Reading is an essential part of language instruction at every level because it supports learning in multiple ways. Teaching reading means engaging learners in the move from learning to read to reading to learn.
Your first objective as a language teacher is to support your students in learning to read:
- Learning to recognize the script or writing system that is used for written text, and to read it with sufficient ease to become fluent readers
- Learning the cultural conventions that govern the structure and content of different types of written material
- Learning to use reading strategies to facilitate reading fluency and comprehension
The purpose for learning to read is not merely to develop skills in decoding the writing system and applying reading strategies, however. The purpose is to be able to use reading to learn – and to enjoy.
- Reading to learn the language: Reading material is language input. By giving students a variety of materials to read, you can provide multiple opportunities for them to absorb vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and discourse structure as they occur in authentic contexts.
- Reading for content information: Reading for content information in the language classroom gives students both authentic reading material and an authentic purpose for reading.
- Reading for cultural knowledge and awareness: Reading materials that are designed for native speakers can give students insight into the lifestyles and worldviews of the people whose language they are studying.
- Reading for relaxation: As learners’ reading ability grows, so does their capacity to appreciate and enjoy print material beyond what is assigned in the curriculum.
Reading to learn most often involves reading as an interpretive mode of communication, as defined by ACTFL (https://www.actfl.org/publications/all/world-readiness-standards-learning-languages/standards-summar). The reader does not have direct access to the author of the text, and must construct meaning from the text itself, drawing on existing knowledge and skills.
However, learners’ purposes for reading can also include the interpersonal mode, in activities such as text-based conversations (texting, emailing, social media posts), online discussion forums, and peer feedback assignments.
In communicative language teaching, teachers work with their learners to identify reasons for reading and connect reading lessons and activities with the interpretive and interpersonal purposes that learners have for developing and using reading skills. Making these connections helps motivate learners to see reading as both useful and rewarding.