Intensive and Extensive: 2 Ways of Reading That Power Language Learning
Intensive and extensive reading, named after a detailed study by Harold Palmer, are two distinct methods of reading. Both are useful for learning a second language.
What Intensive Reading Is
Intensive reading is just what the name implies!
It’s reading where testing, evaluating and increasing knowledge is the primary focus. Understanding the literal meaning of what’s being read is vital. Reading intensively often includes note-taking and attention to details.
In intensive reading, there’s an emphasis on deconstructing sentences to understand grammar and syntax rules as well as to extricate the details of the topic. It can also involve reading comprehension testing, such as finding answers to specific questions.
Some possible examples of intensive reading material are reports, contracts, news articles, blog posts and short pieces of text such as short stories.
What Extensive Reading Is
Extensive reading is a completely different sort of approach.
Know how it feels when you’re doing something simply for the joy of doing it? Like riding a bicycle or dancing, when you know it won’t matter if you don’t get the gears shifted perfectly or your dance steps don’t hit every downbeat?
Extensive reading is like that. It’s reading for fun. And it’s doing it as often as possible.
Fluency and total comprehension aren’t necessary for extensive reading. It’s great to read at or, even better, below a comfortable level of understanding. Most of the time, an unfamiliar word can be deciphered by the surrounding text and if not, that’s fine, too. It’s not vital to understand every single word in order to get the general idea of a particular passage.
It’s generally accepted that 90-95% of the words should be familiar in order to read comfortably in a foreign language. And most of us can get along pretty well even without having all that vocabulary in our toolboxes. Guessing, especially when reading extensively, does work.
The idea behind extensive reading is that increased exposure leads to stronger language skills. Think of the vocabulary you’re being exposed to when you read a lot. And seeing the structure, idioms and cadence of a language leads to familiarity, which leads to reading competence.
Think about dancing again. The more you dance, the better you get. Reading extensively is just like that—but without the tight shoes!
Possible examples of extensive reading material are magazines, graded readers, novels and, yes, even comic books!