Reading is important

“According to Geisler, (VP at Middlebury College) you need four things to learn a language. First, you have to use it. Second, you have to use it for a purpose. Research shows that doing something while learning a language—preparing a cooking demonstration, creating an art project, putting on a play—stimulates an exchange of meaning that goes beyond using the language for the sake of learning it.

Third, you have to use the language in context. This is where Geisler says all programs have fallen short. “A lot of people think that learning with authentic materials”—audio or video in which native speakers are speaking naturally, without a script—“is just a gimmick. But what you will get out of it is all the nonlinguistic cues that you get in a real language-speaking situation. If you are in a doctor’s office, you know what they are saying due in large part to visual and audio clues, not linguistic clues.”

Fourth, you have to use language in interaction with others. In a 2009 study led by Andrew Meltzoff at the University of Washington, researchers found that young children easily learned a second language from live human interaction while playing and reading books. But audio and DVD approaches with the same material, without the live interaction, fostered no learning progress at all. Two people in conversation constantly give each other feedback that can be used to make changes in how they respond.”

The article this quote comes from discusses Rosetta Stone and finds it quite deficient and it also discusses a program devised by a programmer to aid himself in learning Arabic. In it, he spaces the repetition of words, always in context, so that eventually “recall” of the word is cemented. I would say this is exactly what Krashen recommends wide reading for: it will repeat not only words but grammar feature at intermittent intervals and eventually cover it all, but you have to read. It reminds me of the time I asked a Czech lady lying out at the pool reading a book in German. Knowing she spoke Czech, English, Russian, and, I believe, French, I asked her how she kept herself fluent in several languages; I found myself stagnating. She asked simply, “Do you read?” No, I had to admit, I studied grammar. (I love grammar but seldom read novels; I could have read history and politics, but I love grammar and tried to learn languages by studying their grammars. Now that I read, I know much more.

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