The Importance of Reading
This post is a transcript of a video on my YouTube channel.
Studying English? Here’s the transcript as a lesson to study on LingQ.
For those of you who have been following my YouTube channel and blog you know that I emphasize listening and reading as being the most important activities for acquiring a language. Of course, we want to speak, we eventually want to speak a lot. Our goal is to speak. We want to speak well, but the emphasis should be on listening and reading because it’s something we can do whenever we want, on our own and it really does help our brain become familiar with the language. If you want to read up on it, you should check out language acquisition with Stephen Krashen who is, in my view, the leading explainer of how we learn languages.
I did a video on listening in French recently and it has been very well received. And so I’m going to do videos on the subject of listening in other languages, maybe Spanish, Japanese and Chinese. Let me know what you would like to hear. Of course, I can’t necessarily do it all that well in the languages that I don’t speak as well, but today I want to focus on reading.
You will notice in behind me is a new backdrop. It shows a bookshelf. So I have two backdrops, I have my wooden plank backdrop, which is in behind, and I have my bookshelf backdrop because I love books. I love reading. I think reading is a phenomenal technology. If we think that that humans did not have the ability to read for most of our existence. For the amount of time that hominids have been on this earth, during the whole process of evolution, there was no reading. And so all of a sudden, as humankind developed this technology of representing words and thought through symbols, which started however many years ago, and I’m not going to go into the history of writing, but there have been many writing systems today in the world. There are many writing systems. All of a sudden humans, our brains have to develop this ability to convert symbols into meaning, into perhaps sound.
It’s amazing that our brains have become very good at doing this. It’s not a simple task, although I’m not a, any kind of a cognitive scientist. I find that if I want to learn how to do something or learn about anything, reading is the fastest way to get there. Listening is great because I can do that while doing other tasks. Reading I have to basically commit myself to reading this thing, but with reading, I can take notes and reading is this wonderful sense that these symbols are being converted into meaning.
It’s certainly true that developing the ability to read well is one of the greatest things that we can do to ensure that we can be successful academically, professionally and so forth. Reading is tremendously powerful. That’s not to say that you can’t learn through experience. I know many people who are not great readers but who develop through their experiences working with machines or around any other kind of thing where they accumulate experience through watching other people do things. They develop a tremendous ability, which makes them very successful humans.
But reading is a shortcut. Reading is tremendously powerful and there’s all kinds of statistics that show that how well we read is a bigger indicator of let’s call it economic, social success, professional success, even than the number of years spent in school or at universities. So reading is powerful.
The same is true for language learning. I like listening. It’s so easy to do. I spend more time listening than anything else because it’s so easy to do. Um, but I realized when I sit down and read I’m gaining more words, vocabulary acquisition is easier through reading than through listening, at least in my experience. Because in a way, the sort of visual representation of a word is, is the written form of that word to me, rather than whatever that word represents. So it would be, if it were English, R E D rather than the colour red. So the written word is a powerful representative of the word and if I have that in my brain, I find it easier to remember vocabulary.
That’s part of what makes learning Persian and Arabic more difficult because I’m not yet so comfortable with that script that I can automatically call up the written representation of the word. But so reading, I say to myself I want to do more reading and as with all of our activities in languages, variety is good, so I read on my iPad using LingQ. There I can look words up, I can listen in the case of Persian and Arabic, where the pronunciation is not always obvious, which is also obviously the case in English that the pronunciation is not obvious, text to speech, and I can hear the word pronounced and that’ll help me read it.
So there’s a number of reasons why reading on the iPad, reading in LingQ, saving words and phrases is an easier way for me to read, but at the same time, I think it’s good to read paper books. And when I was learning, say Slavic languages and even say Polish or Czech, I would enjoy reading paper books, even Romanian, where my vocabulary was more limited because I was so familiar with the alphabet.
It’s more difficult for me to do that in Persian and Arabic. So I’m still at the stage where I’m riding a tricycle with training wheels. I’m still at the stage where I need the assist of LingQ, looking up words, hearing the word pronounced this kind of thing in order to enjoy reading. But still I do find that, whereas I would tend to say listen to a podcast from Al-Jazeera now that more and more content is being pushed at us on LingQ in terms of things that we can import for our own use. And a lot of that is say newspaper articles. I find it quicker to just take that newspaper article and read it in LingQ rather than going through the process of grabbing a YouTube video, taking the URL and getting the MP3 file and getting it transcribed and so forth and so on.
Where listening is easy and it’s powerful, powerful for getting us momentum in the language, for training us towards speaking the language. I associate listening with speaking and reading with vocabulary acquisition. Of course, both are involved in both. So reading helps you speak because you’re acquiring more words, listening helps you read. But if I were to say, what is the emphasis in listening? It’s speaking. What is the emphasis in reading? It’s vocabulary acquisition.
I will continue making videos about listening and the importance of listening, but I don’t want to deemphasize reading. While reading is not something you can do while you’re doing other tasks, like is the case with listening, it’s something that’s relatively portable and you can do it when you have 15 minutes or 10 minutes, or you’re waiting somewhere. And so you can read either because you have a book, paper book, or because you have your iPhone and you can just start reading say in the language that you’re learning, whether on LingQ or some other website.
So reading is extremely important in language acquisition. I will try to do more videos in different languages about the power of listening. And if you have some requests there, please let me know.