The Benefits of Extensive Reading for Foreign Language Acquisition

Term Paper, 2014

11 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table Of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Extensive Reading Vs. Intensive Reading

3. Ten Basic Principles of ER

4. Benefits

5. Obstacles

6. Practical Options And Solutions

7. Conclusion

8. Works Cited

1.) Introduction

Great reading skills are indispensable for a learner of a foreign language in order to succeed in second language learning. The aim is to be a good reader who is capable of understanding even difficult texts without much effort. Of course, modern life has an effect on pupils’ activities at home so that watching videos or playing computer games can lead to neglect educational activities such as reading books. Of course, there are numerous pupils who really enjoy reading in their leisure time, regarding reading as a hobby. Taking pleasure in an activity generally requires ease and comfort. As second language learning can sometimes be hard and involves a great deal of expense and effort, most pupils have a negative attitude towards reading in a second language. At school, teachers even strengthen students’ antipathy towards reading due to the approach they choose, that is, close and careful examination of difficult, short texts, also known as intensive reading. Another approach to language learning is extensive reading (short: ER) which is rather a less common approach compared to intensive reading. In short, extensive reading refers to the idea that pupils read as many books as possible. They have to be easy to understand so that pupils read them for pleasure. The question now is which of the two approaches contribute most to pupils’ literary skills.

In this paper, my goal is to prove that extensive reading programs are very beneficial to language acquisition, but they are not commonplace due to various constraints imposed on the implementation of extensive reading programs at school.

At first, I will shortly explain what extensive reading really is by giving definitions. In order to achieve this, I will compare extensive reading with intensive reading which is more common in the context of school. Then, I will examine the numerous benefits of extensive reading as well as some obstacles which explain why extensive reading programs are difficult to implement. At the end, I will introduce practical options and possible solutions in terms of implementing extensive reading programs.

2.) Extensive Reading Vs. Intensive Reading

In order to define extensive reading, it is helpful to shortly explain what the idea of intensive reading is. Bamford and Day depict intensive reading as a “[…] careful reading (or translation) of shorter, more difficult foreign language texts with the goal of complete and detailed understanding” (1997). Thus, intensive reading is the traditional way of teaching language where the pupils do not have to focus on the content, but on the language. They don’t have any influence on the text material at all, as the teachers choose what to read. Working with textbooks is commonplace. As the texts are short and difficult, they encounter numerous new vocabularies. So, it is possible that the pupils feel either bored or overtaxed, as they may not read at their own level.

In contrast to intensive reading, extensive reading tries to level out the above-mentioned weak points of intensive reading. Harold Palmer, an English linguist, was the first who applied the phrase Extensive Reading (qtd. in Bamford and Day 1998, 5). According to Palmer, extensive reading means that learners should read “book after book” (qtd. in Bamford and Day 1998, 5). Palmer stresses the importance of reading a large amount of books which should be read as fast as possible. Bamford and Day add that the “[…] reader’s attention should be on the meaning, not the language of the text” (1998, 5). Thus, the learners should not focus on grammatical constructions or on word connections. Instead, they give priority to what actually happens in the book. More specifically, Aebersold and Field state that “[…] teaching reading is based on the belief that when students read for general comprehension large quantities of texts of their own choosing, their ability to read will consequently improve” (Aebersold and Field 1997, 43). Hence, the pupils are allowed to choose the books they want. Opposed to Day and Bamford, Aebersold and Field support the idea that the teacher can “to some extent” (1997, 43) choose the books for the pupils. This can be useful if the pupils do not have an idea which book to choose. Teachers should check the chosen books anyway, as the pupils can pick out books which are unsuitable for their age.

3.) Ten Basic Principles of ER

To elaborate on the definitions, Day and Bamford present ten basic principles of extensive reading approach, by stressing that they “[…] provide a theoretical framework for putting extensive reading into action in the language classroom” (Day & Bamford 2004, 3).

1. The reading material is easy
2. A variety of reading material on a wide range of topics is available.
3. Learners choose what they want to read.
4. Learners read as much as possible.
5. Reading speed is usually faster rather than slower.
6. The purpose of reading is usually related to pleasure, information, general understanding.
7. Reading is individual and silent.
8. Reading is its own reward.
9. The teacher orients and guides the student.
10. Teacher is a role model of a reader

(Day & Bamford 2004, 2-3)

According to Day and Bamford, the first principle is also the “[…] most important principle of extensive reading for language learning” (2004, 2). It is essential that the pupils do not have any difficulties with the texts they read. Consequently, the amount of unknown vocabulary should be very low. Moreover, they can choose topics which they find interesting and entertaining. Without being forced to read a specific book, the pupils are free to choose their own reading material. If the reading material becomes too difficult, they are allowed to read other books which are easier to understand. Now, a big amount of books will now be commonplace for the pupils in an extensive reading program: “A book a week is an appropriate goal” (Day and Bamford 2004, 2). As easy books support the pupils’ fluent reading, it is not beneficial to use a dictionary because it makes difficult to really read fluently. Hence, the pupils should not pay attention to the words they do not understand. Another important feature is that the pupils do not have to do annoying exercises, as it is the case in intensive reading. The teachers do not want to discourage further reading. Nonetheless, Day and Bamford recommend doing a “follow-up activity” (2004, 2) where the teachers can check if the pupils understand what they read. This is also a good possibility to check their reading materials as well as their attitude towards reading. This way, there can be a kind of solidarity between the teachers and the pupils, as Day and Bamford put it: “In this way, teacher and students can become an informal reading community, experiencing together the value and pleasure to be found in the written word” (2004 3, emphasis added).

If there is a reading community, the teacher will be able to recommend new reading materials for the pupils since they learn their pupils’ interests. However, opposed to Aebersold and Field, Day and Braham do not approve of the idea that the teachers select the books for their pupils. The reason is that “[…] self-selection […] puts students in a different role from that in a traditional classroom, where the teacher chooses or the textbook supplies reading material” (Day & Bamford 2004, 3). Basically, Day and Bamford fear that the reading materials selected by the teacher could affect the pleasure of extensive reading which is essential for success. Apart from that, there are not major differences in terms of the characteristics.

4.) Benefits

Now, by following the ten principles by Day and Bamford, the pupils in an extensive reading program should expect to succeed in reading, that is, improving their reading comprehension and overall understanding. Day and Bamford state that the benefits of extensive reading go even beyond that:

Research studies show [the students] become better and more confident readers, they write better, their listening and speaking abilities improve, and their vocabularies get richer [and] they develop positive attitudes toward and increased motivation to study the new language (Day & Bamford 2004, 1).

They confirm that the students will also improve their receptive and productive skills by extensively reading books. These benefits are indeed not as obvious as all the other benefits. It is not a big surprise that students reading several self-selected books in a short time will progress in reading and will become more confident in reading. As they read for pleasure, they become more and more motivated. According to the Compelling Input Hypothesis by Stephen Krash, “[c]ompelling input appears to eliminate the need for motivation, a conscious desire to improve. When you get compelling input, you acquire whether you are interested in improving or not” (Krashen 2013). This means that the students foster their literacy development without even noticing it.

The fact that the students also build their vocabulary seems to be obvious as well, since they permanently encounter new words due to the fact that they read numerous books. However, one has to bear in mind that the students have to read easy understandable books. Consequently, the number of unknown words is limited. In fact, the students do enhance their vocabulary knowledge, but they do not really learn a lot of new terms and expressions. Nation summarizes:

If the small amount of learning of a word is not soon reinforced by another, that learning will be lost. It is thus critically important in an extensive reading programme that learners have the opportunity to keep meeting words that they have met before (Nation 2007, 155-156).


Excerpt out of 11 pages


The Benefits of Extensive Reading for Foreign Language Acquisition
University of Osnabrück
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benefits, extensive, reading, foreign, language, acquisition
Quote paper
Ahmet Yildirim (Author), 2014, The Benefits of Extensive Reading for Foreign Language Acquisition, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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