We all agree that reading is good. We encourage our children to read because it’s a good way to learn new words and expressions, because they get a broader look on things and because it’ll make them better at writing as well.
For the last few hundred years reading has been the objective of foreign language education. Most experts have (luckily enough) come back from that standpoint, but reading is still regarded as a very important activity in learning another language. And I tend to agree.
When learning Spanish you first want to train your ear to pick up the sounds of the language. An extreme viewpoint is that you should ignore reading entirely at that point. But because I started using the sentence method quite soon after starting with Spanish I think reading can actually be a help as long as you’re getting more input in the form of audio (because that is the way you’ll be communicating more and it’s also the skill that’s the hardest to progress in, along with speaking).
But there’s reading and there’s reading. Better put; there’s intensive reading and extensive reading. What should you do, and more important: what is intensive and extensive reading?
Intensive reading is the form of reading you do when you’re trying to see every comma, every apostrophe, every new word and every detail of the different words. Logically this is slowest way to read. It can be benificial though as it enables you to pick up certain grammar functions you’re struggling with or to learn how to exactly spell a word.
Extensive reading is just reading as much as you can, without worrying about commas, apostrophes, new words, etc. In foreign language education it’s sometimes called reading miles, where you really read miles of lines. This is what we do in our native language and when we just want to just enjoy a book. And it works, just as intensive reading works for what’s it’s best for.
Just keep this in mind: when you’re reading extensively you’re often going for the story and only stop when you see and unknown word (not always, as you often skip unknown words when reading extensively). Extensive reading is great to pick up new vocabulary from context and enjoying Spanish (or any other target language you have). It can also help you with grammar, but not as much as intensive reading.
Intensive reading is a great way to get a better feeling for grammar but can be rather dull to do. You’re actually analyzing a piece of text that should be read to give you a good time. But it’s useful nonetheless.
Beware to not try to learn new words from context when reading intensively. You’re simply reading too slowly to get a grasp of what’s going on and therefore you won’t be able to pick up the meaning of a certain word from context. Next to that; you’re already doing something that’s quite memory-intensive and you should limit your energy to that.
So what should you do? It’s up to you. Don’t focus entirely on intensive reading nor extensive reading. I’d say to do about 80% extensive reading and 20% intensive reading (the 80/20 principle), but intensive reading could even be less. This is because you can look up every new word when reading intensively, but if you don’t see them in a great variety of contexts (like you do when you read extensively), you’re probably going to forget it right away. So do more extensive reading to get a great variety of contexts for new words and expressions.
Photo by Barry Yanowitz