By Jay Busse, M.A.T., Writing Center Tutor
My ELL students frequently ask, “What is the fastest way to learn English?” I believe that, for ELL college students, the number one way to improve English is through reading. What does that have to do with the latest superfood?
Maybe you remember when pesto was trendy, or sun-dried tomatoes or chipotle peppers. The “in” food now seems to be kale. Whether it is kale chips or kale pizza, the green leaf is finding its way into everything! What does this have to do with reading? Reading should be touted as the hot, new “in” way to improve your English.
As I said, my ELLs frequently ask, “What is the fastest way to learn English?” First, I remind them that instead of concentrating on English in general, they should focus on the individual aspects, which are reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Reading will help ELLs improve in each of these categories.
Reading benefits your writing. When reading, you are exposed to different styles of writers. You are exposed to different writing styles (persuasive, narrative, expository, technical, and descriptive) new vocabulary and grammatical structures. The more you read, the more influenced you become. These influences become blended with your own style to create your own unique voice. Some of my students occasionally struggle with transitions, introductions and conclusions. Reading how others have tackled these tasks will give students some ideas of their own.
To improve listening, students are frequently steered towards listening to song lyrics or watching television. To improve speaking, a common suggestion is to find a native English-speaking friend. Reading helps your speaking and listening in similar ways. Because you are exposed to more vocabulary, reading provides you with greater flexibility in your interpersonal communication. Additionally, you can practice one of the most important communicative strategies-using context. Even more than a dictionary, context is the most common way to identify the meaning of new words. Reading is fantastic practice for this important learning tactic. You have the extra advantage of having an entire paragraph, page or story to help you understand the application of the unknown word.
When speaking, it can be a bit awkward to ask people to frequently repeat themselves. With written texts, you have the luxury of simply rereading the passage as many times as you like. Additionally, reading aloud helps you to visually and aurally identify exactly how sounds, syllables, words, clauses, sentences, and paragraphs fit together. When you read aloud, you can listen to the expression of your voice, the rate prosody and intonation. These attributes are indispensible in effective speaking and listening. Using that same friend to correspond with is a good way to improve writing, for sure.
Although sometimes overlooked, reading will never go out of vogue if you want to improve your grammar, spelling, vocabulary, pronunciation, listening comprehension, and overall writing.