Iversen wrote:I looked at a number of research reports about vocabulary learning up to the Novi Sad conference, including some that specifically tested for the effects of extensive reading and/or listening without any other support techniques. Most of these reports used multiple answer questionnaires to gauge the effects, but those few reports that used both multiple choice and 'open' questions consistently showed that multiple choice exaggerates the effects ... so taking that into account, it seems that just reading and/or listening without any specific attempt to learn new words isn't very efficient. Tests using multiple choice only test passive knowledge - and even passive knowledge with an outside help source. 'Open' questions are much closer to testing active knowledge, even though some variants (like cloze questions) do provide you with a context.
On the other hand we know from other sources that heavy readers have larger vocabularies than those that never read a book or something more demanding than SMS messages or street signs. How come? Well, the point could be that if you do read with your mind set to sucking up new words and constructions then you may also get something from extensive reading or listening. If you just read/listen to get the gist and let the concrete words fly through your head without any attempt to retain anything, then you probably won't learn anything new about the language in question - which doesn't preclude the possibility that you may remember some information about the topic. But you could also end up having a hard time even remembering what the topic was .. like when you forget you dreams unless you deliberately try to remember them.
There may be individual differences insofar that some persons are better to remembering ephemeral tidbits of information than others, but I personally have to get things down on paper and repeat them a couple of times to make them stick. And that includes new vocabulary. And I prefer wordlists because I there also can control how and when I do my repetitions. SRS programs would make me feel like a human dartboard.
Yes, I am obviously one with very good ability to remember the "ephemeral tidbits" (too bad it doesn't apply to medicine), but I don't think that is the only reason why it works.
I have read some of the papers on intensive vs. extensive reading. And they all had the same flaw: they did too little extensive reading. Yes, one hour of each will prove intensive is better. Ten pages of each will prove intensive is better. But several years with each activity have never been tested. 200 hours (that may be something like 8000 extensive pages or 800 intensive) have not been tested. 10000 pages extensively have never been tested.
Extensive doesn't mean reading just for the gist. That is so just in the first book, or the second, but not the whole time by far. The words are being learnt in the context and they are being encountered repeatedly. Gradually, the reader understands more and more. And the knowledge of the new words improves with the new examples we find them in.
Extensive reading and listening works, we have various examples of Super Challenge progress here on the forums. It works the best when associated with other kinds of studying.
I really think it is a matter of personal choice AND realistic expectations. Just as it is not realistic to expect results of extensive reading after 20 pages, it is also not realistic for many of us to believe we can get through a whole book while damaging the immersion by dictionary use and writing stuff down all the time.
Also, I believe the other benefits of extensive vs. intensive reading are being widely underestimated. I have no problem believing that as far as vocabulary goes, intensive could prove more efficient, if a real research was made. That means one giving extensive reading a chance. But intensive reading simply doesn't force people to think in the language, to absorb the examples for the "this looks correct and this doesn't" sense that we have in our native languages. That is much more than "passive" knowledge. That is the base of actually speaking or writing.
The choice of extensive vs. intensive depends on the learner's character and type of intelligence (yes, type. not IQ.) and on their goals. Extensive reading can be an extremely awesome tool (I had to gain a large vocabulary for C2 French and I would never have achieved that without extensive reading and listening). But if you are in a hurry and don't want to look for several methods to combine, the choice of intensive reading is pretty clear to most learners. If you have limited resources, than intensive reading is most probably the better way to use the only books the learner has got.