Reading as a Central Part of Language Acquisition
Language acquisition often involves four skills. These skills are further divided into two groups receptive skills (reading and listening) and productive skills (writing and speaking). Not all languages have a corresponding writing system however, learners of English will have to learn all these skills to be proficient in their use of English. Reading is more than just calling words on paper, In this essay, the importance of reading in language acquisition will be discussed on the basis that reading influences vocabulary expansion, facilitates the practice of word pronunciation and finally sparks and improves the imagination. These concepts will be discussed from the standpoint of English language acquisition in Japanese senior high schools.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Eunika B. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
An individual cannot learn and communicate in a language without knowing the words in the language. In English, there are thousands of words that make up the vocabulary. “Gaining vocabulary through reading is 10 times faster than studying word lists alone,” Hedstrom, 2005. Learners need to expand their vocabulary as this will help them to become more capable readers, speakers, and writers. Language acquisition is more than simply getting direct instruction or word lists. When learners see the language they are learning in context, it makes learning language through reading more effective. Wasik, Hindman, & Snell, (2016) states that “book reading represents a particularly potent context for learning words. The same source cites Snow, (1991) who says that “book reading offers access to a wide range of words, including those that children would not typically encounter in day-to-day conversations. (Ganea, Picard, & DeLoache, 2008; Mol et al., 2009)” as cited in Wasik, Hindman, & Snell, (2016) states that book reading explains novel words’ meanings through text and illustrations. Reading provides an opportunity for learners to be exposed to vocabulary that they already know and introduces them to new vocabulary that they must add to their vocabulary.
In addition to expanding vocabulary, reading helps readers to learn how to pronounce words. Reading provides an opportunity for learners to say the words they know not only through drilling but also in a context. When selecting reading materials, one should ensure that the materials are authentic, suitable for the students’ level and will be interesting for the learner. If we try to use the same types of materials all the time then our students will not be motivated to read or learn. According to Hedstrom, 2005 “more than 70% of a literate person’s vocabulary in her first language comes from reading. You can apply the same principle to your foreign language learning process.”
When an individual reads she must learn at least one new word which she will see in context but she would not have had the same opportunity had she been in a drilling, isolated vocabulary activity. What is important is that learners be allowed to examine new vocabulary by researching the word meanings and the other forms of the words. Reading as a way to teach vocabulary is especially important for business learners who need to learn specialized business terms they will need to use on the job. Authentic materials are of utmost importance in the world of business English teaching because the students can examine and learn from reading the sample documents used in their workplace but written in English. This creates a context in which they can see the words they know in use while expanding their vocabulary.
Imagination and Creativity
Finally, I will assess the significance of reading in helping students to imagine their reality in English. Students may come to us with a creative imagination but they will be imagining in their native language. Students sometimes have no English vocabulary or no context in which to use what little vocabulary they know. These two facts make it difficult for students to use their creativity in English because they have no language to express what they are thinking. Reading provides an opportunity for students to see language in use as they learn the words which will make it easier and more realistic for them to use their vocabulary. Writers go beyond the norm with words, especially in non-fiction books. Many students can relate to a character’s situation or feelings. Currently, in Japan, the Board of Education in Fukuoka has a pilot program which includes an English Activity Supporter (EAS) where native speakers of English teach other Japanese subjects in English. This program is intended to demonstrate to students that English can be used for many purposes. In Japan, students mainly study English for University Entrance examinations. As a result, they end up disliking English because they do not get the opportunity to use is free. If students are allowed to explore the myriad of ways they can use English then they could see that English is an expressive language.
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Essentially, no one language acquisition skill can teach all the vocabulary or contexts required for communication to effectively take place, however, as teachers we can use reading to help students to expand their vocabulary as well as their imagination. Reading does not develop good reading and expression skills; it helps learners to expand their vocabulary, experience first-hand use of the vocabulary learned, and gain a deeper understanding of how English can be used to express feelings and desires. Reading can also help learners to be familiar with creative expressions used in English which they can in turn use in their daily speech. As I have established, reading is more than calling words on a page. It involves a reader’s ability to make meaning of the words on the paper. These words help to demonstrate the myriad of ways English can be used which are not limited to the classroom or the business world. If learners were groomed to view reading as a tool rather than just another skill, it could motivate them to read more and read more meaningful materials.
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