Language learners want to soar.
We dream of reaching new levels of fluency, flying high like an eagle and straight into foreign language nirvana.
We want it all.
So how, then, can we make that happen more easily?
Let’s take a quick peek back down Memory Lane.
When we first tottered off to kindergarten, we already had a grasp on how our native language works. We could already speak, think and dream in our native language without any real effort. Most of us could read and write to some extent, even if reading felt laborious and our writing skills were unrefined. Teachers jump on that knowledge, encouraging more in-depth language skills using a very important tool.
Graded readers are that tool. They’re ideal for teaching reading in a first language, and instructors know that. The good news? They perform equally well with any subsequent languages you choose to learn after your native language, and many publishers have made graded readers specifically for this purpose.
Everything You Need to Know About Graded Readers
What are graded readers?
Graded readers are books written for language learners. As in, they’re completely geared toward increasing language ability! How awesome is that?
Their use of limited vocabulary and grammar that’s appropriate to the skill level of the reader allow reading to happen—at all levels, even a basic one—without a struggle. And that, my friends, is a gift.
They often introduce vocabulary, grammar and cultural details with glossaries, indexes or on-page notes (think footnotes and margin notes). Some are formatted to have one page of text and the following page with definitions and notes side by side. There are graded readers that have audio accompanying the book, which is one of my favorite features. Hey, why not learn how to pronounce while increasing other language skills? Win-win!
But how can graded readers amp up language learning? Let’s take a peek at how graded readers are structured.
The most basic or beginner-level graded readers are just that—basic. For example, most children’s books are lower grades. They’re perfect for the beginner level, with a few little challenges here and there to keep brains working. As reading skills improve, the next grade—or level—of books is accessible to the reader. Language and reading skills build upon each other. As proficiency increases, intermediate level books come into the mix.
Graded readers improve reading skills and proficiency in a logical manner. Vocabulary increases and thinking skills broaden in the target language while stories progress in difficulty to match those growing skills.
What does “graded” mean?
You might be wondering how graded readers are actually graded. Good question!
The Extensive Reading Foundation grades readers according to vocabulary. It’s all about the words—how many we acquire and our ability to use them.
Can anyone benefit from using graded readers?
Remember how we hit grade school, with limited reading and writing abilities? We had a core vocabulary but a thirst for knowledge. It’s the same with learning a second—or third or fourth!—language. As long as you’ve got a basic vocabulary, you should be able to read. You won’t understand everything at first, but that comes with the vocabulary and language skills graded readers encourage.
You might be wondering how extensive a vocabulary is considered the minimum for reading in a foreign language. Most agree that 90-95% of the words should be familiar, both for conversation and reading.
You’re getting discouraged, aren’t you? Don’t go there! Even though research shows knowing 95% of the words on a page makes reading a snap, with the help of graded readers, reading is possible even without being familiar with that many words. It’s not as easy, but it’s not impossible—and that’s what counts!
At first you’ll probably guess the meanings of many new-to-you vocabulary words. That’s okay—keep the guesses coming. With time, those words will become part of your skill set and help send you flying on to the next level. There are plenty of great benefits that anyone can get from working with graded readers, such as:
- Increased confidence is a biggie! Reading in a new language is a big deal—strut your stuff, fluff out your feathers and shine.
- Gaining a more extensive vocabulary in your target language is a huge payoff. Each level of graded reader incorporates new terminology.
- Graded readers have been proven to improve reading skills and encourage thinking skills in a target language.
Listen, they worked for us in grade school through high school, didn’t they? They still work—in any language!
Which graded readers should you choose?
Definitely read something you’re interested in. It’s a fact that we pay attention to anything that naturally catches and holds our attention.
Don’t even think about choosing a book that you feel like you should read unless it’s something you want to read, too.
Read slightly above your comfort zone—encourage your mind to stretch a bit. Again, don’t expect to know all the words on the page. Challenge yourself.
Say Hello to 9 World Languages with Graded Readers!
Hola! Spanish Graded Readers
Spanish graded readers are so plentiful that there’s sure to be a boatload that pique your interest. Truly, the selection is nearly endless. Narrowing it down a bit, here are a couple of solid options.
European Schoolbooks Limited is a Spanish language learner’s dream. They offer not only various levels but diverse subject matter as well.
Alvaro Parra Pinto is a bilingual Venezuelan journalist who’s the founder of the Easy Spanish Language Center. He has published over 50 Spanish graded readers which can be bought on Amazon for a minimal cost. They even offer my favorite, “The Little Prince”!
Bon Jour! French Graded Readers
French is so beautiful and the graded readers for this language are just as attractive. Vibrant colors and interesting titles—there’s something for everyone.
Ebooks Libres & Gratuits offers an array of free books, most of which are graded readers. Bonus? The site is in French, so you’re practicing reading skills even as you choose new material.
Children’s Library contains 59 children’s books to read online. AvaxHome has 85 French titles to read online. Both of these are excellent options—load up your tablet and your graded readers will always be at hand. All those lost hours sitting in waiting rooms, on coffee break or between meetings can become productive language learning time.
Konnichiwa! Japanese Graded Readers
One of my favorite sources for Japanese graded readers is White Rabbit Japan. They currently offer levels 0 – 3 but level 4 is on the horizon. The readers can be downloaded right onto a tablet, so there’s no portability issue here. Plus, native Japanese speakers read the books aloud so proper pronunciation is guaranteed.
The company cdJapan stocks a number of Japanese items, including books and graded readers. Their graded readers may seem a bit pricey but they’re high quality and the pictures are superb, so they’re definitely worth a look!
Hallo! German Graded Readers
German readers are abundantly available.
German Book Shop is an excellent source for graded readers. You’ll find fables, fairy tales and simple stories for the lower grades, working up to intricate plots and stories written by popular German authors, can be found here. Some come with CDs so accurate pronunciation is made more accessible.
Black Cat is another terrific source. Their titles use both book and audio CD to reinforce German reading and listening skills at once.
Klett provides teacher resources and also stocks materials for cultural studies. Learn the language and culture, all in one place!
Hello! English Graded Readers
There are so many sources for English graded readers it was hard to choose only a few.
Teaching English Blog offers links to no-cost English graded readers, a few chapters at a time. They’ve broken the stories up into manageable chunks—and free is always a bonus!
Penguin Readers, found at Learning English, are a series of simplified novels, film novelizations and original titles that have been written for learners of English as a second language. There are six levels of difficulty, and they begin with familiar titles like “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving and go up to Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.”
A huge assortment of titles—with discount pricing for bulk orders—is offered by Pearson English Readers. They even put forward sample downloads so you can judge what level you’re at before buying anything.
Nǐ hǎo! Chinese Graded Readers
Chinese is such an exciting language to learn!
Mandarin Companion offers a limited selection but they seem beautiful and the artwork is enticing.
Sinolingua publishes a variety of Chinese readers. Each is a bit different and focuses on reinforcing a specific vocabulary level. “Graded Chinese Reader 500 Words” is a compilation of 15 award-winning Chinese stories. “Graded Chinese Reader 2500 Words” features short stories and novellas written by contemporary Chinese writers. Pinyin is added for those who are more comfortable reading with it.
And for more on Chinese readers, this FluentU blog post is an excellent reference tool.
The Endless Horizons of Graded Readers
Feeling even more adventurous and working on a language other than one of these six? Don’t despair—we’ve got you covered. There are virtually no language limits to graded readers. A little searching yields fabulous results!
Olá! European Schoolbooks Limited carries a selection of Portuguese graded readers. Divided into three levels, they’re suitable for children as well as adult learners.
Namaste! “The Routledge Intermediate Hindi Reader” features Hindi texts, film dialogues and contemporary Hindi literature. It’s available in several formats and even contains interesting cultural notes!
Ciao! The Italian Bookshop is stocked with Italian graded readers. They carry an incredible mix of contemporary as well as classic stories, and there are several titles available for each grade. Catering to language learners from early childhood straight through to adults, it’s the go-to spot if you’re looking to upgrade your Italian language skills.
By now you’ve probably gotten the idea that graded readers can be an indispensable tool in any language learning program. With something for everyone, there’s really no reason not to read and start soaring in your chosen language.
Good luck, and have fun!
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