles written in it, are important long-term goals, even if they seem unachievable for the moment.
Plus, it seems likely that the more we read and listen, the more meaningful our studies will be, the more new words we’ll pick up, and the more we’ll feel familiar with the grammar and structures of the languages we’re learning.
Reading and listening to the language you’re studying are unarguably good ways to speed your progress, and in any case, training yourself to listen and to read effectively in the new language is obviously going to be necessary at some point.
But authentic materials are HARD! Often too hard.
The solution to this quandry?
‘Graded’ texts, that is to say materials written by language teachers for learners like you, and designated as suitable for those who have reached or are above a particular level.
The CEFR level system uses six level bands, which are (from easiest to hardest): A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2.
Assume that students at the C levels should be reading and listening to authentic (real-life) texts and audio without too much difficulty. The graded materials at those levels, then, will approximate texts written for native-speakers.
People at the intermediate stage (the B levels) are not yet ready for ‘real’ or ‘nearly real’ listening and reading, but still need to build their skills in anticipation. So the graded materials will be an in-between step, aimed at challenging students to develop their skills further.
The easiest materials (at A1 and A2 levels) are designed to be unintimidating, which means short chapters and simple or simpler grammar and vocabulary. Their purpose is to encourage learners to get into the HABIT of reading and listening to the language they’re learning as early on in the process as possible.
The more reading & listening you do early on, the easier everything that follows will be. You’ll already be used to, for example, guessing meaning from context in a text, or getting the gist of the spoken language even when you can’t pick out every word.
Graded materials are useful at every language-learning level, but their real power can be seen when they are incorporated as an integral part of our studies right from Day 1 with a new language.
The difference between a learner who regularly reads and listens to graded materials, and one who never or rarely spends time on anything other than grammar and vocabulary exercises, is plain to see, if for no other reason than that a student who has no fear of reading and listening (because she is using materials that have been specifically written for her level, remember) comes across as being more confident and more autonomous.
How to find graded materials for your level? Our Catalog page lists materials by type and in level order, which should help.
But importantly, there’s always a free sample chapter, which you should absolutely look at before deciding to buy a particular title.
Have a look at the first few lines, the first paragraph, the first page, even the whole of the first chapter. Can you manage to figure out what’s going on in the story without too much effort, without constantly reaching for the dictionary?
If not, step down a level, try another free sample chapter, keep looking until you find something that you’re comfortable with. Don’t forget to check out the free online audio, if there is one. Usually the link is at the top of the first chapter…
Then, if the story grabs you, go ahead and buy a copy! Read a chapter a day, perhaps. There are usually eight short chapters, so in not much more than a week, you’ll be done.
At which point, you could check out other titles at the same level, or look at free sample chapters for the next level (or half-level) up, to see if you’re ready for something a little more challenging.
Aim to establish a reading/listening HABIT. Move up to the next level only when you’re comfortable, no need to rush,
Gradually, month by month, your reading/listening skills will improve, as will your knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary of the language you’re learning.
With graded materials, such as ‘easy readers’ and ‘parallel texts’, you’ll master the language you’re studying step-by-step, almost without realising it!
Here are some links to get you started (don’t forget to check the level by looking at the free sample chapter…)
Italian easy readers | Italian-English parallel texts | French easy readers | French-English parallel texts | Spanish easy readers | Spanish-English parallel texts | German easy readers | German-English parallel texts
Or view everything, organised by type and level, on our Catalog page.
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