Increasing reading rate
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №7 - 2015
Murumbayeva Aliya, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan
Chzhan Yelena, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan
It would be
unwise to make strong claims about the role of extensive reading in second
language acquisition. If learners need to be exposed to large amounts of
comprehensible input which is meaningful, relevant, and interesting, in a
stress-free environment, then clearly individual extensive reading outside
class time has value. It can be seen as input-enabling activity. Whether
extensive reading facilitates intake is another matter. It is difficult to know
exactly how any learner will actually use the input available. Some students
respond emotionally to words and provide themselves with opportunities
for depth of processing which might result in intake of new words. Other
students, who try to read quickly and do not go back to check words, will not
have this opportunity, but they may be working in a way which will increase
their reading speed.
reading certainly has the benefit of greatly increasing a student’s exposure to
English and can be particularly important where class contact time is limited.
This particular rationale can be appreciated immediately in relation to
vocabulary learning. Wilkins (1972) makes the point that learners can
effectively come to understand, through reading, which words are appropriate in
which contexts: “through reading, the learner is exposed to the lexical items
embedded in natural linguistic contexts, and as a result they begin slowly to
have the same meaningfulness that they have for the native speaker”
(Wilkins 1972:132) .
opportunities that extensive reading affords learners of all ages and levels of
language proficiency makes it a useful resource. Learners can build their language
competence, progress in their reading ability, become more independent in their
studies, acquire cultural knowledge, and develop confidence and motivation to
carry on learning. With young learners there is a further value. Introducing
children to books, whether in their first or second language, contributes to
the curriculum objective of encouraging critical thinking and positive
attitudes towards imaginative experience.
make difference between “extensive” and “intensive” reading. Many academicians
suggest “extensive” reading as reading at length, often for pleasure and in a
leisurely way, while “intensive” reading tends to be more concentrated, less
relaxed, and often dedicated not so much to pleasure as to the achievement of a
study goal [2; p. 199].
reading frequently takes place when students are on their own, whereas
intensive reading is often done with the help and / or intervention of the
reading – especially where students are reading material written specially at
their level – has a number of benefits for the development of a student’s
language. This kind of reading makes students more positive, improves their
overall comprehension skills, gives them a wider passive and active vocabulary,
enables students to read without constantly stopping and provides an increased
word recognition. It is the best possible way for them to develop automaticity.
But it is not enough to tell students “to read a lot”; we need to offer them a
program which includes appropriate materials, guidance, tasks, and facilities
such as libraries of books [3; p. 204].
reading, apart from its impact on language and reading ability, can be a key to
unlocking the all-important taste for foreign language reading among students. After
all, teaching reading to students without such a taste is, as Eskey (1995),
nicely phrased it, like teaching swimming strokes to people who hate the water
Day, Julian Bam for doffer their own top ten principles for teaching extensive
reading as a tool for professional development. These they believe are the
basic ingredients of extensive reading. They encourage teachers to use them as
a way to examine their beliefs about reading in general and extensive reading
in particular, and the ways they teach foreign language reading.
reading material is easy.
clearly separates extensive reading from other approaches to teaching foreign
language reading. For extensive reading to be possible and for it to have the
desired results, texts must be well within the learners' reading competence in
the foreign language. In helping beginning readers select texts that are well
within their reading comfort zone, more than one or two unknown words per page
might make the text too difficult for overall understanding. Intermediate
learners might use the rule of hand - no more than five difficult words per
page. Hu and Nation (2000) suggest that learners must know at least 98% of the
words in a fiction text for unassisted understanding .
that, for extensive reading, all but advanced learners probably require texts
written or adapted with the linguistic and knowledge constraints of language
learners in mind. In discussing first language reading development, Fry
observes that "Beginning readers do better with easier materials"
(1991: 8) .
This is all
the more true with extensive reading because learners read independently,
without the help of a teacher. Those teaching English are fortunate that the
art of writing in English for language learners is well-developed: a great
variety of high-quality language learner literature is published for learners
of all ability levels (Hill's best picks, 1998, and survey review, 2001) .
The use of
easy material is controversial. There is still a pervasive view that, to
accustom students to real-world reading, real-world texts should be used for
extensive reading. This is to confuse the means with the end, and paradoxically
to rob students of exactly the material they need to progress to the goal of
reading real-world texts. For students to be motivated to read more and study
more, and to be able to ladder up as their foreign language and reading skills
improve, they must be reading texts that reflect their language ability - texts
they find easy and enjoyable at every step of the way.
variety of reading material on a wide range of topics must be available.
of extensive reading depends largely on enticing students to read. To awaken or
encourage a desire to read, the texts made available should ideally be as
varied as the learners who read them and the purposes for which they want to
read. Books, magazines, newspapers, fiction, non-fiction, texts that inform,
texts that entertain, general, specialized, light, serious. For an inside track
on finding what the students are interested in reading, it is good to follow
Williams' advice: "Ask them what they like reading in their own language,
peer over their shoulders in the library, ask the school librarian..."
(1986: 42) .
reading material not only encourages reading, it also encourages a flexible
approach to reading. Learners are led to read for different reasons (e.g.,
entertainment; information; passing the time) and, consequently, in different
ways (e.g., skimming; scanning; more careful reading).
choose what they want to read.
principle of freedom of choice means that learners can select texts as they do
in their own language, that is, they can choose texts they expect to
understand, to enjoy or to learn from. Correlative to this principle, learners
are also free, indeed encouraged, to stop reading anything they find to be too
difficult, or that turns out not to be of interest.
noticed about her L1 non-reading undergraduates is no less true in foreign language
reading: "my students needed to read for themselves, not for me"
(1995: 6) . For students used to working with textbooks and teacher-selected
texts, the freedom to choose reading material (and freedom to stop reading) may
be a crucial step in experiencing foreign language reading as something
although there may be a class or homework assignment, extensive reading puts
the student in charge in other important ways. As Henry observes,
"compliance means reading books, but other than that, the purposes and
pleasures to which students put their reading are entirely their own" (p.
69) . This encourages students to become responsible for their own learning.
Samuels, in discussing first language reading, claims that "unless we
phase out the teacher and phase in the learner, many of our students will fail
to become independent because throughout their education they were always
placed in a dependent role - dependent on the teacher" (1991: 17) .
read as much as possible.
This is the
"extensive" of extensive reading, made possible by the previous
principles. The most critical element in learning to read is the amount of time
spent actually reading. While most reading teachers agree with this, it may be
the case that their students are not being given the opportunity or incentive
to read, read, and read some more.
There is no
upper limit to the amount of reading that can be done, but a book a week is
probably the minimum amount of reading necessary to achieve the benefits of extensive
reading and to establish a reading habit. This is a realistic target for
learners of all proficiency levels, as books written for beginners and
low-intermediate learners are very short.
purpose of reading is usually related to pleasure, information and general
extensive reading approach, learners are encouraged to read for the same kinds
of reasons and in the same ways as the general population of first-language
readers. This sets extensive reading apart from usual classroom practice on the
one hand, and reading for academic purposes on the other. One hundred percent
comprehension, indeed, any particular objective level of comprehension, is not
a goal. In terms of reading outcomes, the focus shifts away from comprehension
achieved or knowledge gained and towards the reader's personal experience.
interaction with a text derives from the purpose for reading. In extensive
reading, the learner's goal is sufficient understanding to fulfill a particular
reading purpose, for example, the obtaining of information, the enjoyment of a
story, or the passing of time.
is its own reward.
learners' experience of reading the text is at the center of the extensive
reading experience, just as it is in reading in everyday life. For this reason,
extensive reading is not usually followed by comprehension questions. It is an
experience complete in itself.
At the same
time, teachers may ask students to complete follow-up activities based on their
reading (see Bamford and Day (in press) for a wide variety of extensive reading
activities for teaching foreign language). The reasons for this are various: to
find out what the student understood and experienced from the reading; to
monitor students' attitudes toward reading; to keep track of what and how much
students read; to make reading a shared experience; to link reading to other
aspects of the curriculum. For such reasons, students may be asked to do such
things as write about their favorite characters, write about the best or worst
book they have read, or do a dramatic reading of an exciting part of a novel.
Such activities, while respecting the integrity of students' reading
experiences, extend them in interesting and useful ways.
speed is usually faster rather than slower.
learners are reading material that is well within their linguistic ability, for
personal interest, and for general rather than academic purposes, it is an
incentive to reading fluency. Nuttall notes that "speed, enjoyment and
comprehension are closely linked with one another" (1996: 128).  She
describes "The vicious circle of the weak reader: Reads slowly; Doesn't
enjoy reading; Doesn't read much; Doesn't understand; Reads slowly..." (p.
127) and so on. Extensive reading can help readers "enter instead the
cycle of growth... The virtuous circle of the good reader: Reads faster; Reads
more; Understands better; Enjoys reading; Reads faster..." (p. 127) .
service of promoting reading fluency, it is as well to discourage students from
using dictionaries when they come across words they don't understand. Extensive
reading is a chance to keep reading, and thus to practice such strategies as
guessing at or ignoring unknown words or passages, going for the general
meaning, and being comfortable with a certain level of ambiguity.
is individual and silent.
individual extensive reading contrasts with the way classroom texts are used as
vehicles for teaching language or reading strategies or (in traditional
approaches) translated or read aloud. It allows students to discover that
reading is a personal interaction with the text, and an experience that they
have responsibility for. Thus, together with freedom to choose reading
material, individual silent reading can be instrumental in students discovering
how foreign language reading fits into their lives.
reading means learners reading at their own pace. It can be done both in the
students' own time when and where the student chooses, or inside the classroom
when part or all of a classroom period is set aside for silent, self-selected
reading. In the latter case, teachers may witness, as Henry describes it,
"the most beautiful silence on earth, that of students engrossed in their
reading" (1995: xv) .
orient and guide their students.
approach to teaching reading, extensive reading is very different from usual
classroom practice. Students accustomed to wading through difficult foreign
language texts might drown when suddenly plunged into a sea of simple and
stimulating material. Serious-minded students, for example, in thrall of the
macho maxim of foreign language reading instruction, No reading pain, no
reading gain, might not understand how reading easy and interesting material
can help them become better readers.
thus need careful introduction to extensive reading. Teachers can explain that
reading extensively leads not only to gains in reading proficiency but also to
overall gains in language learning. The methodology of extensive reading can be
introduced, beginning with choice: students choosing what to read is an
essential part of the approach. Teachers can reassure students that a general,
less than 100%, understanding of what they read is appropriate for most reading
purposes. It can be emphasized that there will be no test after reading.
Instead, teachers are interested in the student's own personal experience of
what was read - for example, was it enjoyable or interesting, and why?
component of orientation is practical. Students are introduced to the library
of reading materials and how it is divided into difficulty levels. It should be
remembered that students unaccustomed to browsing foreign language reading
material may need assistance in selecting appropriate texts of interest to
is the first step. Guidance throughout the extensive reading experience is also
needed, in light of the independence and choice extensive reading allows
learners. Teachers can keep track of what and how much each student reads, and
their students' reactions to what was read. Based on this information, teachers
can encourage students to read as widely as possible and, as their language
ability, reading ability and confidence increase, to read at progressively
higher levels of difficulty. Guidance implies a sharing of the reading
experience, which leads us to the final principle of extensive reading.
teacher is a role model of a reader.
famously said, "reading is caught, not taught" (1996: 229)  Maley
explains the implications of this for teachers when he says, "We need to
realize how much influence we have on our students. Students do not just (or
even) learn the subject matter we teach them; they learn their teachers.
Teacher attitude, more than technical expertise, is what they will recall when
they leave us" (1999:7). In short, effective extensive reading
teachers are themselves readers, teaching by example the attitudes and
behaviors of a reader. In Henry's words, teachers are "selling
reading" (1995: 52), and the primary way to do that is to be a reader .
Henry's opinion, teachers of extensive reading "have to commit to reading
what their students do" (1995: 52).  She explains, "By reading
what my students read, I become a part of the community that forms within the
class" (p. 53).  When students and teachers share reading, the foreign
language reading classroom can be a place where teachers discuss books with
students, answer their questions and make tailor-made recommendations to
individual students. It can be a place where students and teachers experience
together the value and pleasure to be found in the written word .
ten principles for teaching extensive reading complement the ten principles for
teaching foreign language reading offered by Williams. They can give teachers
food for thought and reflection as they consider their beliefs about how best
to help their students become proficient foreign-language readers.
1. Wilkins(1972). Linguistics in Language Teaching.
2. Jeremy Harmer. The Practice of English Language Teaching. Longman,
2001. – p. 199-227.
3. Bamford, J. and Day, R. R. (Eds.) (in press). Extensive reading
activities for teaching language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
4. Eskey, D. E. (1995). Colloquium on research in reading in a second
language. Paper presented at TESOL 1995 Conference, Long Beach, California.
5. Hu, M. & Nation, P. (2000). Unknown vocabulary density and
reading comprehension. Reading in a Foreign Language, 13(1), 403-430.
6. Fry, E. (1991). Ten best ideas for reading teachers. In E. Fry (Ed.),
Ten best ideas for reading teachers (pp. 6-16). Menlo Park, Calif.: Addison-Wesley.
7. Hill, D. R. (2001). Graded readers. ELT Journal, 55(3), 300-324.
8. Williams, R. (1986). "Top ten" principles for teaching
reading. ELT Journal, 40(1), 42-45.
9. Henry, J. (1995). If not now: Developmental readers in the college
classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton / Cook, Heinemann.
10. Samuels, S. J. (1991). Ten best ideas for reading teachers. In E.
Fry (Ed.), Ten best ideas for reading teachers (pp. 17-20). Menlo Park, Calif.:
11. Nuttall, C. (1996). Teaching reading skills in a foreign language
(2nd ed.). Oxford: Heinemann.
12. Day, R. R. and Bamford, J. Extensive reading in the second language
classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. - p. 7-8
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №7 - 2015