All languages have four basic elements: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Listening comes first in your native language, then speaking, then reading and writing in that order. The skills of listening and speaking are learned naturally from your environment, but reading and writing have to be taught after you have learned the first two skills.
However, when you are learning a new language you usually study all of them at the same time. And if you never use what you learned outside of class your progress will be slow. For those learning English, one effective way to improve vocabulary, grammar and reading speed is to read a lot.
For the past five years, all first and second year English majors have been required to read “graded readers” in a program called Extensive Reading. Graded readers are a series of books that have different levels of difficulty, from low to high level.
The purpose of Extensive Reading is to get students to read many simple and enjoyable texts without using a dictionary so that words, phrases and grammar are repeated over and over again. Through this process students learn the language at a deeper level. Most of the reading is done outside of school.
Many students don’t like to read books these days, even in their native Japanese, so it can sometimes be a challenge. Most Japanese students are familiar with what is called “Intensive Reading.” That is, reading difficult and shorter academic texts and using a dictionary. With Intensive Reading the reading is often very slow and the overall meaning is often less clear.
It is also less enjoyable for many language learners. Intensive Reading is aimed at pushing the students to higher levels of grammar and new vocabulary, while Extensive Reading’s aim is to repeat grammar and vocabulary the students already know or are currently learning so that they can master it over time through repetition.
In the Extensive Reading program at SU, students can check out only one book at a time. After reading the book they take an online quiz. If they get over 50 percent of the questions right the students are awarded points for that book.
For example, if the book they read has 1,000 words, then they will get 1,000 points. After taking the quiz they must wait 24 hours before they can take another one. They must also return the book to the library before checking out a new one.
By the end of each semester students should have read 50,000 words, so after 2 years of Extensive Reading students should have read 200,000 words.
Of course some students read less than that, but many students read much more, especially those students who are serious about studying abroad, those who want to be English teachers in the future or those who just want to improve their TOEIC scores.
There is also something called Extensive Listening which includes audio for listening while they read – but that’s another story.