What is extensive reading and why should you do it?

If you could do one thing everyday that would improve your English language vocabulary knowledge, your reading and writing ability, and even your speaking and listening skills, wouldn’t you do it? According to many studies, you’d also experience increases in motivation, and self-esteem. That one thing I’m talking about is extensive reading.

Hello, lovely language learners! Welcome to my channel. I’m Morksensei, and in this video we’re talking about a very powerful method of improving your English language skills.

Extensive reading is basically quickly reading books or other materials that are both easy and interesting for you over long periods of time. This is the opposite of intensive reading, which is slow, careful reading of short, difficult texts. Researchers Day, Bamford, Prowse, and Maley have identified several important characteristics of extensive reading in language learning. Let’s look at seven features of extensive reading, or rather – 7 things to keep in mind when doing extensive reading.

1) Read a lot, read often, and read fast.

Texts for extensive reading should be fairly long. This will depend on your level of English, but 15 to 30 pages of reading at one time is not uncommon. If you want to improve your English really fast, I recommend reading every day! You’ll probably want to have some time put aside for extensive reading, too, because just 5 minutes isn’t enough. You should try reading for at least 20 to 30 minutes at first, then up to 2 to 3 hours at a time if possible. The main goal here is to read as much as you can. Reading quickly ideally means at a pace of at least 150-200 words a minute. If you read easy books slower than that, don’t worry: you’ll get faster with time.

2) Read at your level.

Don’t read books or other things that are too difficult. If you read challenging materials in English, it’s not bad, but it’s not extensive reading anymore. And if you see a word you don’t understand, don’t use your dictionary; instead, try to guess the meaning from context, meaning from how it’s used in the sentence. Only look up a word if it’s absolutely necessary for you to understand the meaning of the text. If there are so many words on a page that you can’t understand, then read something easier. You shouldn’t have to spend so much time trying to understand the meaning.

A good way to find materials at your level is to use something called graded readers. Graded readers are books of fiction and non-fiction which have been adapted (changed) for non-native speakers of English. They use simpler vocabulary and grammar patterns, and are often much shorter. Many companies publish these books. Well-known publishers include Oxford University Press, Pearson, Cengage/ Heinle, Cambridge University Press, and many more. Each company publishes books at many different levels. Usually you can find your level easily if you know your current score on a well-known English proficiency exam, like TOEFL, TOEIC or IELTS. Where can you find these books? Well, bookstores of course, but if you don’t want to buy them, try your library!

Graded readers aren’t your only choice, of course. You can read bilingual books, books aimed at native speakers, magazines, comics, websites, etc. As your English gets better you’ll have more options to choose from.

3) Decide for yourself what you want to read.

It’s important that the content of what you read is interesting to you, otherwise you’ll lose motivation. Believe it or not, I’ve had students of English tell me that they aren’t interested in reading anything, but that might be because they don’t have much experience reading. Learning tends to make you more curious. The more you know, the more you want to know. The more you read, the more you want to read.

4) Read a wide variety of genres and topics.

This will give you exposure to different types of vocabulary and writing styles. Also, the more you read, the more you’ll learn. When you know more, you’ll have more to talk about when you speak English. Your conversations in English will become more interesting as a result.

5) Read for pleasure.

Extensive reading should be enjoyable and not stressful. This is why you have to make sure you choose reading materials that are interesting to you. Don’t read for the purpose of studying English; read for the goal of understanding, learning, and enjoying. The first book I ever read in Japanese was a book about real estate in Tokyo. The book was aimed at native Japanese speakers, so it was a little difficult for me at the time. I tried to find the book in English (my native language), but it didn’t exist. So I just tried to read it in Japanese. It took me a long time, but because I was so interested in the contents, I read it! It gave me confidence in my Japanese reading skills as a result.

6) Read by yourself and read silently.

Extensive reading isn’t an activity you do with a partner or with a group, and you usually don’t do it in your English class. Since the goal is to read quickly, you don’t want to speak out load either. Instead, read at home, in a cafe, in a library, on pubic transportation, or even in bed! (although bed might not be the best choice. Beds are not designed as places to read). However, you should definitely be relaxed when you’re doing extensive reading.

7) Understand that your teacher, if you have one, has little to no role in your reading.

You are the boss. The teacher is only your guide.

OK, so now you know what extensive reading is and how to do it, but why should you do it? The main reason why extensive reading is so powerful is that you get exposed to a lot of language. And the more extensive reading you do, the more language you’re exposed to. This allows you to increase your passive knowledge of vocabulary quite quickly. You develop your skills at guessing meaning through context. Through reading regularly, you’ll also learn new and interesting content to maybe talk about in English later.

To summarize, here’s what you need to do to be successful with extensive reading:

  1. Read a lot, read often, and read fast.
  2. Choose reading material that is easy for you.
  3. Choose topics that are interesting to read.
  4. Read a wide variety of genres and topics.
  5. Read for pleasure, information or general understanding; don’t read to “study English.”
  6. Read silently by yourself.
  7. Remember that your teacher is only your guide.

Regular extensive reading is one of my top tips to help you quickly improve all of your English skills, not just reading. What you learn through regular extensive reading can transfer over to your writing, listening, and speaking skills without you even realizing it.

Of course, extensive reading isn’t the only type of reading you should be doing. You also need intensive reading. Timed reading can be useful, too.

Books and articles on Extensive Reading:

Day, R. and J. Bamford, 1998, Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom, Cambridge University Press.

Day, R. and J. Bamford, 2004, Extensive Reading Activities for Teaching Language, Cambridge University Press.

Day, R. and Bamford, J. (2002) ‘Top Ten Principles for teaching extensive reading.’ Reading in a Foreign Language. http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/October2002/day/day.html

Waring, R. The Inescapable Case for Extensive Reading. http://www.robwaring.org/papers/waring_Nova_2011.pdf

Maley, A ‘Extensive reading: why it is good for our students… and for us.’ https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/extensive-reading-why-it-good-our-students%E2%80%A6-us

Stanley, G. Extensive Reading. https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/extensive-reading

Steiner, J. Reading for Pleasure. http://www.orianit.edu-negev.gov.il/english/files/reading/articles/extenrdg.doc

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