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Vocab tip: E is for Extensive reading

Read for pleasure to improve your vocabulary, speaking and get better test results.

There are now hundreds of graded readers designed for English language learners at various levels. These short simplified books are designed for extensive reading (reading for pleasure) and using them has many benefits – here are just three of them:

  • Extensive reading can double your vocabulary.
    Extensive reading of just one graded reader a week increased learning by 76% over simply using a typical course book.  If you aim to read one to two readers a week on average you will double your vocabulary. (Rob Waring)

  • Extensive reading (really) helps you speak!
    Reading outside the classroom was found to be the most ‘significant predictor of oral communicative ability’. (Huang & van Naersesen)
  • Extensive reading helps you pass academic tests.
    Out of class reading has been found to be the most important direct contributor to performance in the academic English TOEFL test.

The key thing to remember is that this must be extensive reading. That is  reading done for pleasure, at a reasonable speed and using texts where you understand at least 98% of the words.

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 Why 98%? Well, if there are too many unknown words you’ll get demotivated or have to slow-down and shift into intensive reading ‘study’ mode.  If you do this you’ll simply be reading too slowly to repeatedly encounter each new word  enough times to memorise it. That’s because the research shows it takes 10 – 15 exposures to remember each new word.

The takeaway from this is that you must get the grade of reader just right. It is tempting to choose a higher level reader to push yourself but if you aren’t able to read it quickly enough then it won’t help your vocabulary .

More A-Z of vocabulary tips.


Why Extensive Reading doubles your vocabulary. Rob Waring’s video. (2011)

At what rate do learners learn and retain new vocabulary from reading a graded reader? Rob Waring. 2003

The Language Learning Benefits of Extensive Reading. Paul Nation. (1997)

Language learning background factors and ESL proficiency. Gradman & Hanania. (1991)

Learning strategies for oral communication. Huang & van Naersesen. (1987)

Photo by Mo Riza

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