Reading and Its Influence on Language Acquisition
There are numerous reasons why a person may choose to read. One of the strongest motivators to read is the ability to gain knowledge and to learn new information. Another common reason why an individual decides to read is for enjoyment and for the chance to use their imagination. All of these factors play a role in how reading aids in language acquisition, whether it be a person’s native language (L1) or a second language (L2).
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Meghan L. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Four Skills Together
Language acquisition means learning how to communicate through reading, with writing, by speaking or with gestures. An individual learning their native language generally begins language acquisition at birth since they are exposed to it regularly. Therefore, an individual naturally acquire the four basic language skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking. In comparison, an individual learning a second language will have to work at picking up these language skills in their second language to make use of it in an effective manner. Regardless of if a person is learning their native language or picking up a second language, reading is an important part of language acquisition for many reasons.
What is Reading for You?
For many individuals reading is part of their life since birth, or sometimes even earlier. A parent reading aloud to their child is often part of a person’s childhood. It has been shown time and time again that parents reading aloud to their children helps to develop language skills. Moreover, reading helps to build a child’s imagination and by reading together this encourages a child to continue to read as they age. Lifelong reading allows us to continually gain knowledge and learn new things. This includes continuing to develop our vocabulary, and improve writing and communication skills. Sometimes reading maybe by choice (eg. reading a favorite novel) and sometimes it is required (eg. reading a textbook for school). However, a required reading task can also be a source of enjoyment as it is another opportunity to learn and increase a person’s vocabulary. Therefore, reading continues to be a part of language acquisition not only in young children but in young adults and adults as well.
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Reading as a Source of Learning L2
Reading not only plays a large role in the acquisition of a native language but also in the learning of a second language. Although a person may begin to learn a second language at any age, reading still aids in acquiring language skills and should be part of any language class. Reading is a great way to increase student’s exposure to the language they are learning, and also results in expanding their vocabulary and increasing general language skills. In other words, reading aids in learning surface structure (ie. the actual form of a sentence) and deep structure (ie. the structure needed to produce the meaning of a sentence) of the language being acquired. Therefore, by becoming comfortable with reading in L2 and continuing to advance their reading skills, an individual not only expands their understanding of language structure but also improves upon their writing, listening and speaking skills.
Methods of Reading
Reading in a learning environment might include the teacher reading aloud to the students, in-class activities, homework assignments or encouraging students to read a book for enjoyment. Reading in a learning environment includes both oral reading and silent reading. Oral reading includes the teacher reading out loud to the class; this allows for the students to hear the pronunciation, word usage, and inflection, and can aid in future silent reading. Oral reading can also include student reading to the teacher and their classmates. A student reading out loud is another way to increase vocabulary and can help build confidence in speaking in L2. Silent reading can also be done in the classroom; the teacher may provide reading material to the students or the students can choose to bring in reading material that interests them. Silent reading is a primary source of new vocabulary and can often be an enjoyable way for a person to learn a second language as they can choose the reading material. Therefore, providing students with regular opportunities to read is important and can motivate them to continue acquiring language by reading in their second language for pleasure.
Planning Reading Activities
Planning regular times for students to read is important for the teacher to include in their lesson plans. By allowing students to have regular reading times their language skills can continue to develop, and they can apply both prior knowledge and developing skills to the learning of their second language. However, the teacher must select appropriate reading material for their students to avoid potential learning difficulties. A great way to avoid this is by carefully selecting texts for the students to read and to pre-teach any difficult vocabulary before the reading portion of a lesson. Keeping the students motivated and not allowing them to become discouraged during lessons increases the likelihood that they will not only want to continue reading in class but in their free time as well.
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Reading can play a large role in the acquisition of language. By finding enjoyment in reading an individual can continue to acquire language skills and can keep on learning outside of a classroom environment. Young children begin to learn their native language by being exposed to it regularly; this often includes being read to by their parents or teachers and then continuing to read on their own in school and as a past time. Learners of a second language also learn from being read to and by reading on their own. This is because reading is one of the main sources of new vocabulary and also showcases language structure. With an increase in vocabulary and the knowledge of a language, a person becomes more confident in their ability to use a language and in turn their speaking, writing and listening skills improve as well.
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