Extensive Reading

Extensive Reading
A current focus in language learning is on reading, of which there are two types of great benefit to the second
language student: extensive reading and narrow reading.
What exactly is extensive reading?
Extensive reading is an approach to language learning in which students read a lot of easy material in the new
language. The benefits of extensive reading are as follows:
1) It allows the learners to see language as it is used naturally, and in real communication.
2) It gives practice in improving reading speed, which is essential for allowing students to build fluency.
3) It offers the opportunity to learn many new words and phrases.
4) It gives opportunities to practice guessing words from context (the most important vocabulary building
5) It encourages students to develop the habit of reading for pleasure, which is a skill that can be continued
throughout one’s life.
An essential feature of extensive reading is that the material must be easy to read so that the student can read
quickly, and enjoy reading. If it is too difficult, the student will not learn. In extensive reading, if the student
doesn’t already know 98% of the vocabulary (only 2~3 new words per page), it is too difficult and an easier
book should be chosen. Dictionaries are rarely used while reading because the constant stopping to look up
words makes fluent reading difficult. Students may feel that knowing 98% of the vocabulary means the book is
too easy. However, consider this: if the student knows 98%, this means that 2% of the words are unknown. On
an average page, there are about 150~200 words. This means for each page, there are 3~4 new words. A short
book will be about 100 pages. Again, this means there will be between 300~400 new words in the book. Even if
each new word appears twice in the book, there will still be at least 100 new words in the book. Given that the
average student can easily read a 100-page book in a week, we see that this is nonetheless a lot of new
vocabulary. In fact, a student cannot truly understand, learn and be able to use 100 new words a week, so even
at 98% comprehension, it is a challenging endeavour.
So, can regular reading help students with skills other than simply improving their reading speed? Somewhat
surprisingly, Huang and van Naerssen (1987) found that reading outside class was the most significant predictor
of oral communicative, or simply put, speaking ability. Furthermore, Gradman and Hanania (1991) found that
out of class reading was the most important direct contributor to TOEFL test performance. Stated simply,
reading regularly is the single most effective way of improving your reading, writing, vocabulary, grammar,
and speaking skills, as well as your performance on the TOEFL test. There are many reasons for this. One
reason is that by reading, you are constantly being shown models of correct English. Language learning is
largely an unconscious and intuitive process. For this reason, it is essential that students receive as much
exposure to authentic language as possible. In addition, by constantly seeing vocabulary in context, students
receive information regarding how the vocabulary is used, thereby increasing their vocabulary knowledge,
which is vital to knowing how to use the vocabulary themselves.
The simple message is this:
Research has shown that if you want to improve your reading, writing, speaking, grammar,
vocabulary and TOEFL test performance, the best way is to read frequently for pleasure!
This is extensive reading!