Adrian Tennant focuses on different types of reading and on how we can teach reading. An aspect that I find particularly interesting when it comes to reading is the question of vocabulary development. I took a class on vocabulary development in the L2 classroom, and we read a very interesting book by Paul Nation, entitled “Learning Vocabulary in Another Language” (2001). Here are some of the most important points Nation makes in regards to reading:
- In order to understand an unsimplified text, an L2 learner needs to understand a minimum of 3,000 word families (educated adult native speakers understand about 14,000 to 20,000 word families)
- If L2 learners want to read without assistance for pleasure, they need to be able to understand at least 95% of the words in a given text (1 in every 20 words is unknown). Extensive reading is important for vocabulary development. Every year of a native speaker’s early life, he or she adds on average 1,000 word families to his or her vocabulary thanks to reading. This is why graded readers are extremely useful for L2 learners.
- When teaching vocabulary for reading, focus on the high-frequency words. The 2,000 most frequent word families of the English language provide about 85 to 90% text coverage. So focusing on the most frequent words is definitely useful for reading comprehension.
The list of the 2,000 most frequent words in English is called the General Service List (http://jbauman.com/gsl.html). As far as I know, researchers have started to compile lists of frequent words in other languages as well.