Submitted to the NY Times,March 26, 2019
To the editor:
Bénédicte de Montlaur (“Do you speak my language? You should.” March 26, 2019) is right: There has been a move toward “holistic” foreign language education. This development is based on solid research done over the last four decades published in numerous scientific journals and books.
These studies show that we acquire language when we understand what we hear or read, not when we memorize vocabulary or study grammar rules. Those who hear and read more of the language acquire more of it.
Reading is especially powerful: Even when we lack the opportunity to have conversations in a second language, if we can find interesting books, and develop a reading habit, we will continue to improve after the school program finishes. Sadly, there are few libraries and few bookstores that take pleasure reading in other languages seriously.
If we are serious about improving foreign language competence, our school and public libraries need to be filled with comprehensible and highly interesting reading material at all difficulty levels.
Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited. (second edition)
Krashen, S. 2011. Free Voluntary Reading. Westport: Libraries Unlimited.
McQuillan, J. (1998). The Literacy Crisis: False Claims, Real Solutions. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.