Authentic content versus graded readers – some thoughts

Graded readers are widely available for learners of English and to a lesser extent for other languages. Beginner content is also a form of graded reader. How long do we need to say in the sheltered world of using content, audio or texts, that is written for learners? How soon should we move to the real thing, the content created by natives for natives?

Generally speaking we should be wary of too many “shoulds”. Our world is full of recommendations of what we should do. We are told we “should” not eat eggs because of cholesterol, should not consume too much salt, we should drink x litres of water every day, etc. and then it turns out that much of this is not true. We have to make our own decisions based on what works for us. Here is what works for me.

  • I like to get to authentic content as soon as possible.
  • I prefer authentic interesting content over content that is “dumbed down”.
  • I like to have a month or two of easy content, which I listen to repeatedly, just to get me going.
  • When I start on authentic content, I feel a great sense of achievement, almost like getting airborne.
  • I had the greatest need for graded content in Chinese, because of the characters.
  • LingQ lets me start on graded content much earlier. In Russian, I was doing literature with over 50% new words after 2 months at one hour a day.
  • If I took up a language that was related to one I knew, I would start with authentic content from the beginning.
  • I will do newspapers, podcasts and literature in Dutch, and Czech, once we get these languages at LingQ.
  • With Arabic I think I would need graded material.
  • Graded readers are easier, obviously, but knowing that they are dumbed down takes away from the sense of achievement and success, which we need.
  • Graded readers can improve fluency, help you review what you already know, and increase reading speed.
  • At LingQ I tend to choose the authentic content with the lowest percentage of new words, but authentic content.
  • I also occasional read easy material for review.

I could go on, but I think the main point is that the content must be meaningful and enjoyable. What constitutes meaningful and enjoyable will depend on each individual. Long before the Internet, finding appropriate content was always a major part of my learning activity. If learners are in charge of deciding what to learn from, the mix of authentic and graded will depend on the tastes and opportunities of each learner.

2 thoughts on “Authentic content versus graded readers – some thoughts

  1. I don’t uses graded material, but in a way I grade myself. I usually pick a topic I like and read an easy book aimed at elementary school kids with lots of pictures. Then I step up in the same subject to an adult book with many pictures and finally move onto adult books with mostly text. I’ll be reading the juicy stuff and I’ll have learned all the subject-specific language/jargon along the way. The first two steps are really quite short. Then I pick another subject and repeat.

  2. A great strategy, Thomas! I’d love to do the same thing for my Japanese. Where do you get the books? What languages have you learned that way?

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