Narrow Reading Vs. Wide Reading

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, and happy bank holidays and Designated Chinese Food Day to those who don’t!

So this week, as I finished off Tormenta, the first book of The Dresden Files in Spanish, and picked up the second, Luna Llena, I happened upon a language acquisition academic article specifically about reading book series just like The Dresden Files.

The whole article is interesting, but to summarize it briefly, it argues that “narrow reading,” sticking with a single author in a similar range of subject matter like you get with an ongoing series, provides a benefit over reading a wider range of material when it comes to language learning.  While it was nice to be told that I wasn’t shooting myself in the foot by going with a series like this—which I didn’t think I was, but I figured that I was making a calculated trade-off of some benefits in exchange for some drawbacks—the reasons why it’s beneficial were things I found very interesting.

Some elements were unsurprising to me and tie into a lot of older ideas I’ve had about language learning for one’s first language, not even considering a foreign one.  I’ve met a number of people who never really liked reading as a pleasure activity, up until they read a specific book that they got super into, and had their minds completely changed on the subject.  I remember it happening to kids around me back in elementary school, usually Goosebumps or Animorphs, to go ahead and date myself.  I even remember it a bit from middle and high school, and I’ve known a few people who have turned to reading after hitting adulthood, just from getting into something that “everybody’s reading,” and having it really connect with them.

I don’t think I went through that, because I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t enjoy reading, but you see a pattern enough around you and you start to think there must be something too it.  And the argument the article makes, that such Eureka Moments with reading (which the article refers to as reading a “home run book”) often comes from series books rather than higher brow stuff, fits well within the pattern that I’ve seen myself.  The home run books I’ve seen in action usually aren’t books that schools refer to as being important books.

This leads to the main thrust of the article, which by all appearances is beating the same drum I hear a lot in regards to these sorts of articles, which is finding and cultivating ways to encourage a love of reading in people, because the research shows that people who read extensively over a long period of time do better academically, and that it doesn’t matter if they read important books so much as that they read stuff a lot.  And, well, I think it’s pretty evident that I don’t need to be taught how to enjoy reading.

Still, though, one of the other elements was something that I was downplaying the importance of, even if it didn’t particularly surprise me.  One of the positive ‘trade-offs’ I considered in sticking with a series is that I’d probably be exposed to a lot of the same phrases in quick succession and would have some stuff like that stick a bit better than if I was casting a wider net with my reading.  There’s always a lot of talk in language learning circles about the importance of repetition, and while I really can’t bring myself to do stuff like watch the same show over and over again, or do the same with a book or short story, an individual author writing about the same characters is naturally going to return time and time again to similar ideas and phrases.  So there will end up being an element of repetition in going through a book series without it feeling like reading the same thing over and over again.

What I didn’t think was that this element had such a strong knock-on effect as the article describes.  It mentions how reading a series makes reading the rest of the series book after book easier, because you are building a sort of limited, specialized vocabulary based off that specific author, and as a result you end up setting yourself up to do better in those books than you would compared to the wider range of picking from diverse authors in a variety of subjects.  And while this is something I have noticed happening before when reading Harry Potter, that this narrow reinforcement then provides a bigger advantage going forward with other reading than you’d get from the same amount of reading in a wider range of topics is really interesting.

At the end of the day, I certainly don’t need encouragement to keep going with my reading, but it’s nice to be told that I can keep grinding my way through The Dresden Files with zero guilt.  I like these books a lot.

All right, let’s look at this week’s numbers.

Tuesday 12/18

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 3 chapters of Tormenta, ~80 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 1 episode of Hero Mask, 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 12/19

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 5 chapters of Tormenta, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 2 episodes of Hero Mask, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 12/20

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 6 chapters of Tormenta, ~100 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 1 episode of Hero Mask, 1 episode of My Little Pony, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 12/21

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 4 chapters of Luna Llena, ~80 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 1 episode of Hero Mask, 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 12/22

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 4 chapters of Luna Llena, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 1 episode of Hero Mask, ~40 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 12/23

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 4 chapters of Luna Llena, ~80 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of That ‘70s Show, 1 episode of Hero Mask, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Aggretsuko, ~80 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 12/24

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 4 chapters of Luna Llena, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Watership Down, 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 1400 XP, 210 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 17 tv episodes, and 3 YouTube episodes watched, 420 minutes
  • Total reading: 26 chapters read, 610 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 hours 40 minutes

The good week streak continues.  This week was a little tough, on account of the holidays.  I don’t strictly celebrate outside of a vague, secular acknowledgement, but I end up having a lot of familial obligations eat up my time.  Saturday ended up being the worst of it, and as a result I had the first short day for watching/listening time in a while.  I ended up making up for it on Sunday and watching an extra episode of stuff, which ended up being an Aggretsuko Christmas Special that I noticed went up with no fanfare.  Don’t be surprised if Aggretsuko pops up again in the next couple weeks as I rewatch it.  I really like that show.

As I mentioned in the main body, I finished the first of The Dresden Files and moved onto the second book.  It’s funny how little I remember of the contents in these books, to the point where they’ve been catching me by surprise with their twists.  I usually have a better memory for books than this.  I did devour the series at a fast clip back when I first read them a decade ago, so it’s probably just that it all bled together into a general idea of the full arc of the character’s story.  Any which way, I’m happy to keep on with it for a while here.  The ebooks are rather cheap, which is nice.

I’ve mentioned the addition of That ‘70s Show as a show to just watch ad nauseum day to day, but I didn’t really mention how I’m going about watching it, because my plan for it doesn’t match up well with Netflix’s model of watching a show in order.  I’ve been watching it randomized, using a site called Episode Generator to pick an episode and then just jump to that, to sort of simulate it being in syndication.  That way if an episode ends up repeating, who cares, and I’m not really tied to a finish line with it, where I’ll run out of episodes to watch when I get through the series.  It seems to be working pretty well so far.

I also gave the Watership Down Netflix miniseries a shot, which is a book I remember liking when I was a kid.  It’s not bad, and the Spanish dub is pretty followable for me, so I’ll probably keep going with it.  The parts are close to an hour long, so they may end up taking up the majority of my watch time for next week.  Or I’ll space out the episodes a few days apart if I’m not feeling it and wanting more variation.  Who knows?  As a miniseries, it isn’t super long, so I’ll see how I end up feeling when it comes to picking stuff to watch for the day.

Well, that ought to do for this week.  See you next week, which will have the recap for December.  First of these where the recap lands on the first day of the month!  TTFN.

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