Imagine for a moment…
A little girl running down the hallway from her bedroom to the living room. Struggling to carry a book that is nearly bigger than her own tiny-tot size, she teeters back and forth, bumping into the walls and laughing along the way.
She is hurriedly making her way to her designated spot on the floor next to her mother’s feet.
Close enough to be heard but far enough away to feel independent, there she lays, finger on the page, carefully reading word after word.
When she comes to a word she does not know, she struggles to sound out the letters as she has been taught.
Her mother listens as her daughter makes her way through the phonetic sounds, pausing to remember whether the vowel is long or short. Without looking down at the frustrated child, the mother magically tells her the word with which she struggles.
The little girl looks up at her mother. She is simultaneously perturbed and astonished.
It upsets her that she could not figure out the word on her own. And yet, it also amazes the child that her mother knew the word without out so much as looking down at her. In earnest, she repeats the word and continues to read the story.
This is one of my earliest memories.
Now, as an adult looking back on this childhood memory, I know this was not magic.
My mother was an educated adult, English was her native language, and I was a 5-year-old reading a children’s book. My mother’s fluency in the language helped her to anticipate the words with which I struggled.
She was listening to me as I read and was, therefore, able to follow the logical progression of the grammar structure. I have done this myself, with my own children.
This is not magic.
It is a skill, a skill that is honed as a natural part of language fluency and literacy mastery. In this instance, learning English.
But… make no mistake. It was magical.
The real magic took place in the imagination of that little girl.
Worlds were created and destroyed. Enchanted, bizarre, technicolor and black & white. Strange and wonderful creatures, large and small. Sprawling kingdoms, ominous jungles, and quaint little villages.
There were times I even attempted to create my very own secret language. Little did I know at the time, but creating your own language requires that at least two people speak it.
You must have someone to talk to!!!
That young girl’s experience was the beginning of a love story.
Storytelling at its best!
I was learning English while learning to read and comprehend fascinating stories.
I can’t say for certain the moment I knew I would never want to be separated from the written word again, but I can say that by the age of 12 I knew, hands down, I was, for better or worse, in love with reading, stories, and the absolute, unadulterated power of language.
Reading is fundamental to language fluency.
I am often asked – how long will it take me to become fluent in English? To which I respond with a question of my own – do you read?
Usually, this response elicits grimaces, but I ask the question with all sincerity.
You see, reading is the fastest way to learn vocabulary in context. We learn both the language and its usage this way.
Whether we are reading fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or even something as mundane as data reports, all that we read tells a story.
In addition, we learn grammar indirectly because we are absorbing the grammatical structure in which it is written (this is why it is important to read quality reading material – you don’t want to read text that is riddled with grammatical errors, then repeat the writer’s mistakes – that would be terrible!).
Also, we learn about the culture in which the language is used.
When we read, we learn:
And so much more!
Not to mention the fact that we have the added benefit of reading a good story and learning more about the world we live in.
Why do we learn so much when we read (often without realizing it)? Because it is all there, contained within the text.
It is in our news articles, short stories, novels, plays, tv scripts, research articles, documentation, and all manner of writing because language is the most common form of communication, whether written or spoken, and we are always already telling a story.
In order for that story to be interesting, compelling, engaging, in other words – holding our attention – it must contain some of the elements listed above.
Students also ask what can they do if they don’t have native speakers available to practice their English.
Of course, there is no substitute for another human being with whom you can speak, but until such time as you have someone to speak to – practice, practice, practice!
Practice reading out loud. The more you practice, the more confident you will be when the opportunity presents itself.
Record yourself reading, then listen to the recording, and evaluate yourself.
Believe it or not, even if you are uncomfortable speaking in the target language when you hear yourself on the recording, you will recognize many large and small errors, just as you would if you heard another non-native speaker talking.
You won’t catch all the errors, but you will catch many of them. As an added bonus, you will also learn to evaluate your own speaking.
As you begin to read more in English, you will discover that your vocabulary, your comprehension, and your fluency are increasing.
You will make new and interesting discoveries about the language, the people, and the culture because you will come to appreciate that storytelling always has been the most significant and profound way in which we as humans communicate with one another across time and space.
And hopefully, you will hunger for more.
Are you ready to open the door to the many worlds of possibility and adventure?
Read everything. Read every day. Record yourself. Listen to yourself reading. Evaluate your reading and pronunciation. Rinse and repeat!
By the way, save those recordings and be sure to date the audio file. Once a month, listen to a couple of the previous month’s recordings. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the difference you hear.
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Let us know how your reading is coming along. We would love to hear about your discoveries – in language fluency, interesting stories, and insights into American culture.