The importance of books in second language acquisition

Reading is an essential part of second language acquisition or 2LA, so it’s a surprise that it’s so often overlooked and that many foreign language curriculums don’t encourage it.

Reading, even at a slow pace exposes students to more sentences, grammar, and new vocabulary per minute than the average, short class, TV show, or song. This is why students who read foreign books are able to speak more fluently than students who don’t, despite having done the same amount of classes.

Reading offers students a wider range of vocabulary and grammar, it essentially supports and feeds the brain with the correct language structures. That’s why we at Lingo Bus find reading an essential part of our Chinese language program.

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Although reading may be a source of frustration at first, students who make it a ritual to read gain language skills much faster than their counterparts. Teaching through reading allows students to engage with their teacher cultivating a rich learning experience. Many researchers have focused on the positives of why books are an essential part of a language curriculum, especially for kids. This isn’t anything new, going back as early as 1995 researchers Moeller & Meyer researched the positives of using books in early childhood second language acquisition.

They found that since children’s literature makes use of natural language patterns in familiar contexts that the students can relate to, that it helped the students to make connections and recollect those language structures much faster.

Children’s books contain more than just vocabulary, the images provided also help the reader comprehend the meaning without language skills, the images support the text in a mutual relationship. As learning is facilitated by visual cues, reading helps the brain to remember these language structures as the learner will connect an image to the word it represents.

Reading also helps with recall as students will link those grammar structures to past memories involved with book reading, especially if the memories are linked with positive feelings.

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We also need to remember that books contain a richer and more refined form of language. Most books have been written, drafted, and re-drafted until they convey the intended meaning. Whereas when using speech, the meaning can be ambiguous in comparison to a written form, as when speaking we don’t take that much time to think before relaying the information. Relying on just spoken forms can lead to a simplified acquisition of language skills, in spoken form we could say “The weather is bad”, but in a written form we could throw in “dreadful, awful, lousy, abominable, etc” the list could go on and on.

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This all makes sense if we recap the two main theories of 2LA by researchers Cambourne and Krashen. Cambourne researched and created a list of conditions that make it possible for children to learn a second language (see image one). Whereas Krashen focused more on the theoretical model, and how children learn through two different methods, acquisition (subconscious) and learning.

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A program like Lingo Bus that provides books as part of their curriculum involves learners so that it can meet all of Camourne’s and Krashen’s conditions. This is all done with the student’s development in mind, as reading is an excellent aid in language acquisition and learning.