In EFL we talk about two types of reading Extensive Reading and Intensive Reading. Intensive reading is what usually happens in the classroom: reading to answer comprehension questions or to teach ‘reading skills’ such as skimming and scanning. Extensive reading is reading for pleasure, often fiction at around or just below a learner’s language level. Ideally extensive reading texts should be 98% known vocabulary.
Why should we encourage extensive reading?
– It helps learners acquire important strategies for reading all texts. They learn not to panic at unknown vocabulary, learning to guess from context and tolerate ambiguity.
– Encountering new words in different contexts helps broaden a learner’s knowledge of a word e.g. by seeing a known noun used as a verb or in an idiomatic phrase.
– Knowing a grammatical structure is one thing, but encountering repeatedly in context is much more likely to make it stick.
– Reading, especially fiction, can offer a variety of situations and alternative realities that may not be encountered often in daily life and in so doing can give a learner valuable practice with particular structures and vocabulary.
– Reading and listening to a recording at the same time has been shown to improve listening, speaking and pronunciation.
– Extensive reading is, by definition, reading for interest, which is, of course, a huge motivator. The more time a learner is exposed to the target language the better. Also, being able to read a book in a foreign language is an achievement to be proud of and an experience we should encourage learners to take.
Studies have shown that extensive reading is more effective than intensive reading at developing reading skills. Moreover, extensive reading helps improve writing, grammar, speaking, listening, pronunciation, vocabulary and helps combat boredom! What more could you ask?
I have recently acquired a library of Oxford Bookworms Graded Readers for adult learners from beginner to advanced levels. I am also very excited about my new acquisitions from Summertown Publishing, graded readers specifically written for business English students. A good local library should have some graded readers to loan.