Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Power of Reading

Stephen Krashen, author of The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research (first published by Libraries Unlimited in 1993 and now available in an updated second edition), has some interesting things to say about reading, writing, and the relationship between them. When English learners read for pleasure, Krashen writes, they develop the competence they need to move from a beginning level to the point where they can use English for such purposes as academic study, science, business, and so on. When they read for fun, they can improve their English without classes, without teachers, without studying, and even without people to talk to. (p. 84)

Krashen believes that "free voluntary reading," or FVR, positively affects vocabulary size, spelling, reading comprehension, grammar, and writing style; in fact, research indicates that it is better than direct instruction in improving these areas. (pp. 12-13)

In fact, Krashen writes, "writing style does not come from writing, but from reading." (p. 72) He surmises that although research cannot specify exactly what makes writing "good", "it is...sensible to suppose that writing style is not consciously learned, but is largely absorbed, or subconsciously acquired, from reading."

He notes that people read much more than they write: as much as 150 times as much, speaking of educated adults in the United States, and he further states that the amount of extracurricular (pleasure) reading one does is a strong predictor of English proficiency as measured by the TOEFL, whereas the amount one writes does not correlate with proficiency. This makes sense, according to Krashen, since "language acquisition comes from input, not output, from comprehension, not production." (pp. 74-76)

Television, Krashen says, "does not provide high quality linguistic input" because it is less complex than the language of books, although he admits that TV watching may encourage reading through dramatizations of books. This is because TV uses a small word base, probably under 5,000 words. Compare this to the 3,000+ vocabulary of an average American first-grader.). (pp. 78-81)

Go read a book!

[Page numbers refer to the first paperback edition.]


jenniferho said...

Now I sense that reading is a such important thing when I want to improve my English. Thank you for your information.

Dennis said...

Hi, Nina and students.

I'm glad that Jennifer realizes how important reading is when learning a language.

I was particularly interested in your quotes from Krashen that "...writing style does not come from writing, but from reading" and " is...sensible to suppose that writing style is not consciously learned, but is largely absorbed, or subconsciously acquired, from reading." I think I have known the above intuitively for a long, long time.

I also think reading is a very productive way to acquire new vocabulary and to see countless examples of how English grammar is actually used. I know that it's often difficult to read in a language that's being learned, but I think the rewards of regular reading more than compensate for its difficulty.

By the way, I met Krashen many years ago, when I was working in Los Angeles.

Best wishes to all!

Dennis in Phoenix

fei said...

I know reading is very important for language learners, and I think it is also very important to choose a proper book which has some new words but not too much, because excessive new words would have negative influence on the reading speed, and I would lose my patience. If I have enough time, I would like to reminder some beautiful sentences which are helpful to my writing.