Reading as a Part of Language Acquisition
In the following essay, I have chosen to explain my personal experience on why reading can be an invaluable resource in both primary (L1) and secondary (L2) language acquisition.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Manuel G. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Reading in Early Childhood
As a very young child, my mother read to me at night until I fell asleep. By the age of 2, I could speak in simple but uninterrupted sentences with proper syntax. By a few months after my third birthday, I was able to read the same children's books that my mother used to read for me, which resulted in my being able to produce a variety of basic sentences with an improved choice of words. These children’s books have the advantage of short content, simple sentence structure, and basic vocabulary, which makes them ideal as starting reading material. Gradually, the language in all its forms became the access door to seemingly limitless possibilities. Reading ability made all the difference in the world for rapidly and vastly developing my L1.
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Lack of Authentic Materials
I became a voracious reader but, being limited to Spanish and finding unauthentic material at my level boring, my tastes fluctuated towards news and magazines, which in most instances proved inadequate to my chronological age. The exposure to ample vocabulary and proper sentence structure, as well as, interpretation of context in the authentic material, allowed me to acquire excellent verbal skills at an early age.
So how did reading also prove essential in mastering my L2? At the age of 10, it was arranged that I move to Montreal, Quebec for a year or two and learn a new language by attending a local school at a separatist minded, legally bilingual province of Canada.
I was suddenly immersed in a multilingual environment without any previous experience. Eventually, through major effort and perseverance, and frankly, without any viable choice, I became verbally fluent in Italian, English, and French in roughly six months. Oddly enough, even though both French and Italian are Romance languages along with my base language of Spanish, I found the rules and grammar of English easier to absorb and produce, making it my preferred second language.
Reading the closed-captioned text on television shows allowed me to quickly connect the dots between spoken and written English. And reading books, of gradually increasing complexity, provided me with the same tools as with my L1: vocabulary, grammar, and context comprehension, all of which continuously improved and accelerated my spoken English progress.
My three basic recommendations in taking advantage of reading as a way to improve language acquisition are as follows: At times read extensively, without getting 100% of the meaning, think quantity. Then look for quality, switch strategy and read intensively, identifying structure and vocabulary for total comprehension. Finally, read whatever material you enjoy, so it will feel like a treat instead of a task.
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I firmly believe, based on my results, that reading can have an immeasurable value as a tool, in both native and foreign language acquisition, by exposing the student to proper sentence structure and grammar, extensive vocabulary, as well as, the ability to properly manage written and spoken context in communicating with others.
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