• Robb G. Best

Read Purely For Fun and Grow Your Language Skills

You may not be surprised to find out that reading novels has been found to increase your language skills. However, when you think of those novels, do you picture only high literature having those effects? Think again.

In a new study published by Sandra Martin-Chang, a professor of education in the Faculty of Arts and Science at Concordia University, and PhD student Stephanie Kozak, that beneficial boost was found in anyone who read for fun, even in little-respected pulpy genres like airport thrillers or romances. In fact, they found that people who read for their own enjoyment and identify as readers consistently scored better on language tests than those who read only to access information.

The paper, which was also co-authored by Kyle Levesque of Dalhousie University, Navona Calarco of Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and Raymond Mar of York University, used a scale developed by Mar called the Predictors of Leisure Reading (PoLR) to examine reading behavior: motivations, obstacles, interests, and attitudes. Next, they looked at how well the 48-question PoLR could predict the language skills of 200 York University undergrads.

After the students completed the PoLR, they took a language test similar to the one in the SAT and a measure of reading habits called the Author Recognition Test, which asks subjects to select the names of fiction and non-fiction authors that they are familiar with. (The test also includes made-up author names.) Those who scored higher on this tended to also display more reading behavior and earn better scores on the language test.

Sandra Martin-Chang and her team found that enjoying the act of reading, fostering a positive attitude, and having distinct interests all predicted stronger verbal abilities. The effect was stronger among fiction readers than those who preferred nonfiction.

Lifelong readers have already been found to be more understanding of others, more empathetic, and less prejudiced than non-readers. To best take advantage of these benefits and more, the study stressed the importance of reading for fun. “It’s always very positive and heartening to give people permission to delve into the series that they like,” Martin-Chang notes. “I liken it to research that says chocolate is good for you: the guilty pleasure of reading fiction is associated with positive cognitive benefits and verbal outcomes.”

So if you like to read a type of book that feels a little embarrassing, embrace it with pride. You're doing your brain a favor, even if what you're consuming might qualify as pulp. The important thing is to find a way to love reading.

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