Many students focus too much on speaking English. They become obsessed with speaking and often ignore reading. Maybe they find reading boring, or they think it’s not as useful. This is a huge mistake and actually slows down their learning. It also stops students reaching the highest levels. This is why:
1) You need to know words before you can speak them
Reading in a foreign language is the best way to learn new words. In spoken language people use the same vocabulary again and again. You have no time to think, so you automatically use the simplest, most common expressions (I like James Bond films, I like you, I like penguins). People are often more adventurous with their vocabulary when they write (I’m really keen on James Bond films, I adore you, I’ve got a penchant for penguins).
Reading expands your vocabulary which you need for all parts of language learning. Speaking, listening and writing will only improve when you have the vocabulary. And reading is the easiest way to get it.
2) Your grammar improves
People have more time to think and plan before they write than before they speak. You can also edit it. So you’ll find a wider variety of grammatical structures in written English that you don’t usually get in spoken English.
You also see words in their ‘natural habitat’; you can see how words fit together and are used for a purpose.
Students who read more, tend to produce better writing themselves. They are more confident in using complicated grammar structures and longer sentences and they are also more familiar with punctuation.
3) Reading makes you speak better
Especially at Advanced level I see a huge difference in the speaking skills of students who read regularly and students who don’t. Students who read regularly answer questions better; they can construct logical and convincing arguments and defend their point of view. They can tell anecdotes skillfully, recount stories in an interesting and effective way and generally hold conversations better.
This is also because:
4) Reading gives you more to say
It is very difficult to have a conversation or write an essay if you know nothing about a topic. Reading gives you knowledge. Often the best class discussions are when students bring their own examples to the debate that they have read about.
Reading helps you form opinions about things. And when you have an opinion about something, it makes writing or talking about it much more enjoyable and rewarding.
My students always ask how they can become more fluent. My answer is always the same: read more.
Speaking a language fluently is usually a student’s goal. And it should be. But reading helps students get there much faster and when students reach higher levels, reading becomes necessary.
Advanced students know all of the basic vocabulary and can hold a very nice conversation, but without reading, it’s very easy for them to just plateau and not improve. Reading pushes them to use new words and express new ideas.
You cannot speak fluently if you have nothing to say. Reading gives you the vocabulary, grammar, ideas and inspiration to take conversations further.