Reading fiction books for fun improves language skills, study reveals

MONTREAL, Quebec — Looking for a good read to start off 2022? A recent study finds picking something from the fiction section may also help improve your verbal skills while entertaining you at the same time. Researchers from Concordia University in Canada say reading for fun, especially when it’s fiction, boosts a reader’s scores on language tests.

Fiction books — from “The Hunger Games” to “Harry Potter” — often don’t receive the same praise for their educational benefits as their non-fiction counterparts. However, the team found that reading for fun led to higher scores on tests than those reading only for “function” — to gain specific knowledge from a non-fiction book.

“It’s always very positive and heartening to give people permission to delve into the series that they like. I liken it to research that says chocolate is good for you: the guilty pleasure of reading fiction is associated with positive cognitive benefits and verbal outcomes,” says Sandra Martin-Chang, professor of education in the Faculty of Arts and Science, in a university release.

Reading is fun-damental

Researchers used York University’s Raymond Mar’s Predictors of Leisure Reading (PoLR) scale to measure reading behaviors. They then determined the ability of PoLR scores to predict language skills in 200 undergraduate students.

After completing the PoLR scale, students had to take SAT-like language tests as well as the Author Recognition Test, which measures various reading habits. The higher the score, the stronger the reading and language skills of the test taker. The results were clear: enjoyment and interest in reading predicted higher language skills. Moreover, reading fiction had stronger associations to those high scores than reading non-fiction literature.

Clearly, reading for pleasure is highly beneficial for both children and adults. Studies show that regular reading has a connection to greater social skills, critical thinking, and empathy — in addition to increased language skills, vocabulary, and comprehension.

“This ingrained interest, wanting to read something over and over again, feeling compelled to read an entire series, feeling connected to characters and authors, these are all good things,” Martin-Chang concludes.

The findings appear in the journal Reading and Writing.