I recently ran across Stephen Krashen and Haeyoung Kim’s article “Why Don’t Language Acquirers Take Advantage of the Power of Reading?” It was published back in 1997, but the issues are just as applicable today (though I’d like to think that we—language learners and teachers as a whole—are gradually moving in the direction toward taking advantage of the power of reading, though the progress is slow).
The article interviewed five Korean adults who are living in the United States and are acquiring English but who rarely read in English. The reasons they gave for not reading varied a little bit, though I think for most of them the main issues were: 1) not having access to books at an appropriate level for them and 2) not understanding the importance of reading. The learners also mentioned that they had had to do such intensive reading in their English classes in Korea that they had come to think of reading as a “laborious, time-consuming task.” It was hard work, not something enjoyable.
On some level, the learners seemed to recognize that reading was important and could be enjoyable, at least for some people. One woman mentioned that when she heard about an interesting book in English, she would buy it and send it to her daughter to read—but she didn’t read the books herself because she figured they would be too difficult for her.
I think that the reasons these learners gave for not reading are the same reasons that a lot of my students have. Many of my students have told me that they enjoy reading in their L1, but that reading in English can be frustrating because it is difficult.
In my own classroom, I’ve been trying to counteract students’ negative attitudes toward reading and encourage them to read more by doing the following things:
- Talking to them about the effectiveness of reading—I try to continuously remind my students that reading is a really good way to improve their English, and I even occasionally mention specific research studies that show how effective reading is in learning a second language.
- Modeling enthusiasm for reading—I tell my students that I love to read, and I always get excited when they tell me about something they enjoyed reading. Our enthusiasm as teachers can rub off on our students and help them to see reading as something fun.
- Providing reading that is at an appropriate level—If students are trying to read something that is very difficult for them, then of course they don’t like it! But if they are given materials appropriate to their level, then they will realize that reading can be easy and fun. Of course, the materials also need to be interesting. Many reading texts that are at a low enough level for students to understand are boring.
- Giving students choice in what they read—Students have different tastes in books, so it’s important to let them choose what they want to read. And since the students within one class are all at slightly different levels, giving them choice allows them to select books that are appropriate for their level. An FVR (free voluntary reading) library is so important for this. I’m planning on writing a full post on this topic in the next week or two to explain how I set up my own FVR library.
It can be hard to change students’ attitudes toward reading, but it is well worth it. In fact, getting students to enjoy reading and develop a reading habit is probably one of the most important things—if not the most important thing—we can do as language teachers. Reading is something that students can easily do on their own, even after they leave our classes, which sets them up for lifelong learning.
Please comment if you have other ideas for encouraging students to read more!
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