What’s so important about reading anyway?

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What’s so important about reading anyway?

Note: There is a link to resources below.

If there were only one thing that we could do with our students in the classroom, what should it be?


Reading is unquestionably one of the most important things – if not the most important thing – that our students should do. I would even add that reading aloud is arguably just as important. (For more on the benefits of reading aloud, please check out Jim Trelease’s book Read-Aloud Handbook.)

Cognitively, reading works out the brain and improves literacy. It also improves concentrations and the ability to focus. However, reading offers more than just cognitive benefits. Reading also reduces stress, improves sleep, and even helps teach empathy. And, of course, these benefits extend to reading in the target language. Now, let’s look at more benefits of reading in the target language:

  • For maximum vocabulary development, learners need to read all along the way, since most vocabulary development in both L1 and L2 is incidental, meaning that vocabulary is learned as a by-product of some other intention (normally reading). – Dr. Bill VanPatten
  • Visual receptors in the brain outnumber auditory receptors 30 : 1.32 In other words, the chances of a word (or sentence) being retained in our memory bank are thirty times greater if we see it instead of just hear it. – Jim Trelease
  • The best way to improve in a foreign language is to do a great deal of comprehensible, interesting reading. – Beniko Masona
  • Incidental learning of words during reading may be the easiest and single most powerful means of promoting large-scale vocabulary growth. – W.E. Nagy & P.A. Herdman (quoted in “Extended Reading in the Foreign Language Classroom”)
  • People acquiring a second language have the best chance for success through reading. ―Stephen Krashen (professor emeritus at the University of Southern California)

With that in mind, we need to ask ourselves what reading looks like in our classrooms. Is it a significant part of your class time? Are your students engaged in Sustained Silent Reading (SSR)? Whole Class Reading? Are you reading aloud to your students?

As you consider the role of reading in your classroom, I would also offer that reading is much more than excerpts from a textbook. I would contend that reading needs to be high-interest and students need a variety of reading material. Furthermore, you must also model reading in the classroom. That is, you are reading while the class is reading. You are not grading papers, checking email, etc. You have a book in your hand, and you are reading with your students. (When we do SSR in my classroom, I read in Spanish! I’m showing my students that I am with them on my own language-learning journey!)

I understand there is much to consider as you reflect on reading in the world language classroom. So, if you have questions about reading and how to support your students with reading in the target language, here is an excellent starting point that includes many free resources:

Bryce Hedstrom: Reading Resources

Keep Reading and Stories Fresh & Engaging

Finally, I would like to hear your thoughts and experiences about reading in the world language in the classroom. Please share them in the comment section below!

Mach’s gut!

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