Reading and L2 Learning

The 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature was just awarded to Doris Lessing. From the New York Times:

Ms. Lessing, who turns 88 this month, never finished high school and largely educated herself through voracious reading. She has written dozens of books of fiction, as well as plays, nonfiction and two volumes of autobiography. She is the 11th woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

She never finished high school but won the Nobel Prize. The key to her success was reading, "voracious reading." What slows down students, especially ESL students, is a lack of reading. Without a strong reading background, students lack the vocabulary and the sensitivity to understanding and intuiting how reading and writing works, from such simple mechanical items as spacing, punctuation, and spelling to the critical issues of comprehension; questioning authors and assumptions; analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information; and more

Reading is crucial to all academic endeavors. A few years back, the principal of a charter school in Texas that had a majority of at-risk students, told me,

These students can do the math and science. Their difficulty is they can't read: They can't understand what a problem is asking them to do. But once you explain it to them, they can do it.

Reading is also important for acquiring a second language, especially at the academic level. Although I consider Stephen Krashen's distinction between acquisition and learning to be a specific application of the difference between procedural and declarative knowledge (and thus there is an interface between the two), he is right on the importance of reading. That is, massive reading is important for spelling, vocabulary, literacy development, and language acquisition. Thus, for teachers, a major, probably the major, key to helping their students to learn another language remains creating environments that engage and motivate students to read.

Related posts:
Language Learning vs. Language Acquistion
Engagement and Flow