As a language teacher, I always tell my students to read more, even though I know they might not really enjoy reading that much. But what are the benefits of reading for language development?
TIME magazine reported as early as 2014 that teens are reading less for fun (see Alter, 2014 for more), and as a teacher in secondary and post-secondary education, I can report the same trajectory. A shift may be imminent, though. The rise of TikTok’s BookTok and Bookstagram on Instagram might fuel a new interest in reading, and the popularity of digital reading devices like Amazon’s Kindle makes reading on the go easier and more accessible.
These new trends are great news for anyone interested in learning a new language, as language teachers (including yours truly) keep reminding learners how essential reading is for their language development. The main issue, however, is that most language learning classes focus on intensive reading, and language classes in the Netherlands go even further by solely focussing on intensive reading as the Dutch final exams in foreign languages are intensive reading — we are constantly teaching to the test, consequently ravaging any pleasure Dutch students might experience while reading.
Some interesting questions surface when thinking about reading and language development, especially for those wanting to practise their intensive reading skills but also seeing the benefits of extensive reading. Nevertheless, is it actually true that reading is fundamental for language development? What are the benefits of reading for your English language development, and does the content read matter?
Intensive v Extensive reading
There are two types of reading: intensive and extensive reading. Intensive reading is reading for reading comprehension and focuses on deducting information from a text. Intensive reading is the reading learners do when working on their reading skills and reading strategies, while extensive reading is reading for fun and enjoyment. Intensive reading requires much more focus and attention, as the reader is trying to find or memorise information from the text.