How Reading Influences English Language Acquisition
Reading is important. It is an important tool that aids in language acquisition whether the language is native or foreign. Unfortunately, it is sometimes neglected, especially as the students move up in their studies.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Wesley J. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Having been raised without television until I was in junior high school, I would read books, magazines, and the Sunday newspaper. At an early age, my first card was the library card. I could borrow many books. I would often borrow fifteen to twenty books every two weeks in addition to the four books I could borrow from my school library. At home, my mother provided science magazines, news magazines, and gardening/farming magazines. She also bought two sets of encyclopedias and a large dictionary.
With so much to read, I was never at a loss for interest to explore. The benefits extended to the classroom and into the real world. I had a large vocabulary and this caused a ripple effect on my native language learning as well as interests in other languages- French initially and then Japanese, Chinese, and Thai.
During my primary and secondary schooling, I often consulted the dictionary and thesaurus because reading classes were part of our course work and we were expected to learn phonetics to read properly. Much of this the teacher taught initially, but thereafter, we were expected to work independently.
My personal experience with reading and phonetics continues to be part of my learning. It is this experience that played a role in my first English classes I taught in Japan.
Japanese classrooms tend to be rote memorization centers. Everything is centered on taking a test to pass a test which allows you to pass a final test. On paper, it seems effective and efficient, but the reality is different. Japanese students are expected to fit a mold that society thinks is correct. Sadly, this is where the real-world skills are all too often lost.
Two weeks ago a new student started lessons with me. She is older and has been taking the TOEIC test every year for five years. Her scores have slowly improved, but she has noticed that her fellow students who score much higher lacked real skills. She indicated that while her scores were lower, she could carry a conversation whereas the others could not. When asked why she thought that, she said it was because she read different materials and did not have time to amass the vocabulary required to score high on the TOEIC.
Her English pronunciations were indeed very good and her conversational English skills were also very good. She did not have any particular interests, but she did enjoy learning about her local area and wants to work at an information desk at the international airport.
I tasked her to start collecting maps and guides for her area and to travel on different routes and means of transportation. Also, I encouraged her to read books to develop interests that could dovetail with her job. To these tasks, we will build her word bank.
She started reading and already her vocabulary is expanding. She is even developing new interests and will read further on those topics. We also added a graded web site of news articles that are organized under different topics. These are actual articles and have not been modified. Each article is likened to an ESL lesson. The articles are original. We read these and discuss each. While she is just beginning, it has certainly helped her already.
I also have two students who are siblings, seven and nine years of age. They are both beginners. It is difficult to find reading materials for them in Japan. This week we will begin non-textbook reading. As each sister has a different area of interest and each has a different learning pace, it will be an interesting outcome to observe. I have asked that they each be allowed to read books that interest them.
One of my original students is a Japanese university professor. He can speak for hours on different topics. A cursory observation of his library is the evidence as to his ability and his level. He is a voracious reader. To improve our discussions, I read the same material and research the same papers. Fortunately, our interests are the same and our discussions are productive. Even though he is quite intelligent and learned, he still finds a new vocabulary to learn and to use.
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My last student, also a new student, is an English teacher in Japan. Her hobby is English. She uses reading, but many of her students are there to learn to pass a test. For about half of her students, some want to learn more. She will be trying to do an individual reading or to balance her range of topics to read. I will work with her as a teacher-to-teacher assist. It will be interesting to follow her case.
The aforementioned cases are ongoing. Drawing upon the knowledge and information from the units studied, I can incorporate grammar study as well as phonology practice.
Grammar is the most varied area as it fits with the topics the students are reading and the level of their reading. Whatever they are reading, I am reading it, too. Invariably, I think it is a win-win for me!
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Phonology for Japanese students is less of varied activity. Most Japanese have the same issues as the language has limited pronunciations. The unit study was an excellent review and has benefited my students already. I have to maintain corrections because this is an area they consider very important. There are, however, those who do not like to be overcorrected unless their mistake is serious. For 90 per cent of my students, they want to speak perfectly.
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Reading is important because it opens many new doors for the students. It allows them to study a real-world situation without rote learning or rote memorization. From the youngest students to the most advanced students, the reading allows them to not only learn more but to also develop related interests which lead to additional reading and continually feeds a cycle of ever-increasing learning.
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