After years of studying Chinese, many people ask, “Why can’t I speak Chinese? I’ve been studying for years but I still can’t speak!” Fluent speaking only happens when the language enters our “comfort zone.” This comfort only comes from experience with the language. The more times you meet a word, phrase, or grammar point, the more likely it will enter your comfort zone.
There are four key benefits you can experience from reading at an extensive level that answer: “Why use graded readers?”
Why use graded readers to learn a foreign language?
1. Learn Vocabulary at a Faster Rate
The principle behind extensive reading is comprehensible input. Research shows that extensive reading helps learners to acquire vocabulary twice as fast when compared to flash cards.
Because the learner sees new characters and words in context at a comprehensible level, comprehension comes easier along with the understanding of how to use it when speaking and writing.
2. Learn Grammar Naturally
Grammar is essentially patterns in language and the human brain is very good at recognizing patterns.
When Chinese grammatical patterns are seen over and over again in context, our brains begin to recognize these and with enough repetition naturally understand how they work.
Grammar becomes naturally acquired instead of intentionally learned.
3. Trains Your Brain to Automatically Process Chinese
When you listen or read Chinese, do you translate it into English to understand it? Fluency and proficiency really starts to accelerate when we can begin to understand the language in Chinese without relying on our native language to translate it.
Extensive reading gives your brain so much comprehensible input that it trains your brain to automatically process the language without having to translate in your head. When you are able to automatically process the language, it frees up space in your memory for other things.
As a learner is able to automatically process the language, reading speed increases and learners will move from reading “word by word” to processing “chunks of language” and ultimately onto “reading with ideas”.
It is because of this automatic processing that countless studies show that students who engage in extensive reading also experience significant improvement in listening, speaking, and writing, even if they are not being specifically practiced. It impacts all aspects of language learning.
4. It’s Fun
When was the last time you read a Chinese textbook for fun?
However, when was the last time you read a book for fun?
Extensive reading is one of the few methods of learning a language that is fun. Many readers share the experience of getting lost in the story, just waiting to turn the page to see what will happen next. Don’t be surprised if you even forget you are reading in Chinese!
This is due in part to the fact that extensive reading is an implicit learning activity as opposed to explicit learning. The focus is on comprehension, speed, and enjoyment where you happen to learn along the way.
This creates an ideal environment for learning which makes extensive reading a joy.