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Why Every Student Needs Extensive Reading for Language Learning

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Encourage your students to read extensively and they will improve both their reading comprehension and their writing abilities - two critical aspects of language mastery.

Benefits of Reading in Language Learning

Reading from a wide variety of sources has many language-learning benefits for students. This practice works for students at all levels of their education and in ways that will enhance both their reading and writing skills.

Reading Helps Students Decode Vocabulary

Reading means practicing decoding skills. Learning to match written words to their known spoken counterparts - and figuring out new words as they are encountered - are fundamental decoding tasks.

Although the most common words are internalized over time, decoding skills remain important as your students encounter unknown words at higher reading levels. As they advance, students will start incorporating knowledge of Latin and Greek root words, prefixes, and suffixes to help them decode new words. They will learn, for example, that ''pre-'' means ''before'' and that ''-itis'' means ''inflamed.'' Decoding skills will be needed throughout their adult lives, whether they're thinking of purchasing a ''pre-owned'' vehicle, or trying to figure out if their new health insurance will cover them for a pre-existing condition, such as dermatitis.

Reading Helps Students Expand Vocabulary

Reading widely expands your students' vocabulary. Every type of writing, depending on the style and topic, has its own lexicon.

By reading deeply and broadly, your students will understand both formal and informal written language. They will also uncover subtle shades of meaning and learn terminology that relates to various academic and technical fields.

Multiple exposures to words within many different contexts will help them more easily understand whatever they read - throughout school and throughout their lives. When they write, they will have a much broader palette of words from which to draw, which can give their writing more accuracy and depth.

Reading Helps Students Improve Grammar

Proper grammar is often pushed aside in spoken language. Written language, however, can be a rich resource for teaching good grammar to your students.

Extensive reading will improve your students

Although sources such as social media are rife with examples of poor grammar, professionally written and edited material generally presents correct usage. Extensive reading of such texts helps students grasp good grammar. According to noted education author Dr. Constance Weaver, extensive reading allows students to ''absorb grammatical patterns from context.''

When students are encouraged to read extensively, they are more apt to produce grammatically correct sentences. This will make their writing much clearer.

Reading Helps Students Improve Mechanics

Mechanics are a convention exclusive to written language. Even students who are fluent speakers may not have a good command of mechanics if they do not practice their written language skills.

Reading extensively reinforces correct language constructs. It can teach your students such basic skills as knowing where to put quotation marks in relation to a comma or whether to capitalize a pronoun used in speech attribution. As students internalize these practices, they will more naturally incorporate them into their own writing.

Reading Helps Students Adapt to Audiences

When we speak, we can adapt to our audience even if it changes over the course of a conversation. Written language must determine its intended audience ahead of time. Sometimes, we know exactly who will read our words. Other times, we can only define our audience by a set of characteristics.

When students read from a wide variety of sources, they learn to identify the audiences that written works try to address. They can use this skill in their own writing to choose appropriate diction and tone for their intended audience.

Reading & Writing: a Reciprocal Relationship

While there are many ways that extensive reading can improve both writing and overall language mastery, there is also evidence that writing improves reading. In a 2010 meta-analysis, the Alliance for Excellent Education advocated writing as a means to improve comprehension of specific texts.

Their recommendations included increasing how much students were asked to write and teaching them writing techniques such as structuring sentences and paragraphs. The study's recommendation that students write about what they read was based on perhaps their most interesting finding: Writing about texts they had read enforced comprehension better than any combination of reading, studying, or discussing the texts.

Extensive reading boosts general reading comprehension, which in turn can improve writing skills. Asking your students to write about what they have read can further increase their comprehension of particular texts. This reciprocal relationship between writing and reading reinforces the idea that extensive reading can be a catalyst for language learning.

Reading & Life after School

The written language skills your students develop through extensive reading will improve their academic performance. More than that, these skills will prepare them for life after school.

Extensive reading will not only improve academic performance, but better prepare your students for managing many important aspects of their lives.

Long after graduation, your students will still reap rich rewards for their reading. When they enter the workforce, their language mastery can improve job performance. Your students will be better equipped to understand complex written information and to write reports and emails more clearly.

Written language skills are not just an asset in the workplace; they affect many aspects of your students' futures. Your students will need a firm grasp of written language to help them manage their own finances, property, and even health. The written language foundation you and your students build together through extensive reading will serve them well throughout the rest of their lives.

By Michelle Baumgartner
April 2017
opinion language learning

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