Intensive Vs. Extensive: How to read effectively in your target language

Reading is an essential, but sometimes overlooked, component to language learning.  As language learners, we tend to put a lot of emphasis on speaking and rightfully so, as the goal for most of us is to be able to converse with other people.  But what if you could boost your vocabulary and help solidify grammar without doing endless drills.  Creating a habit of reading in your target language can help you do just that.

“Making reading a habit is as easy as taking 5 minutes out of each day to read something of interest to you.”

With regards to language acquisition; two main types of reading exist: intensive reading and extensive reading.

Intensive Reading

Intensive reading is a deliberate and focused activity.  Typically it involves reading for the purpose of deconstructing and understanding every part of the material.  With this in mind, materials should be fairly short and relevant to your interests.  Blog posts, Wikipedia and news articles in areas of interest to you are great places to look for intensive reading materials.  Physical copies of these materials work best so that you can highlight and make notes as you work through the text.exam

Reading intensively is just that… intensive.  This means you need to limit your reading times to blocks of 10-15 minutes at a time with small breaks in between.  This ensures that you will have the mental focus and energy to retain the information you are acquiring.  To keep your focus sharp, try to reduce distractions, find a comfortable quiet space.  If you enjoy to listen to music while you read or study, try to limit it to music without lyrics so you can direct all of your attention and mental energy to the words on the page.

While reading intensively, don’t be afraid to mark up your text and make notes.  If you are reading a novel and you don’t like writing directly on the pages it may be helpful to keep a notebook close by so that you can write down words, phrases, or grammar notes that are unfamiliar to you.  This is a great way to amass vocabulary for future study in other methods such as the “Harry Potter Method” or the Goldlist Method.

“…limit your reading times to blocks of 10-15 minutes at a time with small breaks in between.  This ensures that you will have the mental focus and energy to retain the information you are acquiring.”

When done properly, intensive reading sessions can be a productive boost to your language learning routine.

Extensive Reading

If intensive reading is “work”, extensive reading can be thought of as “play”.  Here the goal is not 100% comprehension of the text but instead reading for the sake of reading.  Although this may seem counterintuitive and somewhat like a waste of time, spending time with the language helps your brain to make sense of all of the content you are actively learning.

booksReading material should be suitable to your comfort level in your target language.  If you are still at the basic level try reading children’s books, graduated readers, and dual-language stories.  Once you reach intermediate and advanced levels in your target language you can start to read a wider array of topics that interest you.  The point of extensive reading is to read as much as your can for longer periods of time.  You don’t need to stop and translate every word or phrase unless it is prohibiting you from understanding the overall message.

Prolonged and repeated exposure to a language will help your brain to passively organize grammar and vocabulary in a way that increases familiarity and helps pave the way for faster recall.

Putting it all together

When used in conjunction, both intensive and extensive reading have applications that will surely boost your language learning routines.  Each offers benefits that supplement your studies and will help to solidify your learning.  There is no doubt that avid readers enjoy the benefits of a larger vocabulary and better communication and this directly translates to reading in your second language as well.

Try incorporating both reading styles in your daily routine by setting goals and scheduling time to read.  Making reading a habit is as easy as taking 5 minutes out of each day to read something of interest to you.  As this becomes easier to schedule into your day; try increasing the duration of your reading sessions.  Once you have made reading a habit try allotting time towards each reading style and setting reasonably attainable goals.  For example, you may want to make it a daily goal to intensively read one Wikipedia article each morning while checking your email and read extensively for 10 minutes each night before bed.  This will amount to, at most, 20 – 30 minutes a day of reading and will surely boost your progress in your target language.

Good luck and as always Have Fun!

 

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