If students read - or listen - a lot, they are more likely to become better linguists. Large numbers of teachers and polyglots widely accept this. Of course, this is dependent on different factors, but at the end of the day, it is true, more reading results in improvement in a student’s language. The main reason reading is great for students is because it is a cheap and accessible input. The more input students get the more exposure they get to vocabulary and grammatical structures.

This exposure means that the student is more likely to notice these language points. The more language points a student notices, the more chances they have to learn.

But what is the problem?

Reading can appear time-consuming, difficult, and boring. But why is that?

Reading - and especially reading in a new language - can seem intimidating. This is because many students see reading as an intensive classroom activity, and not as a hobby - or enjoyable activity. However, extensive reading is all about reading for pleasure. It’s about making students want to read so that reading becomes natural to them and no longer something they do because a teacher says so.

How to successfully use extensive reading:

  • 98% of the words in the chosen book should already be known. It should be relatively easy, and ‘smooth’ to read
  • The student should not be allowed a dictionary. This causes the student to read for the meaning, and the unknown words will gradually be understood through the context in which they’re used
  • The book must be interesting to the student. If the student finds the text boring, they are less likely to engage with the language. To solve this, the book should be changed to one the student is actively interested in
  • A student must Read frequently.

If a student understands 98% of the words they read, it means that they do not know around 1 word in 5 lines of text (assuming there are about 10 words per line). Get students to find a book in which they can read without much difficulty. If a student is reading at this level, then they should gain new vocabulary at a rate of around 1 word in every 1000 words read. This sounds like a small number but if a student reads 1,000,000 words a year then they will gain 1000 new words for their vocabulary. 1,000,000 words are only about 1 average book per month or 1 lighter graded reader per week.

What can I do as a teacher?

  1. If you yourself are studying a language make your reading known to your students. This sets a positive example that students are more likely to follow
  2. Make sure your students have a selection of books available to them in school or recommend some of a good level for purchase
  3. Set goals: Get students to read for 20 or 30 mins a day and record their progress. Make a progress chart in your classroom. Nothing motivates as well as having visual proof of your improvement

But does this work?

Yes. I have done 20 hours of reading in Chinese as part of a recent project and my reading speed rose almost doubled. Because of this, I now want to read more - your students will want to do the same.