Train like an athlete
Top athletes practice their sport. Footballers practice passing, receiving passes, and scoring. And they run and stretch a lot. Tennis players practice serves and shots. And they run and stretch a lot. Champions practice for hours and hours. To learn English, we should train like an athlete. How? We should read a lot.
Reading is learning
First, reading is not the same as studying. We don’t read in our first language with a dictionary or do fill-in-the-blanks exercises. We read for pleasure. We read to get information. We read because the text is interesting. And when we lose interest, we stop reading. That’s reading. And as we read a lot, we absorb a lot of information about the language. But, we must read a lot. We must absorb a lot of languages. Athletes practice a lot.
Yes, a lot!
What does ‘a lot’ mean? If we read 100 words a day that means 700 words a week. In 10 weeks, we will have read 7,000 words. If we read 1,000 words a day that means 7,000 words a week. In 10 weeks, we will have read 70,000 words. At 2000 words a day, that would be 140,000 words. Get the picture. We need to process lots of language to understand it. If this makes sense, then we can see how reading can help us learn.
Repetition is the mother of memory. The footballer practices and at first, he misses the goal. He persists. Then he begins to score. Soon, he can kick the ball into every part of the goal. Learning English, we might see the sentence, ‘The man is a doctor.’ We understand the meaning. But, we might say, ‘Man doctor,’ or ‘Man is doctor.’ Why do we make those mistakes? Like the footballer, we must practice. At first, we get things wrong. Then, with practice, we get better. And reading is the most accessible practice.
Easy does it
Two takeaways: we must understand what we read and we must do a lot of it. In other words, we need something easy to read. The text must be easy. We don’t want to stop to look up words. We want to read the text and feel good because we ‘got it’. So, if we don’t get it, then the text is too hard. We need to find something easier. Then we can do a lot of reading. Then we can process and absorb a lot of languages.
So, where are all these easy texts? I’ve done internet searches of ‘ESL easy reading’ and found a lot of good starting material. If you can get audio recordings with the text even better. Train the ear and the eye.
Do something different
I’ve used the idea of ‘read a lot’ to keep up with my French. Have I done enough? No. As Shakespeare put it:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
In other words, if I want to change my results, I must change my actions. Kind of makes me want to pick up that French book I’ve been meaning to read…
*Note: The best way to learn English is to live in England.
By Abdul Matin Chabot