This is an excerpt from A tool case for language learning.
Reading for pleasure is one of the most beautiful things you can do when learning a new language.
This kind of reading is called “extensive reading.” As the name suggests, the idea is to read extensively—that is, read frequently and on a broad range of topics.
Here, unlike intensive reading, you do not pause at every unknown word to tease out the meaning. You skip them most of the time, and instead concentrate on the general ideas in the text and guess the meaning of new vocabulary from the context.
Your aim is to become a fluent reader by focusing on general understanding. You are not interested in the finer details. Further, there is no accountability. At the end of the reading, you will not be tested. No questions will be asked. You read because you enjoy it.
Reading this way is fast. That’s why, in a relatively short time, you can develop general reading skills in the target language. You will build confidence and your reading rate increases quickly.
Follow the advice of two pioneers in language learning
As the pioneering educational researcher Stephen Krashen put it, reading for pleasure, or “free voluntary reading,” as he calls it, is a powerful way of acquiring a new language almost without conscious learning. In his various works, he suggests it as a tool for learning languages via immersion, especially for vocabulary acquisition.
When you read for pleasure, you will come across words with many possible uses in context; this will help you learn how and when to use them. Your spelling abilities will improve considerably as well.
Another impressive figure in language learning, Kató Lomb, also favored extensive reading. She knew 17 languages, and she learned them all as an adult. She is an inspiration for all lifelong learners. Her primary way of acquiring languages was reading. She said that for both elaboration and frequent repetition, reading is ideal. She also drew attention to the importance of reading materials being interesting to the reader.
In extensive reading, texts are longer. Apply pre-reading strategies.
Here, reading materials are longer than those you would choose for intensive reading. You can read magazine articles, blog posts, classic books or graded readers. Applying pre-reading strategies makes the reading process less daunting.
These strategies activate your prior knowledge of the topic, so understanding follows naturally. They can prevent you from getting completely lost when reading long texts.
Predict content by scanning
Look at the title and guess what the text is about. Scan or skim the entire text. If you are reading a book, read the headings and subheadings of the chapters. Try to predict what will happen in each chapter.
For some languages, scanning is particularly sensible. For example, in Japanese, many loanwords come from English. These loanwords are written in a syllabic alphabet called katakana, which only has 46 characters. Once you learn these characters, you can understand what the text is about with your English knowledge, just by scanning the article. This is especially useful for technological and social media content, where English words are very common.
Break down the material into small bits
You already know from Chapter 1 that our brain likes to learn new material in small bits. Why not apply the same principle to reading? After scanning the content, you can represent the information graphically by drawing mind maps and diagrams.
Just read a small portion of each section
Cover the rest and just read the introductory part. Try to predict what will happen next. Repeat this until you reach the end of the whole text.
Try word clouds
While reading online, spice up your learning with word clouds. This enables you to see at a glance which words are used very often in the text. If unknown words appear multiple times, you will have the chance to learn their meanings before you start reading.
Figure An example of a word cloud.
Get ready for an extensive reading program
As discussed in this chapter’s introduction, it is important to align your materials with your reading level and interests. It is very likely that when you are a beginner, you will prefer intensive reading. You probably get more benefit from extensive reading when you are an intermediate learner. Still, even at a very early stage, you should look for opportunities to read for pleasure. The first levels of graded readers can be a good starting point.
To get the most out of an extensive reading program, prepare a mix of fiction and nonfiction. This will train you in a broader range of expressions. Remember that, as you’re more likely to read longer texts if you are interested in the subject matter, you can select topics that correspond to your general interests and prior background knowledge. On the other hand, the idea of extensive reading is to read broadly covering many areas. So, consider adding other new topics into the mix. To experience the positive effects of reading for pleasure, you must sustain it. In one of his studies, Krashen found that results are more consistent if a program lasts for longer than eight months.