Reading is one of the best ways to acquire a new language but especially at the beginning it is easy to feel overwhelmed or lost.

Kató Lomb was one of the most well-known interpreters of all time. Growing up monolingual in Hungary, she taught herself no less than 16 languages. When she once reminisced about how she learned Russian, she recalled moving into a flat in Budapest that had been abandoned by a Russian family during the Nazi occupation. The latter had left behind countless romance novels – "This is where my Russian came from," as Kató Lomb would say later in her life.

Most experienced language learners swear by the power of reading. And we can harness that power ourselves, provided that we keep a few basic guidelines in mind.

Let's start with one of the key principles: DO make sure to choose "comprehensible input." Perhaps unsurprisingly, forcing yourself to read a text that is completely (or even mostly) incomprehensible to you will be both ineffective and frustrating. The ideal foreign language text should be mostly comprehensible to you, meaning that while you might not understand some of the words, you should be able to get "the gist" of a story, the general meaning.

Contrary to what some may believe, this does not mean that reading is not an option for complete beginners – provided that you can find the right resources. For a lot of languages, there are very simple beginner stories that only use a limited number of words.

Talking about words, DON'T look up every word. It is very tempting, no doubt. But if you have chosen your story correctly, i.e., made sure that it is comprehensible to you, then you will have enough known vocabulary to at least have a general idea of what's going on. One of the best things we can do when it comes to reading in a foreign language is get used to just reading and enjoying the experience instead of thinking about what we don't know.

Key Principle #2: DO go for what you are interested in. This is a very important point. As adult readers, we have to remember that we are no longer in school. There are no "required reading" lists. And while we're at it, we should also eliminate the "guilty" from "guilty pleasures". The idea is simple: If you like what you read, if it is interesting to you, you will read more of it, without it feeling like a chore or something that you have to do. This also applies to the genre of literature that you are reading. If you enjoy comics, then by all means go and read some comic books. You don't have to justify your choices to anyone, so nothing is off the table.

Whatever you do, DON'T answer comprehension questions. When you are still at a beginner level in a foreign language, you will probably read a lot of graded readers. What you'll notice is that a lot of them come with several pages of exercises and comprehension questions towards the end. Once again, there is a risk that we might revert back to a school-like attitude and feel the need to "test ourselves" or "reinforce what we've just learned". The effectiveness of comprehension questions is at the very least questionable and there is the danger that we might become frustrated. So, what should we do instead? Just read another story. Keep the activity pleasurable and you will never have to bring yourself to do it.

DO read it once – and then read it again! Repetitio est mater studiorum ("repetition is the mother of studies") is one of those old saying that stood the test of time. Reading stories you've read before again is an effective way to improve your skills in a foreign language. However, it is important not to misunderstand this point. The brain likes repetition, but it also likes experiencing new things. Once you finish a story, feel free to move on to a new one to keep things fresh and interesting. After a while, you can come back to a previous story, and you might even find that you suddenly notice things that you did not notice before.

And here is a final bonus tip: DON'T rule out translations. There is no reason to feel obligated to read native literature written for native speakers of your target language – in fact, most of it will probably be too difficult for you anyway. Does that mean you're stuck with graded readers and simplified stories? Not necessarily. If you have a favourite English book series, it is worth checking to see if it has been translated into your target language. If that is the case, you are in luck: You can read a book that is written in a non-simplified style but with the advantage that you are already familiar with the story, which helps with both understanding and interest.

Translations are a great way to bridge the gap between the graded readers and short stories of the early stages and the moment when you'll be able to read the most beautifully written native prose.