Extensive reading is the practice of reading in one’s own free time for pleasure. Extensive reading is done fairly quickly without too much thought for unknown vocabulary.
Research has shown that in order to learn a word properly, a person must encounter that word in different contexts upwards of 15 times. Context means the word must be used in a sentence within written or verbal communication. Simply learning words from a word list is no where near enough to actually learn the full meaning and usage of a word and incorporate it accurately into your own language. The best way to maximise your chance of learning a word by meeting it several times in different contexts is through reading extensively.
Many students feel that they cannot read fast enough or well enough for the IELTS test. The only way to improve your reading ability is through practice. Luckily, this doesn’t mean a student has to take IELTS reading test after IELTS reading test. By reading in English for pleasure in your free time, you can still improve your reading ability and hopefully enjoy the experience.
It may not be surprising that students who practice extensive reading make significant improvements in their reading and writing proficiency. However, research has also demonstrated that extensive readers also see improvements in their speaking and listening ability. This may be a result of a process called “automatization” where you no longer have to make a conscious effort to process and produce language, it just happens automatically like in your first language.
Extensive readers should aim to read as often as possible. It is better to aim to read little but often rather than reading a lot in one go only occasionally. About 20 minutes a day should be enough to make a difference.
Research shows that for a reader to have a good comprehension of a text they should know the meaning of 98% of the words. (For listening it’s slightly lower at 95%). These figures may seem discouraging, but students should use this information to guide their choice of text. It’s not realistic to start reading novels if you are at an intermediate English-level. There are simply too many new words, it will be difficult and tiring and you will give up. Instead, aim for graded readers or online articles.
Instead of reaching for the nearest English copy of Harry Potter look for graded readers. These are books which have been designed to contain less difficult language for a learner to understand and/or have inbuilt glossaries. There are plenty available on the internet and in many Vietnamese book shops.
Alternatively, reading the news is a great way to meet the same vocabulary again and again without stretching yourself too much. Newspapers are designed to have clear and accurate language. They are perfect tools for language learners. If you’re a lower level learner you could even try reading only articles about the one topic for a couple of weeks e.g. the environment. This way you limit the breadth of new words and increase your chances of meeting and therefore learning words about the topic.
Finally, you’ve got to enjoy what you’re reading. If you have an interest or a hobby, read about it in English. Build reading an English news website into your break time at work. Go to your favourite coffee shop with a friend and spend a quiet couple of hours reading and discussing a graded reader. Enjoying the experience actually increases your chances of learning new language and making extensive reading part of your routine.
Ms. Robyn Edward