The Importance of Reading in Language Acquisition
Reading is an integral part of the process of acquiring language skills and can be strong support for the development of listening, speaking and writing skills. We will explore the benefits of the diversity of written material - both in topic and style - the ways it can be utilized or expanded upon. We will also look at its shortcomings and some strategies for overcoming them.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Jason T. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Structure of Texts
A key benefit of written texts is that they provide complete and properly formed sentence structures that are static, allowing students to process the information at their own pace. This provides a degree of comfort for people who may be lacking in confidence and means that they can review the information as much or as little as possible. The important element here is the properly formed sentences, which exposes students of English to correctly applied grammar in a format that can be ingested thoroughly, and without the pressure of immediate aural comprehension.
The nature of reading - especially reading a broad range of materials - is that it allows passive absorption of phrasing, word order, and general grammar, which is beneficial for forming sentences and assists in developing conversational skills. Beyond this aspect of language structure, the students can also see punctuation in action which can be of great assistance in the comprehension of the correct and varied uses of English punctuation. This general exposure to properly formed language can foster an intuitive sense of how the language should sound and flow.
By frequent reading of English language materials (both authentic and non-authentic), the students increase the exposure to properly formed English and reinforce their understanding of familiar sentence structures, grammar, and vocabulary.
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Broad reading materials consumed frequently also acts as a form of the self-test, providing insight into sentence structures and vocabulary not properly grasped by the student and prompts new lines of questions with which to direct future learning.
While reading, there will often be words which the reader does not know nested in a more familiar language. This is a helpful way of introducing new vocabulary and also practicing the skill of understanding the overall meaning of a sentence, instead of focusing on individual words. These skills are helpful in both reading and listening comprehension and will assist the learner to develop a greater degree of fluency than if they were bogged down by processing every word in a sentence.
Written material is also available on any subject which the learner may be interested in, and across a range of styles - from formal to casual, from technical to reflective. This will allow students to develop greater language skills around their areas of interest and equip them to communicate effectively about topics that excite them. With communication being the ultimate purpose of language, this is of vital importance and has the added benefit of maintaining the student's interest - or riding off the back of it.
It is undeniable that, despite the clear benefits of reading, there are areas of language use and acquisition that are not addressed. The use of auditory understanding (listening skills), and productive skills (speaking and writing) are not automatically activated during reading activities and this may cause an imbalanced development of language skills.
Lack of Listening
The primary issue to address is the use of listening skills and, by extension, pronunciation. While vocabulary and grammar may be absorbed through the act of reading, it is not uncommon for people to make incorrect guesses at how words would be pronounced or to simply not try pronouncing them at all. There are several potential solutions to this issue which will be more or less suitable depending on whether the learner is on their own or in a group, and whether or not they have access to native English speakers.
Ways to Overcome Problems
Reading out loud is an obvious step to developing more productive skills and translating the written word into applied spoken English. This is best done in the presence of an English speaker - especially to start - but can, increasingly, be practiced alone. Conversely, having someone else read the words out is a good way of testing the listening comprehension and pronunciation, and can be an interesting way of branching out into this skill (especially when the student is familiar with, or able to understand, the text by reading).
If the learner does not have access to an English speaker, these activities may still be explored through audiobooks or recordings of people reading texts. This may introduce some restrictions to the texts the students can select, but it will ultimately achieve the same end. Access to recorded materials will facilitate listening skills acquisition and may be used as a model for producing the sounds (speaking). Without an English speaker present, there is the danger of mispronouncing the words, but it is still better than nothing at all.
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Writing, the other productive skill, is also easily addressed by broad reading as the students have models of properly executed language to study. By emulating the written material and reconstructing it, students should be able to quickly begin experimenting with producing their written materials. This, again, would best be performed with access to an English speaker to point out any misunderstandings or guide the learner in improving their command of written English.
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To conclude, reading is an integral component of the language learning process and, while it is effective at demonstrating and developing an intuitive understanding of grammar and phrasing, it falls short in other areas (particularly listening skills) but can be used as a resource in exercising these skills.
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