The Power of Reading
Reading is powerful in how it forms our brain, how it helps
us acquire new languages.
Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here again, and today I want to talk about reading
because the last time I spoke about listening, uh, remember though, if
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So I spoke about listening and how powerful it is.
Podcast service, you know, so many ways that we can listen today, how
throughout the history of time, uh, listening has been a major way or
the major way whereby people learned, learned from others, were entertained,
acquired knowledge, communicated.
Listening was the key.
Reading is relatively recent.
Um, I don't know.
I don't remember exactly.
You know, people first started writing.
We have, uh, Chinese turtle shell script if I remember correctly from my
Chinese history, we have cuneiform the scripts, uh, you know, in, in old Elam
and Sumer and the Akkad and Mesopotamia.
Again, my knowledge of history is fuzzy.
Fuzzy knowledge is good until you have to write exams because you're
gradually getting a clearer and clearer picture of these things.
And even when you think you've firmed up, you know, you remember the actual,
you know, date of the, uh, ruler of whatever in, uh, ancient something
rather pretty soon you forget it.
So it doesn't matter.
So vaguely, uh, I think the first writing took place somewhere
in the fertile Crescent.
Uh, and, uh, I think the original, you know, purpose of writing was
to keep track of, you know, for accounting purposes, keeping track
of the grain that was in storage and it helped to administer things.
And then there is the famous, um, Darius's declaration of human rights, which
was written using a cuneiform script.
And I believe it was written in, not in Persian, but in, in
the language of Elam or Akkat.
I just don't remember.
As I say, my history knowledge is very fuzzy, but I have a vague...
and the vague, I, I always feel by the way, this gets me to reading, you
know, Whenever we're told to read in school, we're asked questions about
our understanding and I always resist these listening comprehension questions,
or reading comprehension questions.
I like having an imperfect knowledge of what I read.
If I enjoyed what I read, if I found it interesting if I understood many
parts of it, but didn't understand some other parts and I can't remember
the exact date of this or who did what to whom, it doesn't matter.
It was still enjoyable to me.
I liked reading for enjoyment, but starting back whenever it was 2,500,
3000 years ago, when the first people started writing for whatever purpose,
uh, up until basically the popularization of, uh, of, um, you know, printing
in the 15th century, um, and even thereafter, most people didn't read.
So the brain, which is, you know, from an evolutionary perspective has had
a lot of experience at listening and deciphering meaning from listening.Hasn't
had very much experience or exposure at, uh, dealing with writing.
And it's quite amazing to me that you can have lines on a piece of paper,
uh, whatever the script may be.
It doesn't matter whether it's the Latin script or whether it's Chinese
characters or whether it's the, uh, you know, Persian script or Hangul.
It doesn't matter.
You've got lines that are converted by the brain into meaning sometimes also in
most cases, in fact, converted into sound.
So the brain has to do this processing, which, which is a tremendous feat
for the brain to do, because it was something that the brain was not, you
know, prepared to do over the hundreds of thousands of years that, that
human beings and the predecesors have been wandering around on the earth.
And so I enjoy reading, uh, you know, right now I'm reading a German book.
A German book about the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is
where my parents were born actually.
And to, to sit in bed with a book, even if I'm reading on my iPad, which
I like to do, because I can look up the odd word in German that I don't know.
Uh, it's cozy.
I don't want the sound.
I don't want the audio.
I just want the written word to connect with that written word because the
written word conjures up the meaning in a different way from listening.
I mean, in a way the written text is a record.
It's a record just as the audio is a record, but it's
a different kind of record.
And I'm not a neuroscientist so I don't know whether different parts of the
brain process the writing, as opposed to the audio to convert them into meaning.
But I am convinced that doing a lot of reading as well as listening
helps in acquiring languages.
I've said before, If I just hear the sound of a new language, I can almost
not make out the sound, but if I get a phonetic version of that, and in the case
of a non phonetic script, like Chinese characters, I, I would use the opinion,
but it helps to define that sound.
And gradually I get better at hearing that sound, but I rely on the written
script in order to decipher the sound.
Uh, and I, I think this is true of everyone and we see how people very
often are influenced in how they pronounce a word in another script.
If say, say using the Latin alphabet, if someone is say check and they read
something in English, or if they're a Spanish speaker and they read something
in English, they will be influenced by how, what the letters mean, how they
are pronounced in their native language.
And that'll be reflected in how they pronounce the new language.
So they're obviously not relying entirely on hearing the sound.
They are very much influenced by their habit.
You know, their reading habits and what the value of the, of those letters
are in their own writing system.
So reading is powerful in how it forms our brain, how it helps us acquire
new languages, and it's pleasant.
It's a different experience.
I can sit with a book and read for two, three hours.
I can't sit, just sit and listen for two, three hours.
I lose concentration.
I get restless.
If I'm in my car listening, that's fine.
And the great advantage of listening of course, is that it's so portable.
You can be doing other things while listening.
You can sort of fade in and out while listening, cuz you're
also doing something else.
You're kind of happy.
Whereas when you're reading.
If you fade out, you kind of have to reread the sentence again,
because you're kind of more focused.
At least that's my own experience, more focused on the
meaning when you're reading.
And so reading other than the fact that it's the fastest way to
acquire in acquire information.
If I, if I need to instructions on how to fix my, uh, coffee maker or something.
Like, or if I look up, uh, something on the internet, uh, having to do with
the, I don't know, recharging my iPhone, I prefer to read because it's faster.
I can select, I can jump from spot to spot.
I can, I can get that information more quickly.
If I have to listen or watch through a video, then I'm kind
of at the mercy of whoever is speaking or producing the video.
Whereas if I'm reading, I control where I go.
Uh, similarly with a book, if I wanna skip this chapter or jump ahead or
behind, and I know exactly where I want to go to, I can skim the pages and see
those areas that are of interest to me.
So reading is a, is, is quite a different experience, but reading is powerful.
I've said before I consider with a new language, when I have read a whole
book paper book, without a dictionary without the iPad, from cover to cover.
I consider that to be a major milestone.
I am far from being able to do that in Persian or Arabic, because I'm
not comfortable enough with the script, but, uh, even in Polish,
which I don't speak well at all, I can make my way through a book.
I know enough words.
And of course the writing system is familiar to me.
So, uh, an obstacle when we're learning languages, where the writing system
is different is that you can't make up for, in my case, uh, 70 plus years
of reading in the Latin script and expect that a couple of years of
reading in the, uh, in the Arabic script is gonna give me the same
degree of familiarity with that script.
And yet I know that if I, if I wanna progress in Persian or Arabic,
I have to get better at reading.
Reading is a major, you know, again, source of enjoyment, but
also a major learning activity.
And some people say they don't like to read.
All I can say is try to develop the habit, start reading
things of real interest to you.
Obviously don't take on a classic of, you know, French literature, if
that's not of interest to you read, uh, comics read things on sports.
Uh that's I think where anime in the case of, uh, people interested in
Japanese is kind of like cartoons, read comic books, whatever you like
to read, develop that reading habit.
Get the brain used to reading used to converting meaning from written
text, because it's gonna be a major, major advantage, uh, in life.
Uh, professionally, academically, whatever, but also in terms of
language learning, it's, it's a powerful, powerful activity.
So as you know, I'm very much in favor of input based learning, build up your
potential through reading and listening.
And when you have the opportunity to speak, speak, but don't
neglect reading, it's powerful.
Anyway, I've done videos on the subject before so I'll leave a
few here for reference for you.
Thank you for listening.
Bye for now.