Pleasure boosts English
In order to improve Taiwanese students' English competence, specifically performance on the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), experts have recommended that English education be extended to all four years of college and that teacher quality be improved ("Students' English disappoints," Nov. 7, page 2).
Research shows that the best predictor of scores on the TOEFL is the amount of recreational reading students do, using material that students select themselves and read for their own pleasure. Other studies come to very similar conclusions: Students in classes that emphasize pleasure-reading acquire more grammar and vocabulary than students in
These studies have been done in several different countries, and include important work from Taiwan. Professor Sy-ying Lee of National Taipei University has shown that the amount of pleasure-reading done was a significant predictor of how well students performed in a writing test. Of great interest is the finding that the amount of formal study and the amount of writing did not
predict writing proficiency.
We know from linguistics research that the grammatical system of any language is far too complex to be taught and learned. Linguists admit that they have not yet succeeded in accurately describing all the rules of any language. In addition, academic English requires a vocabulary of between 50,000 and 150,000 words, which is far too many to memorize one at a time.
Reading material that interests students allows them to absorb the complex writing style of English, gradually acquire the huge vocabulary they need, as well as complex grammatical rules.
Before prescribing "more of the same," we might consider taking advantage of this easier, more pleasant path.
University of Southern California