Why is reading books so important for language learners? By the English with Stephen podcast.

Learning Strategies: Read a book

This is the transcript for the English with Stephen podcast episode on why reading books can be so important for language learners.

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Hello. Welcome to English with Stephen. The podcast that gives you everything you need to learn English in under 10 minutes.

Today I have the first in a mini-series of episodes based on learning strategies. A learning strategy is what good learners do to learn English as effectively and efficiently as possible.

The mini-series is going to be three episodes long and is based on reading books. It is one of the most effective ways of learning a language, but one that many learners do not employ. And if learners do read, they don’t exploit their books as much as possible.

If you know somebody who reads a lot in your first language, then I can pretty much guarantee that that person will have a large vocabulary. People who read learn words.

If this is true in your first language, then it is also true in your second language. Maybe it is even more important in a second language if we do not have access to the language all the time.

I am going to talk today about why reading in English is so important. In a future episode, I’ll look at some ways you can starts reading and make it a normal part of your language learning experience. This will be helpful for people who don’t read a lot at the moment. And then I will give you some recommendations for books you could read.

All of that, after this.

As we are talking about reading today, I thought it might be a good opportunity to remind you that you can read the transcript of this episode on my site EnglishwithStephen.com. Using a transcript can be a great way to help you understand what people are saying. Sometimes, there might be a word or a phrase that you just don’t understand. In that case, go read the transcript. It will help you with your understanding, develop your listening skills and improve your pronunciation because you can copy the way I said it.

Go to EnglishwithStephen.com to access the free transcript. That’s English with Stephen, S T E P H E N, EnglishwithStephen.com.

So, let’s talk about why reading is such a great way to learn a language. Any language, even your own language. But especially a second language like English.

As I have mentioned before, the most obvious thing you can learn from English is new vocabulary. The more you read, the more vocabulary you are exposed to and the more you learn. Sometimes you just read and understand the new words from context. Sometimes you need to look them up in a dictionary. It doesn’t matter, you will learn more vocabulary.

You can increase the speed by which you learn new vocabulary if you actively analyse the new words and phrases. I will post a future podcast episode looking at some ways of being an active reader.

As well as learning vocabulary, you will also learn grammar. You will see natural grammar in context. Often, you will not even be aware that you are being exposed to the grammar, because you will be so interested in what you are reading. But the grammar is still there. And it isn’t like in a class, where the teacher chooses one grammar point and talks all about it in isolation from other grammar points. You see the structures in relation to the other structures.

I mentioned earlier that people who read a lot have better vocabulary. Well, from my experience with my English students I can tell you that the people who read a lot also have a better command of the grammar of the language as well.

It might be a good idea to talk about the difference between ‘learning’ a language and ‘acquiring’ a language.

Most children have a pretty good understanding of their first language by the time they are 6 or 7. They might not be able to read and write, but they can use quite complex language when speaking and listening. However, how many 3-year-olds sit down and actually ‘study’ their language the same way we have to ‘study’ a second language?

Not many, right?

This is because we acquire our first language. We are exposed to language all around us and we pick it up.

When we become adults, it becomes much harder to learn a language in this way for many reasons. Perhaps the most important reason is that, as young children, we are exposed to language every waking moment. Whether a kid is watching Peppa Pig, listening to parents tell stories or grandparents sing songs, there is language for the young mind to acquire.

When we are adults trying to learn a language from a different country, we just don’t get this opportunity.

But reading! This is a great chance to be exposed to the language. Later on, I will talk about being an active reader, but even if you don’t become an active reader you are being exposed to the language and you give yourself the chance to acquire the language. You are not studying or learning, but acquiring, just as you did when you were a kid.

I am not saying that reading is the only way of exposing yourself to language, but it is a great way.

Another, related reason why reading can be so beneficial to English students I that it is authentic. What do I mean by authentic? Well, there are two ways of looking at it.

First, the activity of reading is authentic itself. Reading is something that most people do outside the classroom. It is not something that has been invented just to practise English. I am sure you have done many grammar activities in class where you have to fill in the blanks or rewrite a sentence so that it is true or answer a multiple-choice question after reading a text.

Whenever I have used these in the past I have often wondered why. I mean, how often do you fill in the blanks, rewrite a sentence or answer a multiple-choice question outside the classroom? These are not authentic activities. They are not activities that we do normally unless we are trying to learn something.

Reding is authentic, and so it is relevant. When something is relevant it is more likely to be useful for learning.

The other point to remember about why reading is authentic is that the language is probably more authentic as well. In a textbook, you often see texts with lots of examples of the present perfect because the exercise is designed to practise the present perfect. The coursebook writer has often created a text and perhaps used lots of present perfect sentences when normally they would not. The language is often not authentic.

In a book though, especially a book produced for native speakers, the language is authentic. The writer has not chosen language because they want to teach a specific grammar point. The language has been chosen to communicate, excite, stimulate emotions, force people to reflect.

So reading a book is both an authentic activity and the language itself is more authentic than most language materials that are created for the classroom.

We are coming towards the end now. Just to summarise what I have said so far. Reading books will help you learn vocabulary and expose you to grammar structures. Reading helps you to acquire language, not just learn language. And finally, reading is an authentic skill, as well as using authentic language, making it relevant to most learners.

Next time, I’ll give you some tips for how you can make reading an integral part of your learning strategies.

Don’t forget, you can find a transcript of this episode on my site EnglishwithStephen.com. Also, if you have any questions about reading, please leave a comment on my site and I will try to help you.

Thanks for listening. Happy reading!

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