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Reading as a Skill to Enhance General Language Ability

Reading as a Skill to Enhance General Language Ability | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Reading affects language acquisition based on the level of the content read, the type of content, and the reader’s external sources of language acquisition. This summative text will explain the different difficulties that can arise when any English learner uses reading as their sole or primary language acquisition mode.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Laura J. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Anticipated Problems

Reading over the level of your speaking and listening skills can cause errors in phonetics, such as mispronouncing words that you’ve only read and have not encountered in speech. For example, an adult who gained some of the more obscure vocabularies through reading may see the word cliche or scimitar and pronounce the soft c, which makes the s sound, as a k sound instead. If the language learner had never heard these words in tandem with their spellings, they might assign an incorrect phonetic pronunciation. They may even fail to recognize their meanings when heard in a spoken context. This can happen to foreign learners of English as well as native speakers. Many people can continue to make the same mental mispronunciations for a long time before realizing it. When it does come to light as a mistake, it is often hard to accept or feel ashamed as though they have made and reinforced a grievous error.

Formal Vocabulary and Structures

Acquiring language through reading can also give your speech a formal tone, as written English is not the same as spoken English. Overly formal speech can feel pretentious and off-putting to native speakers, and thus, language acquisition through reading should be balanced with modern media and actual examples of spoken discourse. However, depending on the level and type of content, the task can help the structure of more formalized English. It can provide good examples of how to write professionally, such as when creating a resume cover letter or writing to a work colleague. For example, reading a fiction novel will introduce a very different vocabulary set than reading a restaurant menu. Others still from reading an instruction manual on how to put together anything from IKEA.

The Problem of Spoken Language

Spoken English has many contractions, slang, and colloquialisms that may be too current or fall out of style too quickly to be included in published writings. When attempting to learn these subtleties of English as a foreign speaker, there is a tendency to learn these through English Media, which can be problematic. Such as if you watch only American TV shows like Jersey Shore or the OC and not only learn English in an American accent, but outdated and niche slang that is only used by older adults or Californians, in other areas of the globe or even the US, people might understand you, but will also hear that something is off. Thankfully, there is no accent in written English except when directly quoting someone or when the author uses accents to place a character within a story. Thus, there are pros and cons to reading for language acquisition, and it should always be balanced with language gained from other sources.

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Finally, when learning about English via the classics or older literary works such as the bible, that can be more than just dated but written in the 1800s and before, and there is a whole new dynamic at play that can end up feeling utterly overwhelming to a beginner student of English. For instance, trying to learn English by reading a Shakespearean sonnet can even to native speakers feel like you’re reading an entirely different language, which in a sense, is because it is. Many words throughout history have changed or even reversed in meaning and can be problematic at any level due to the evolution of the language. However, the solution to this problem is simple. Don’t just read one type of content, and when learning English, don’t just practice reading. To learn any language effectively, one must encompass a majority of its aspect and practice speaking and listening and reading and writing.

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