Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Importance of Extensive Reading

`Extensive reading crucial for English acquisition

Voluntary extensive reading is an effective way for Koreans to acquire English fluency, an English education expert believes.

Shin Kyu-cheol, professor in the department of English language at Far East University, feels it can expose them not only to the language but also to culture and material that would motivate them to study.

Koreans are learning English as a foreign language (not a second language) in an environment where exposure to the language and culture is rare. Reading would help increase the exposure, Shin said.

Through reading books that are rich in linguistic and cultural elements, one can learn how words are used in specific contexts, and enhance critical and creative thinking skills and cultural understanding.

Shin, who has headed the Korea Association of English Reading Education, a group of some 100 English education experts, since its inception in April 2008, underscored that starting with boo ks that are interesting and easy to read is important.

There are many books that have been adapted according to learners levels. Learners should choose books that are one level lower than their current one to maintain their interest and motivation, Shin said.

If the books are not interesting, reading could become a difficult chore, which would discourage learners to continue to read.

The professor claimed that through extensive reading, learners can develop all four language skills - reading, writing, speaking and listening - in an integrated way.

While reading books extensively, learners would repeatedly encounter words and expressions, which will be then internalized and used proficiently when they write things in English, Shin said.

With the proper training to recognize sounds for corresponding words and expressions that they have read, learners can develop their speaking and listening skills. They can use a wide array of multimedia materials containing what they read in the books.

Multimedia materials can be helpful in enhancing learners phonemic awareness to enable them to hear, identify and manipulate phonemes, the smallest units of sound that can differentiate meaning, he said.

Noting that despite many years of studying English, many Koreans have difficulty speaking English, Shin said Koreans should remove their obsession with being perfectly accurate in their language production.
Psychologically, Korean learners seek to be perfect and accurate in their use of English. That is why they are reluctant to speak English and write things in English as they fear making mistakes, Shin said.

What matters is whether they can communicate with the international communication tool, not whether they have a native-like pronunciation.
Shin also stressed that there should be changes in the current public English education.

English education should b e learner-centered. Securing good teachers is important, but what is more crucial is to forge a good learning environment in which students are motivated to voluntarily study English, he said.
Teachers can play a role of a facilitator who can help students select good books and study in good reading environments.

By Song Sang-ho

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