I know the best way to learn a language is to go to a country which speaks that language, but what if you don't have that convenience.

Is it possible to become fluent simply through reading books in that language- so starting off with simple children books and then progressing.

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    How would you be fluent without speaking the language? You would not have practiced the pronunciation. For some languages, such as Chinese, learning the pronunciation is already very hard even with speakers to listen to your pronunciation and coach you. Now maybe it's possible to become a "fluent reader" and still not be a "fluent speaker" or "fluent listener" - I don't know how the definintions of "fluent" cope with the distinctions. Commented Nov 16, 2013 at 10:05
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    There are four skills involved, and they develop at different rates for different people learning different languages. It is possible to become a fluent reader without speaking the language; speech is time-limited and developing the speed necessary requires an immense amount of experience and practice. I can learn to speak understandably in many languages rather fast, for instance, but it takes forever for me to hear fast enough to deal with native's unmonitored discourse. If the language uses an alphabetic orthography, knowing the sound is always helpful, but not enough for reading.
    – jlawler
    Commented Nov 16, 2013 at 16:35
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    This question and its potential answers very closely resemble a previous question: What are some of the disadvantages of learning a language through book-study as opposed to immersion?
    – Cerberus
    Commented Nov 16, 2013 at 16:47
  • I assume that question may be better off on CogSci. I suppose, that without speaking, only reading, you'd be unable to formulate sentences, only to repeat whole word sequences, like observed by low functioning autustic individuals. You'd have to learn speaking, being able to understand everything in the same time.
    – user1609
    Commented Dec 25, 2013 at 16:48
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    I’m voting to close this question because this question nowadays belongs to Language Learning Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 16:25

7 Answers 7


I think you're combining three questions.

1. Can you learn to speak fluently without speaking?

The answer to this is obviously NO. You need to practice what you want to do. You can learn to read fluently without being able to speak very well (I've taught courses doing that), although you need to learn some sort of subvocalisation. But obviously there are fluent readers of dead languages like Ancient Egyptian who don't speak them.

2. Can you learn to speak fluently without visiting the country where that language is spoken?

The answer to this is obviously YES. Champollion (the man who deciphered the Rosetta Stone) could famously speak Arabic fluently enough to confuse native speakers without ever visiting Egypt. And this was before audio recordings were available. But he kept diaries in the language and practiced all the time (I assume with native speakers but I don't know if that was the case).

3. Can you improve your spoken language by reading?

The answer to that is also YES. Reading will expand your vocabulary and your grasp of the idioms and underlying constructions of the language. Ideally, you will want to combine this with speaking practice so that you can translate this knowledge into conversation. Reading will also give you cultural background to the language that simple exposure to it by living in the country will not. Imagine how much you have missed by not growing up in the country. Books will contain so much of that background knowledge. But so will films and TV shows, so I'd recommend a combination of both.


It is also important to note that living in a country where a language is spoken does not guarantee that you will learn to speak it at all, let alone with any degree of fluency.

Other things to remember are that there are many languages (most languages in fact) that are only spoken by relatively small communities within larger countries so living among them is not as visiting a country and takes a lot more effort to make happen.

Finally, fluency and language competence in general are fluid concepts without clear boundaries, although there are certain folk pre-conceptions.


Just sharing an experience to answer your question.

I'm not a native English speaker and have learned English only by reading and listening. I have read tens of English books up until now and have watched hundreds of hours of English movies and TV shows. Now my reading and listening skills are very good. But I have not spoken a word! Well, maybe "a word" would be exaggerating, but I can honestly say that I have not spoken more than a handful of sentences, or in the sense of time, more than a few minutes. My writing is not good also (as you may see from this same answer), because I've used it only in some emails and QA's like here.

Sometimes that I try to speak English (with myself) I clearly see that I cannot. Finding and choosing words in Real-time takes more time and I speak very slowly and have to think some seconds for some words.

So my empirical answer for you is most likely, NO. I'm not excluding the fact that some geniuses may be out of this conclusion, but for most of people the answer is No.

The four skills of language (Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening) are related to each other to some degree, and improving some, will automatically improve the others to a lesser degree, but they are independent more than being interrelated and only improving some to final extent, would not bring others to that level.

  • Can't writing in QA websites considered speaking too? Commented Sep 12, 2023 at 14:26
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    @SnackExchange Not really, no. Writing is a much slower process, where your brain has much more time to think of words, find the correct morphological forms, etc. – and most importantly, you can go back and edit if you write something wrong. None of this is possible when speaking, where the regular rate of speech determines how quickly you need to come up with the right words (or appear slow), and where the only way to correct yourself is by repeating or starting over. Commented Sep 12, 2023 at 15:24

I would say reading alone is not sufficient. There must be a lot of other activities involved. First of all effective vocabulary work with good dictionaries. Then effective grammar work. A sound knowledge of grammar is absolutely necessary. And then the most important thing of all, you have to develop your own faculty of formulation and of expressing yourself. And this must be developed in several stages, beginning with simple tasks such as giving definitions of words, explaining grammar points in your own words. On the next level you can try to give summaries of sectons of novels you read. Later you can try to give pictures of whole novels you have read or to write articles on topics you are interested in. Participation in forum discussions on the Internet is very helpful.


Dominik Lukes's answer sums things up really well. Now, that shouldn't discourage you from reading a lot, especially if that's what you like to do.

Famous polyglot Kató Lomb learned most of her languages reading romance and detective stories because that's what she liked to do. She was also a translator and interpret but novels were still her favorite way of picking up the bulk of the language. You might want to pick up her book, How I Learn Languages, it's a good read and she describes how she picked up her languages.

Overall, I think picking up languages on one's own is underrated. I'm still to find scientific research on the topic despite what I see time and again: people who picked up a language mostly from modern media (books, music, TV shows, Internet), as opposed to school and language classes. They may not have had much experience speaking with a live person but repeating lyrics or expressing themselves for hours online, even if just in writing, clearly has had a positive impact on their fluency. It's not the obvious way to learn for native speakers but it seems one very reasonable way for foreigners to pick up a new language.

I only hope this helps.


Yes you can learn how to make yourself understood by reading literature in the language, and by reading descriptions of language use, but you can only learn how to communicate in interaction with speakers, preferably native speakers who are monolingual. No amount of description can replace actual interaction, and there are certainly aspects of language use that only interaction can teach you.


This may not be a direct answer to your question, but since your problem seems to be restriction on travel rather than obligation to use only books, you have other possibilities.

You can learn a lot by watching films and TV programs in the language of interest. Where I live, we get TV programs from many countries. Films on DVD can be good too, and you can buy them by internet. One thing I found quite productive is to watch a film with both sound and subtitles in the language you are learning.


Yes it is, but you have to have contact with spoken english every day during many years (2 or more) depends on what's your mother tongue(your brain have to get used with sound patterns of the language), in order to read properly you have to know how it's sounds, so i think that read while listen to the audiobook may be a good option.

if there is some mistakes i apologize, english is not my mother tongue, in fact is not my second yet, i am on the acquisition process(9 months of listening and reading). I really belive in the natural process(comprehensible input) so i am not worried about speaking and pronunciation yet.

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