Reading Power (Part 1)
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When people ask about English language ability, what is their first question? Usually, they ask this. “Can you speak English?” The total number of native English speakers in the world today is around 375,000,000 people. And about a billion people are learning English. The Economist, a news magazine, said this amazing thing about the future of English. By 2050, half the people in the world will have some degree of English skills. But the point is this. When most people think about foreign language ability, they think about speaking.
Of course, speaking is important. Speaking and listening are the most basic language skills. For one thing, speaking and listening came first. That is, languages were spoken long before they were written and read. Moreover, we value speaking for many reasons. We enjoy talking to our friends and family members. We need speaking for daily life and survival, and we need speaking for doing business, selling, buying, and for telling others important information. If you can speak a foreign language, it is a clear measure that you have a special skill.
There are many ways to improve your speaking skills. You can find a conversation partner. You can practice English conversations from a text with a partner or by yourself. Each day you can learn a new expression, and you can practice it seven times with seven different people. You can listen to a story and repeat it line by line. You can learn a song and sing it out loud. If people see you walking down the street while singing, they may think you are strange. But your English speaking will improve!
These are all good ways to improve your speaking. But many people don’t know a great secret for improving speaking. The secret is this. Reading a lot is a great way to become a better speaker. In fact, research shows that extensive reading is a great way to improve all your language skills.
To learn English, living in an English speaking country is the best. This is because you can spend lots of time with English speakers every day, and you will need English to survive. But besides living abroad, extensive reading may be the next best thing for learning English. You don’t have to go to the English speaking world. You can put the world of English in your hands by reading lots of stories.
But what exactly is extensive reading? And how do you do it? In short, extensive reading is about 5 basic ideas. With extensive reading, you . . .
- read a lot
- read easy stories
- choose what you read
- read interesting stories
- read for pleasure
First of all, extensive reading is reading a lot. For example, during a period of four months, one of my students read 236,434 words. That is an average of 1,954 per day. This may seem like a lot, but look at the amount of time she spent. She reads about 150 words per minute, so she can read all these words, stories, and books in just 13 minutes per day. At this speed, she will read 1,000,000 words in one year. That’s an amazing amount in under 15 minutes per day.
With this much reading, you can expect great results. A professor in Japan showed this in his research. Dr. Hitoshi Nishizawa studied two groups of students. One group of students studied for one year in an English speaking country. Another group did extensive reading every day. Let’s call these groups the “travelers” and the “readers.”
Some of the readers read 3,000,000 words. These readers improved just as much as the travelers. (Remember, the travelers studied abroad for one year.) Some readers read 6,000,000 words, and they improved even more than the travelers. The results of this study are amazing, but good results like this are common in the science of extensive reading. This is a great result, but 3,000,000 words is also a great amount of reading.
When you think about reading millions of words, it helps to remember the story of the turtle and the rabbit. They had a race. The rabbit knew that he was faster, so he rested. He thought, “I will rest now and run fast later. I can still win.”
The turtle was slow, so he thought, “I need to move slowly for the whole race. I must not stop.” The turtle walked little by little, and he kept going while the rabbit rested. And just as the turtle was finishing, the rabbit started to run. But he didn’t have enough time to catch the turtle, and the rabbit lost.