Reading Novel Increases Students’ Vocabulary and Grammar Skills in Learning English
by Krisnata Ricky Santoso 211810018
Ma Chung University (http://machung.ac.id/)
English Letters Study Program
Learning English is not as easy as it seems, even though it is a must for students from elementary school to high school and even those who are in college. According to OUINO Languages, learning and remembering thousands of new vocabularies and also understanding the grammar rules are two of the reasons why learning foreign/new languages is quite difficult. That is why some students might have difficulties in learning English because they do not know some vocabulary or cannot understand the meaning of some sentences because of the difficult grammar that they found in their textbooks, modules, or even in teacher’s PowerPoint. Either probably because they have not learned the vocabulary and the grammar yet or they simply forget and do not know about some of them.
Not only they have difficulties in reading the materials, but students also have to do a lot of writings during their learning. Stephen King in his book On Writing mentioned that vocabulary and grammar are the “toolbox” of writing. In order to get good scores, they have to know a lot of vocabulary so that they can choose the best word to describe something, and also know the grammar of English.
Based on those reasons, in this article, I will write about reading novels that can be helpful towards learning English, especially in enriching the students’ vocabularies and also their general knowledge/sense of correct grammar. I will also report my research based on the questionnaire that I gave to the 12th-grade language concentration at SMAK St. Albertus Malang and SMAK St. Yusuf Malang. The medium that I used for this is via Google Form.
One of the best ways to help us learn a foreign language such as English is by reading a lot of books. In this case however, I will focus more on reading novel. According to Kató Lomb, an interpreter in 9 languages, there are some advantages in reading novel rather than reading other books or any other kinds of literature. The first advantage is the students will meet new vocabularies incidentally, but not only that, those new vocabularies will be repeated many times and that will help the students to remember the meaning of that vocabularies better and easier. The second advantage is the students can learn new vocabulary in context. “The strength of reading lies in one thing: context” (Lomb, 2020). In English, there are a lot of words that have a different meaning if we used it in a different context. For example, the word “date” has three different meanings in three different contexts. We will have “date” as a fruit if the context is about food. If the context is about a relationship, the “date” here means a couple has an appointment to go out together. “Date” can also be meaning the day of the month in the calendar. That is the easy vocabulary that I used, but many words can be more difficult than that one. By reading novel, the students can differentiate those meanings in different contexts. The last advantage is the students can know the vocabulary or phrases that are the most commonly used. Moreover, it is not just talking about the most common written vocabularies, but also the spoken one. In a novel, there has to be conversations or dialogs either between two or more people and talking to him/herself. With that, you can learn the words, the slangs, phrases, and also the jokes that are commonly used by Americans, British, or any other countries. Aside from those three advantages, a novel can be fun to read for the students because it has a story in it. Therefore, it will make the students not get bored easily, and more interested to read more novels.
Next, we are going to talk about how reading novels can improve our vocabulary. Learning new vocabulary by reading novel is not so easy. There are studies suggest that students need to read a lot to encounter those new vocabularies many times to learn and remember the meaning of them. There is an example of a program that lets Japanese students learn English by reading a lot of works. They read almost up to 690.000 words of easy-to-read books and the result is their average TOEIC score was increased to 507 by their fourth year. That score is almost the same as the students who had studied English for a couple of years and lived for 10 months long in an English-speaking country (Nishizawa, 2010). Thus, reading novels, as I mentioned before, will provide the students to read new vocabulary over and over in the books.
By reading novels, the students can also learn new vocabulary in almost all fields such as science, psychology, economics, love, politic, geometry, and many other more from a single book. In one novel, there must be at least more than one field that was being used by the writer to develop an interesting story. For example, a classic horror novel, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, is not always talking about things that make you scared but there is also science that Mary Shelley puts there. From the writer’s point of view, that thing must is just to make the story interesting and make the story “whole”. However, from the students’ that are learning English point of view, this can be an advantage so that we can learn about vocabularies that are in the fields of horror and science.
Not only novel provides almost all fields, novel sometimes takes time in the past, present, and even future. What is unique is that language itself is evolving and changing through times, including the vocabulary that we use in daily life. “Generation by generation, pronunciations evolve, new words are borrowed or invented, the meaning of old words drifts, and morphology develops or decays” (Liberman, 2020). This happens because, in each era, there is a new necessity, and new habit, and also new technology. For example, the word “gay” back then means happiness or joy. But because something happened and things changed, people agreed that the word “gay” also means a sexual orientation, which is a man attracted to another man. There was no “selfie” back then. But because of the technology and new habit, people made the word “selfie” which means we take a photo of ourselves. Thus, by reading novels, there is a high chance that the students meet new vocabulary, terms, and phrases, or even jokes that come from any era.
In novel, there are must be different geographic regions and places, and that is also a part of learning vocabulary by reading novel. In different places, there will be new vocabulary that will be related to their culture. For example, when you read a novel and it takes place in Egypt, you are probably going to find some difficult/new vocabulary like “pyramid”, “pharaoh”, and “hieroglyph”. Notice that culture affects the vocabulary that they use to define something. The distinctive building or structure that was built to be used as tombs for Pharaoh is “Pyramid”. “Pharaoh” itself is an Egyptian vocabulary for the king/the ruler of Egypt. “Hieroglyph” is their ancient character. Even in the same language, culture still can affect the vocabulary that each country will use. In British English, there is “trouser”, while in American English there is no “trouser” but “pants”. “Sweets” in British is “candy” in American English. These cultural differences are also enriching the students’ vocabulary so that later, the students can understand the different vocabulary across cultures.
As I mentioned before, reading novels can also improve your grammar. In junior/high school, there are limited grammars that were being taught by the teachers to the students which are the basic grammars. By reading novel, the students will meet/encounter more difficult grammars that are used in daily life conversation, such as reduced active clause and reduced passive clause. However, learning vocabulary and grammar is not the same. The students will not be able to learn grammar only by reading, but the good thing is the students can learn whether the grammar in some sentences are right or wrong because the students are used to meet those grammars. “The most valuable grammatical skill this gives you, aside from seeing the varied ways sentences are put together, is a sense of syntactical fitness.” (Stratford, 2017). Building a sense of correct grammar is what the students can achieve by reading novels.
To prove what I have written, I did some research using a questionnaire (attached). I gave this questionnaire to the 12th-grade language concentration at SMAK St. Albertus Malang and SMAK St. Yusuf Malang. However, only 18 respondents were answering my questionnaire. This happened probably because I did not give the questionnaire directly to the students, but I asked for my friends that are in those classes to give it to their classmates. So, I could not control the respondents that I wanted. The first part is vocabulary meaning test. I used vocabularies that are commonly used in the romance genre, horror genre, fantasy genre, and adventure genre. I chose those genres because teenagers usually read those kinds of genres. I also use vocabulary in a different era, such as the medieval era, and the new English era. The second part is correct or incorrect question, to test whether the students can identify sentences using the grammar that probably they have not learned yet. I used reduced active clause and reduced passive clause topic for the questions.
Based on the result, those who often read English novels definitely have a good result. However, those who rarely and never read novel also have a good result. Aside from they might get some help during answering the questionnaire, and also any other human error, there is another reason. According to Duff, Tomblin, and Catts in their article The Influence of Reading on Vocabulary growth: A Case for a Matthew Effect, vocabulary development (this also works on grammar) would be affected by reading ability of the students. Reading ability is the ability not only to read texts but also understanding and interpreting the contexts and the meanings of the texts. So, if a student reads a lot but has low reading ability, he/she might need a longer time to understand the novel or more books to read in order to learn vocabulary and grammar effectively. On the other hand, a student might learn a lot by only read few books because of his/her reading ability. Still, based on the data, it has been proven that reading novels helps the student in learning English vocabulary and grammar.
In the end, reading novel is only to help/support the students in learning English vocabulary and grammar. Students still need to learn vocabulary and grammar with their primary learning method, which is learning in school. However, students can upgrade their learning English by reading novels.
The link to the questionnaire: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1QDolF3_yKk_B6PSVi0Luljq0A9oWRzDW7gJt0_I_z44/edit?usp=drive_web
Duff, D., Tomblin, J. and Catts, H., 2015. The Influence of Reading on Vocabulary Growth: A Case for A Matthew Effect. [online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4610292/> [Accessed 25 April 2020].
King, S., 2014. On Writing. New York: Scribner.
Liberman, M., 2020. Linguistics 001 — Language Change and Historical Reconstruction. [online] Ling.upenn.edu. Available at: <https://www.ling.upenn.edu/courses/Fall_2003/ling001/language_change.html> [Accessed 25 April 2020].
Lomb, K., 2020. Why Reading Books Is One of The Best Ways to Learn A Foreign Language — Interlinear Books Blog. [online] Interlinear Books Blog. Available at: <https://interlinearbooks.com/blog/why-reading-books-is-one-of-the-best-ways-to-learn-a-foreign-language/> [Accessed 25 April 2020].
Ouino Languages. 2020. What’s the Hardest Part of Learning A New Language? — Ouino Languages. [online] Available at: <https://www.ouinolanguages.com/tips/questions/whats-hardest-part-learning-new-language/> [Accessed 25 April 2020].
Stratford, M., 2017. How Can Reading Improve Your Grammar & Writing? | Synonym. [online] Classroom.synonym.com. Available at: <https://classroom.synonym.com/can-reading-improve-grammar-writing-30370.html> [Accessed 25 April 2020].