How is Language Acquisition Influenced by Reading?
I have read everything that has fallen into my hands ever since I can remember, and that goes for both my native tongue, Spanish, and my second language, English. I remember waiting in line and reading and re-reading a thousand times a sign on a window directly in front of me! Sometimes it can be maddening being this way, but in the long run, I firmly believe that my passion for reading has finally paid off!
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Marcela C. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
When I began studying English, and I was about 11, I started what it seems now like a race! A race against who? Me! Every new word, meaning, phrase, lyrics I would learn from English, was like a treasure hunt! A new prize! Written things on walls, train-stations, public restrooms, schools, graffiti, you name it! Every new knowledge gain was my gem! Nevertheless, I was not your everyday child, right?
The Problem of Technology
Children these days are given a laptop or a cell phone to distract themselves with. I distracted myself with books! My mother was an elementary and later a high school and university teacher. My father, a pharmacist whose sole guilty pleasure, was sitting on his favorite armchair to read the dictionary. Our Christmas presents often included books, and we were psyched about them! We were always involved in plays at her school since we were her ‘extras.’ In summary, the literature was deeply ingrained in our early language development. I can certainly vouch for our parents’ love of reading instilled in us. We are six, and I can speak to the effects that this type of upbringing caused in every one of us. We are all professionals, with more than one career and leading roles in our communities and professional lives. And for myself, I have gained a lot of knowledge by reading. I am a self-taught C1 English teacher who is finally getting a certification for her language skills. I am hoping to succeed in my attempt!
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As for the question at hand, it was by far the one, and only that caught my attention from the start. As a book lover myself, I can relate to this topic from my own experience.
In my opinion, you can improve your language skills by reading. It is glad, not only mine. Lauffer (cited by Pietilä & Merikivi, 2014) established in 1999 that “vocabulary is the most important factor in reading comprehension in general, far more important than syntax or general reading strategies.”
In a study reported by the above authors, those “students who reported reading in English in their free time turned out to have larger vocabularies, both receptive and productive, than those who did not.” (Pietilä & Merikivi, 2014)
It is of the consensus that talking is an essential milestone in children’s development. According to Susan Rvachew (2018), an author professor, early-language skills have been linked to later successful reading. She says that it is expected that by the age of two, most children should know about 100 words and be able to combine them into small sentences. The reality is very different, sadly. Rvachew (2018) indicates that about 8-12% of North American preschool children and 12% of children beginning school have a language delay of some sort. Out of these, even a higher number (25-90%) are diagnosed with a reading disorder by the time they become high-schoolers.
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Consequences of Reading
The consequences of not being able to understand others and express themselves appropriately put children at risk of presenting behavioral, social, and emotional problems and continue experiencing challenges with reading later on. Additionally, there is a direct link between learning foreign vocabulary and reading. Pietilä & Merikivi (2014) indicate that these two shares “a twofold and reciprocal relationship: on the one hand, vocabulary knowledge has an effect on reading comprehension, and on the other hand, reading undoubtedly influences vocabulary knowledge and growth.”
When teaching English as a foreign language, the teacher must try to encourage the love of reading. It does not matter what type of reading is the student’s favorite, what it is critical, is that they incorporate reading as a daily habit. Encouraging reading in a multilingual group of students coming from various backgrounds can be extremely challenging; however, you can always make use of smart resources, like the ones provided in Unit 11. Most importantly, the selection of texts has to be done carefully, to match the level of the students and avoid frustration. Preparing students with any problematic vocabulary they are going to find, is also fundamental.
HealthLinkBC (2018) says that speech and language lessons start in the womb, where the unborn baby hears and responds to familiar voices. After birth, the newborn learns from phonemes. When the mother reads to her newborn, she gives him or her comforting contact and sets the tone for future reading habits.
Boosting reading from an early age can also help the future adult to become more proficient, not only in his native language but in any other secondary languages he attempts to acquire.
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Some reasons to read are:
- Increase their exposure to the language
- Engage children's imaginations
- Help children work out their feelings about the world (HealthLinkBC, 2018)
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The same recommendations given for children can be easily applied to adult classrooms. Unfortunately, not all people are inspired to read as I was fortunate to be as a child, and it is our job as educators to instill in our students the love of reading. Reading cannot only influence their language acquisition, but it can significantly help them grow as human beings by connecting them on a cultural level to other students in the world that share English as a common language.
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