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Teaching words in isolation is like sending emoji-less messages.

Hey! It’s Lauren here, the Language Mindset UK-based blogger and fellow language lover. Hope you enjoy the post!

Before I became a copywriter, I spent a year teaching English in a Chinese primary school.

Back then, I knew less Mandarin than my students knew English, so we could only communicate through words and phrases they’d learnt from the school textbook.

One day after class, I saw a student crying in the corridor.

“How are you?” I asked, using a structure I knew she’d understand.

“I am… fine… thank you,” she stuttered through her tears.

Had she been in class, she would have scored top marks because it was the only response they’d been taught before finishing the ‘Greetings’ chapter and moving on.

And that right there is the problem with traditional language learning methods.

By prioritizing memorization over communication, they fail to teach students how to remember, use and experiment with the language.

While these methods are still widely used in schools, there’s a growing shift towards more communicative approaches that are proven more effective.

One of these is Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) - and today, we’re looking at why this is a better approach to learning.

What is Free Voluntary Reading?

Free voluntary reading is a language learning technique that encourages novice learners to develop their language skills by reading easy chapter books they enjoy.

By teaching functional language instead of isolated words, it exposes learners to natural language usage and expressions needed for everyday communication.

For example, instead of simply learning the word "ice cream," students learn how to use phrases like "I want ice cream" or "I like ice cream" with high-frequency and power verbs.

This approach encourages students to form complete sentences and develop practical language skills they can apply in other situations.

Context is key

Ever wondered why emojis have become so popular? It’s not just because they’re cute.

Text messages are notoriously hard to interpret without body language and facial expressions.

What do they mean by ‘fine’!? Are they mad? Have I upset them? We’ve all been there, right?

Emojis fill in the gaps (and give us peace of mind) by adding context to messages, which is crucial for effective communication.

Teaching words and phrases in isolation is like sending emoji-less messages. It deprives students of the contextual information they need to understand and accurately apply the language.

Say, for example, I ask you what the phrase ‘it’s cool’ means. Would you think I’m talking about the weather? Or am I saying something’s okay? It’s impossible to know without context.

FVR overcomes this challenge by introducing new words and phrases in a natural context, so learners can see how they work in action.

But context doesn’t just give words more meaning - it also makes them easier to remember.

If you’ve ever stared down a vocabulary list willing the words to go in, it should be no surprise that rote learning is one of the least effective ways to acquire new words.

While cramming before a test might work in the short-term, the chances of this knowledge being stored in our long-term memory are slim.

Don’t just take it from me - one study showed that people who learnt vocabulary by rote only retained 28% of the words. Those who followed mnemonic strategies could recall 88%.

There’s a simple explanation for this - and it’s not student laziness.

Our brains are hard-wired to process information in meaningful patterns. When we learn something new, we naturally search for connections between that and our existing knowledge to - you guessed it - give it context.

For example, learning "sun" while reading a story about going to the beach allows learners to associate the word with a situation they already know.

Try and teach a kiddo the French word for ‘forensic scientist’, however, and they’re unlikely to remember it.

Such associations make storing and retrieving vocabulary from our long-term memory easier.

Compare that to reciting words from a vocabulary list, and it’s easy to see why FVR is more effective at developing language proficiency.

Promoting communication

Traditional teaching methods tend to replace interaction with memorization because it’s considered more efficient, practical and easier to assess.

But as the Chinese kiddo at my former school proved: memorization does not equal acquisition.

If anything, it hinders learners’ ability to express themselves and engage in authentic conversations.

FVR, on the other hand, promotes natural language acquisition and helps learners understand how to apply the language meaningfully.

And the better they understand the language, the more confident they’ll feel to try.

Learn using FVR with The Language Mindset

By promoting natural language acquisition and meaningful communication, Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) is an excellent alternative to traditional language learning methods.

If you're interested in using this method for your kiddo’s language learning journey, keep an eye out for our upcoming easy reader chapter book, The Word Thief!

Reading in a language is the one of the most effective ways!

Would you like your child to explore the world of Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese or Chinese? We offer online language classes that are personalized to their requirements, including individual sessions with our teachers, group classes, and self-paced programs. Pick the option that works best for you!


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