Has the Internet made reading less popular or can it help people learning English to read more and get better?


Magical _booksThere seems to be widespread belief, even panic, that reading is no longer as popular as it was before the Internet age and is in terminal decline. This is nothing new. In the 20th century, newspaper journalists wrote article after article telling their readers that, first, cinema and then television would mean the death of reading. They believed that the written word could not compete with moving images. However, although cinemas saw their audiences fall when the TV set entered every home, reading is as popular as it always has been.

What is different today though is that, unlike TV and cinema, where content is broadcast to a largely passive audience, the Internet is much more interactive and now more and more people, particularly younger people, do much of their reading on screens. Computers, e-readers such as the Kindle, ipads and increasingly on mobile phones. However, people are still reading and, who knows, maybe the Internet will play a significant part in encouraging a whole new generation of readers!

It's true of course that many older people (who grew up with books and love the smell of second-hand pages) might complain that screens don't have the same feel, but that is a question of the media we use to read, not reading itself, and what's also true is that new electronic devices provide different capabilities to paper that we are only beginning to explore.

For people trying to improve their English through reading though, there are other problems related to Gutenberg .press
the expense and availability of what they want to read, no matter whether it's on paper or plasma. Everyone can download literally hundreds of thousands of books - from classic authors to the latest thriller - but these are not accessible to people who are struggling to learn the language. There is very little out there for them and a lot of what they can buy is aimed at school children. There's not much for adults - crime, thrillers, more serious literature perhaps or, for that matter, things that they might be interested in such as history, science or technology.

And that's a shame because reading is one of the very best ways to improve language skills. Stephen Krashen, one of our brightest and most important thinkers about how people learn languages and how teachers should teach them, has spent the last thirty years trying to show that free reading helps us develop our vocabulary. Perhaps that's no surprise. But it also increases learners' grades in grammar tests. It makes their writing more accurate and more interesting and - can you believe it? - it makes them better speakers and listeners too.

But reading is often the most boring part of language classes. We have already mentioned that the books that teachers choose are often childish or dull, but it's not just that. Reading at school is all about multiple choice tests and "comprehension". Students face questions like "What does 'them' refer to in line 56?"

Krashen tells us that we need to read about what interests us and to choose books that are not too hard. He gives us a figure too. If there is more than one word in fifty that we don't understand then, the book is too difficult for us.

We believe the technology that is thought so threatening to reading by some can help to overcome these problems for people learning English by enabling them to read more, improve their English and enjoy doing so.

Get reading and get better English!