As an English teacher, I was always of the opinion that reading is something that should not take place in the classroom. For two reasons, 1. you should do it at home and 2. in class it’s a waste of quality speaking time. This was until I listened to a podcast by the TEFL Training Institute on reading. They spoke about research and that it had proven that extensive reading helps the development of your English.
The Research on Reading
Over the years, a lot of research has been done and it’s quite convincing. It has given is stats such as, “More contact with words will result in learning those words” and “a word repeated more than 6 times is learned by 93% of students”. This is from the «Flood Study» by Warwick Elley and Francis Mangubhai.
Reading improves knowledge of vocabulary, comprehension and, naturally, reading fluency. It clearly states that it is all about the input you get. The more input and the better the quality (for you), the better.
Outside the Research
Reading can put different words into context. I have a strong feeling that context, in English, matters. Let’s look at phrasal verbs for example. As I have explained earlier, “make up” can have multiple meanings, depending on the context. If in a book, you encounter all of them, you will learn it in that manner, instead of “dictionary style”.
Also, you will learn to recognize the words through context. By looking at the words surrounding the one you don’t know, you can deduce (to arrive at a conclusion by reasoning) its meaning. Assuming, of course, you are familiar with the phrases around what you want to learn. If this is not the case, things become a little bit more complicated.
How and What to Read
Well, get a book. That’s how! Fairly simple isn’t’ it? Yes, I know, it’s too simple.
Start with the topics you enjoy. Remember how difficult it was to get your reading done in secondary school? The teacher giving you books you have to read and you don’t like them, so you find a summary online to hand in. I did it. I despised reading. Mostly because I simply didn’t enjoy the books. Not books in general, but THOSE books.
If you enjoy fantasy, get some fantasy books, if you enjoy suspense, get some suspense. It’s not rocket science. I did find some recommendations here and there to read modern books. Let’s be sincere, it’s not useful to learn words that were used in the 16th century and not now. I mean, yes, it’s fun to drop one of those words, but most people will not understand. So, something modern.
The second step is to make sure it is adapted to your level. They are called graded readers. They are books that are sometimes adaptation of original books. In Spanish, the ones by Barco de Vapor are well known. I have read Sherlock Holmes and The Great Gatsby with my students, for example. These books you can find in many places and of course, Casa del Libro is full of them and personally, I like the ones from Black Cat/ Vicens Vives.
One of the things that, in my opinion, matters is that you read actively. By this, I mean that you pay attention to what it is you are reading. What I don’t mean, something I see often, is that you should look every word up in a dictionary. Try to understand the story you are reading. Think about the words you are not familiar with, and think about what they can mean in the context of the story.
Naturally, if you find a word multiple times and still don’t know what the meaning is, then you pick up a dictionary and look it up. But the important thing to keep in mind is that you are a user of the English language, not the actual Oxford Dictionary you use.
Can I Read Other Things?
Absolutely. To be frank (not the name), I have used music for a long time to improve my language learning. Both in German and English, I listened to the music and read the booklets we got when buying the CD. I know that nowadays, you don’t buy CD anymore, however finding the lyrics (the text of a song) of a song online, is never a problem as even YouTube had videos of your favorite songs with lyrics.
Find articles you like in magazines that are related to your interests, like golf of course.
Keep in Mind
Reading is not THE magic trick that will make you speak perfect Engish. As you know, there is no one magic trick to learning a language because if there was, everyone would speak all languages without any problem. Reading does absolutely help however and that is what matters.
We now have students read during class, all sorts of things but also graded readers. It’s a little bit like the gym. You can do everything at home, but you feel like you have to do many other things there already, so that is why you go to class, also if you have to read during.