Intensive vs. Extensive Reading

My biggest problem with intensive reading is that I have no attention span.

Something that gets talked about a lot, in both language learning circles and wider academia, is intensive reading vs. extensive reading.  Intensive reading is the careful, focused reading of text with the specific intention of learning something, usually with directed questions about the text afterwards, vocabulary word lists from the text, that sort of thing, the type of short reading that teachers subjected a lot of us to in school.  Extensive reading, on the other hand, is just reading for pleasure, with no directed questions or quizzes afterwards, and any other intention to the reading aside from enjoying the story are ulterior goals.  How valuable either variety is depends on who you’re talking to, with lots of people split on whether one is more useful for learning than the other, but they present fundamentally different approaches to the same activity.

In language learning, especially when self-directed, those approaches take a slightly different form to other types of learning.  Some language courses and textbooks provide the standard structure of questions and vocab lists at the end of a provided text, but at a certain point a learner’s going to be venturing into heftier works on their own and aren’t going to be assigning themselves essays.  Rather, for most language learners, intensive reading becomes the act of stopping, looking up, and doublechecking words, phrases, and sentences as they go through a text, making sure they understand all of it before moving on, and extensive reading means not doing that in favor of reading first and maintaining momentum.

Obviously this is a bit more of a gradient than an either/or choice for readers to make, as the intensive-focused reader will likely keep going if they come across a word that they don’t recognize but understood from context and felt no need to doublecheck, and an extensive-focused reader might find it necessary to pause and look something up if it’s confusing enough to pull them out of the reading.  Doing one or the other doesn’t ruin the “purity” of a learning ideal, and the reader probably wasn’t even thinking about it when they changed methods momentarily.  All readers, regardless of their personal preference or the variety of reading they set out to do in the first place, are going to be somewhere in the middle of the two methods.

I haven’t been super shy in these blogs about describing where I am, or what my choice of philosophy is, as I’ve found the research makes a more compelling argument for extensive reading.  Intensive reading mostly shows higher performance on tests about the intensive subjects, not an increased reading comprehension or vocabulary, and I’m not particularly interested in passing tests that I’m not taking.  And if the extensive reading results in the same or, according to some studies, better results in the parts I actually care about, it seems like the better choice, especially since I find the requirements of intensive reading annoying and frustrating.  I’m tempted to say that’s just a personality thing, and that there are people out there who would find putting up with the occasional ambiguity of extensive reading to be annoying and frustrating, but I’m not actually sure those people exist.  If they do, I think all of them grow up to be English teachers.

As it is, I’m not strictly interested in deciding which form is better, I’m more interested in results, and I have a good amount of historical data on that for myself.  I haven’t done a ton of intensive-focused reading as I’ve worked on Spanish, mostly just doing it at the very beginning, back before I started this blog, which I needed to be very careful and look things up just to get through children’s picture books, resulting in my reading either being “intensive” or “not at all.”  And a lot of time the choice I made was not at all, in favor of smaller tools like Duolingo or Anki flashcards, rather than forcing myself through sentences I couldn’t really understand.

As I improved and began to understand more and more things, I switched over (gratefully) to extensive reading, putting the majority of the focus on just reading for the sake of it.  I’ve always enjoyed reading, so it wasn’t a big ask, and I found that once I knew enough to not be mired in every sentence, I found it a lot more tolerable to not understand things perfectly.  I’d look things up if I was totally stumped, and in fact still do that on occasion, but the imperfection of understanding grew more and more okay for me to experience.  And I found over time, as I read more and more books, looking up very little and reading without taking notes, that it got easier and easier as I went.  I absorbed the words and sentence structures without putting any focus on it, and I understood what was happening as I read with more and more confidence.

It isn’t much of a contest which one is the better choice for me.  If I had it to do over again (such as if/when I go on to learn a third language), I know that I wouldn’t be working at adding more intensive reading to my workflow.  I’d still include it, even in a focused way.  I think the time spent on those early, frustrating picture books helped a lot more than most of the time spent on apps for learning, and I’d have the initial, early goal of improving my reading comprehension enough to start reading actual books.  As soon as I was ready, though, I’d move toward extensive reading, and try to treat it in much the same way as I do now: embrace the ambiguity, read to read instead of to learn, and resort to looking things up only when I’m lost.  Intensive reading has its place, but it’s just a steppingstone to the actual, quality reading.

Now then, let’s take a look at the numbers for the week.

Tuesday 8/06

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 10% of Cartas en el Asunto, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of She-Ra, 1 episode of Twelve Forever, 1 episode of Átomo Network, 1 episode of Los Simpson, ~120 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 8/07

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 10% of Cartas en el Asunto, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 3 episodes of She-Ra, 1 episode of Miraculous, ~120 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 8/08

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 10% of Cartas en el Asunto, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events, 1 episode of No Hay Tos, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 8/09

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 10% of Cartas en el Asunto, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events, 1 episode of Arte Divierte, 1 episode of La Zona Cero, ~100 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 8/10

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 10% of Cartas en el Asunto, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of Arte Divierte, 2 episodes of Andrea Ga, 1 episode of Twelve Forever, 1 episode of KidVG, ~100 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 8/11

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 10% of Cartas en el Asunto, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events, 1 episode of Los Simpson, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 8/12

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 10% of Cartas en el Asunto, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events, 2 episodes of Arte Divierte, 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 140 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 7/10 books, 630 minutes
  • Total watching/listening: 10 youtube episodes, 1 podcast, and 18 tv episodes watched, 650 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 21 hours 20 minutes

Another good week all around.  Nothing too incredibly out of the ordinary, just more of me keeping on top of what I have been doing.  Wednesday, I ended up finishing the new short season of She-Ra, because the last chunk of it was nothing but cliff-hangers and I didn’t want to wait, but that meant needing to figure out new stuff to watch regularly.  Luckily on that front, I checked on an old show I watched ages ago, Miraculous, which I had stopped watching because there wasn’t a Spanish dub available for season two.  As luck would have it, they added in the dub, so I could watch the show again.  Back when I watched the first season, I needed the Spanish subtitles on to follow it, and struggled a bit, but now it’s pretty easy to follow, so I’ve just been watching it with the dub.  It’s a very weird show, but it’s fun.

In continuing to try and branch out and find more things to watch, I tried a number of new things from both Youtube and Netflix.  Twelve Forever, a cartoon on Netflix, looked pretty promising, but was a bit disappointing to actually watch.  I gave it two episodes, which is what I usually afford shows that don’t click with me, but I don’t think I’ll be continuing.  Átomo Network had a similar lack of clicking on Youtube, but that was more because it’s just a Spanish version of those listicle videos of “two thousand facts you don’t know about Star Wars” that in fact everybody knows.  Andrea Ga, on the other hand, is exactly my sort of artist channel, though I find her accent pretty tough.  I’ll be watching more of her videos, though, they’re just my speed.  KidVG should fit that bill, too, as it’s the right sort of gaming content that I enjoy, but something about the audio setup they had made it really hard for me to hear anyone clearly.  I might try again with different videos in case it was an isolated problem, but as is, it’s just too muddy for me to hear.

I’m making my way through Cartas en el Asunto at a pretty good rate, one I’m much happier with than the piddly rate last month and have been greatly enjoying it.  The characters are a lot of fun, and I’m pleased to see that there is an additional book focused on them before Discworld comes to a close, which is good.  Not that Discworld is coming to a close is good.  I’m very sad I’m nearly through it.

On Duolingo this week, for a sentence that translates as “My cat is sleeping on the corner of the bed,” someone asked why it was on the corner, rather than in the corner, which was a phrase they’d heard before.  And it’s true that “in the corner” is very common, the problem is which corner of something we’re talking about, the inside corner, or the outside corner, because a cat can go on the corner of the bed, or on the street corner, but would go in the corner of a bedroom or closet.  This idea is, interestingly, easier to express in Spanish than it is in English, despite Spanish using the same preposition for both situations.  Instead, Spanish has different words for the outside and inside corners.  The corner of a bed or block is the esquina, and the corner of a room is the rincón.  And, thinking about it, it makes total sense for those different ideas to have different words for them, and it’s kind of strange that English only has the one.  Which, I suppose, then leads to needing different prepositions to differentiate between which type of corner you’re talking about at a glance.

Going into next week, we’re starting to get close to my birthday, which I’m expecting to end up being rather busy around, especially the weekend before, which is next Saturday and Sunday.  As such, I might have a couple of weird days I’ll end up reporting here.  Also weird days in general if my friends have anything to say about it.

Anyway, that ought to do for this week.  TTFN.

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