Feb 142014

The victorious circle of the good reader In my past attempts at learning Spanish I have tried ‘reading’ Spanish but without success. I would get Level 1 Spanish readers from my local library but would struggle though them because the vocabulary was too advanced. It was not until I ran across the idea of “Extensive Reading” to learn a foreign language that I realized the problem.

The “Easy Readers” written for kids in their native language are designed for kids who are learning to read, not for kids who are learning the vocabulary of the language. By the time children are learning to read they already have a large vocabulary. They just don’t know how to decode the letters into the words they already know. It is more like a spy learning to use a magic decoder ring.

A language learner usually already has a good idea of how to decode the target language (unless they are learning Japanese or Russian) but the words they read have no meaning to them. If someone read the book aloud to them it would do them about as much good as reading it themselves, just the opposite as it would for kids in their native language.

The key is to use your ability to read to immerse yourself into a language. Just like in your native language, and as shown in the graphic above, reading leads to understanding which leads to enjoyment and on to more reading. Not a vicious circle but a victorious circle.

If you cannot live in the culture of the language you are trying to learn then you must immerse yourself in the culture’s language through reading and listening. It seems that the key to finding appropriate material. My current criteria is that for a book to be at my current reading level, then there should be no more than 1 unknown word per paragraph. If there are too many unknown words then you will be struggling with the reading rather than enjoying it. You want to be comfortable and enjoy the reading, not feeling like it is work.

I have started looking for Spanish reading materials that are appropriate for a beginning language learner. I will write a follow-up post with my findings.

Below are some links I have found regarding Extensive Reading. I plan to start a page just with Extensive Reading reference material for future reference.

The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of Using Graded Readers
– by Rob Waring
Great summary of Extensive Reading. Here are some quotes from the material:

Teaching does not cause learning. Teachers can only create the environment to develop independent learners.

What is the ideal difficulty level for Extensive Reading?
Since the aim is to build automatic recognition of words, and to get the learner to the reading-with-ideas level, she needs to be reading at or below her current reading ability. Learners can only build automatic recognition of words if the text is easy for them.

Here are some good ‘rules of thumb’ for students to find their reading level:

  • There should be no more than 2 or 3 unknown words per page [1 for childrens books]
  • The learner is reading 8-10 lines or more per minute (80-100 words per minute or better)
  • The learner understands almost all of what she is reading with few pauses

Some learners want to read more difficult texts than their current ability level in the belief that they will learn more if they meet more new language. This is true, but it is unlikely these learners will easily develop into fluent readers. It is important to stress to these learners that they need fluency practice, too.

Extensive Reading: Why? and How?
– by Timothy Bell on The Internet TESL Journal

4. It can increase knowledge of vocabulary Nagy & Herman (1987) claimed that children between grades three and twelve (US grade levels) learn up to 3000 words a year. It is thought that only a small percentage of such learning is due to direct vocabulary instruction, the remainder being due to acquisition of words from reading. This suggests that traditional approaches to the teaching of vocabulary, in which the number of new words taught in each class was carefully controlled (words often being presented in related sets), is much less effective in promoting vocabulary growth than simply getting students to spend time on silent reading of interesting books.

Rob Waring’s Extensive Reading Pages
Even more links!

Can learners use ‘authentic’ books?
– Rob Waring on Graded Readers

’Authentic’ reading materials (for native speakers of English) are usually NOT the best books to teach foreign language learners to read. These are usually written for English-speaking children who already know thousands of words and most of the grammar of English before they start to read. English language learners don’t have this knowledge and usually find authentic books very difficult. Certainly until quite advanced English language learners should use Graded readers.

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