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Extensive reading (or free reading, book flood, reading for pleasure), is a way of language learning, including foreign language learning, through large amounts of reading. As well as facilitating acquisition and learning of vocabulary, it is believed to increase motivation through positive affective benefits. Proponents such as Krashen (1989) claim that reading alone will increase encounters with unknown words, bringing learning opportunities by inferencing. The learner's encounters with unknown words in specific contexts will allow the learner to infer and thus learn those words' meanings. While the mechanism is commonly accepted as true, its importance in language learning is disputed. (Cobb 2007)
In language learning, extensive reading is contrasted with intensive reading, which is slow, careful reading of a small amount of difficult text – it is when one is "focused on the language rather than the text". Extensive and intensive reading are two approaches to language learning and instruction, and may be used concurrently; intensive reading is however the more common approach, and often the only one used.
Extensive reading has been used and advocated in language learning since at least the 19th century (with Latin; see below). In the first language, many connections have been made between reading and vocabulary size, as well as other academic skills.
Free voluntary reading refers to using extensive reading in language education. Students are free to choose a book that they like and are allowed to read it at their own pace. The aim of a free voluntary reading program is to help students to enjoy reading, so assessment is usually minimized or eliminated entirely.
The idea behind extensive reading is that a lot of reading of interesting material that is slightly below, at, or barely above the full comprehension level of the reader will foster improved language skills. Graded readers are often used. For foreign-language learners, some researchers have found that the use of glosses for "difficult" words is advantageous to vocabulary acquisition (Rott, Williams & Cameron 2002) but at least one study finds it has no effect (Holley & King 2008). A number of studies report significant incidental vocabulary gain in extensive reading in a foreign language (Huckin & Coady 1999). Advocates claim it can enhance skill in speaking as well as in reading.
Day and Bamford (1988), pp. 7–8 gave a number of traits common or basic to the extensive reading approach. Students read as much as possible. Reading materials are well within the reader's grammatical and vocabulary competence. The material should be varied in subject matter and character.
Students choose their own reading material and are not compelled to finish uninteresting materials. Reading material is normally for pleasure, information or general understanding; reading is its own reward with few or no follow-up exercises after reading; reading is individual and silent. Reading speed is usually faster when students read materials they can easily understand.
Nation(2005) suggests that learning from extensive reading should meet the following conditions: focusing on the meaning of the English text, understanding the type of learning that can occur through such reading, having interesting and engaging books, getting learners to do large quantities of reading at an appropriate level, and making sure that learning from reading is supported by other kinds of learning. In order to meet the conditions needed for learning from extensive reading at the students’ proficiency levels, it is essential to make use of simplified texts (Nation, 2005). 
The teacher is a role model who also orients the students to the goals of the program, explains the idea and methodology, keeps records of what has been read, and guides students in material selection and maximizing the effect of the program. Teachers orient students to the goals of the program, explain the methodology, keep track of what each student reads, and guide students in getting the most out of the program and reading in general.
Some recent practitioners have not followed all of these traits, or have added to them, for example, requiring regular follow-up exercises such as story summaries or discussions and the use of audio materials in tandem with the readings (Bell 1998).
Graded reader series
A graded reader series of books that increase in difficulty from shorter texts using more common words in the first volumes, to longer texts with less common vocabulary in later volumes. Cobb (2008) cites Oxford's Bookworm series, which includes the 2,500 most frequent words, The Longman Bridge Series (1945), with a systematic grading up to 8,000 words, now out of print, and the Penguin/Longman Active Reading series with its 3,000 word-family target.
Many series of graded readers exist in English, and series exist also in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. As of 2008[update], readers are notably absent or scarce in Russian, Arabic, Japanese, and Mandarin Chinese, though since 2006, an extensive reader series is available in Japanese. English readers have primarily been produced by British publishers, rather than American or other Anglophone nations. As of 1997[update], only one small series (15 volumes) was published in the United States, and a few in Europe outside the UK, with the majority in the UK.
The following are some commercially available graded reader series in English:
- Atama-ii Books
- Black Cat Readers
- Burlington Books
- Cambridge Readers
- Cengage - National Geographic
- Choose Your Own Adventure Graded Readers
- Easy Readers
- ELI Publications
- Helbling Young Readers
- Macmillan Guided Readers
- Oxford Bookworms
- Pearson Readers
- Read Listen Learn
- Richmond Readers
- Scholastic Readers
Translation of modern literature
For advocates of extensive reading, lack of reading selection is an acute issue in classical languages such as Latin – the main readings available being quite difficult and are perceived as dry. To increase the available literature and make more light selection available, modern literature (particularly children's literature, comics, and genre fiction) may be translated into classical languages – see list of Latin translations of modern literature for examples in Latin. As F. W. Newman writes in his introduction to a Latin translation of Robinson Crusoe:
- [N]o accuracy of reading small portions of Latin will ever be so effective as extensive reading; and to make extensive reading possible to the many, the style ought to be very easy and the matter attractive.
Laufer suggest that 3,000 word families or 5,000 lexical items are the threshold (Laufer 1997). Coady & Nation (1998) suggest 98% of lexical coverage and 5,000 word families or 8,000 items for a pleasurable reading (Coady & Huckin 1997, p. 233). After this threshold, the learner leaves the beginner paradox, and enters a virtuous circle (Coady & Huckin 1997, p. 233). Then, extensive reading becomes more efficient.
Cobb (2007), McQuillan & Krashen (2008), and Cobb (2008) offer contrasting perspectives. All agree on the need of lexical input, but Cobb (2007; 2008) supported by Parry (1997) denounces the sufficiency of extensive reading, the current lexical expansion pedagogy, and especially for confirmed learners. According to Cobb (2007), Krashen (1989)'s Input Hypothesis states that extensive reading generates a continuous hidden learning (lexical input), eventually "doing the entire job" of vocabulary acquisition. This hypothesis is without empirical evidence, neither on the extent (% of global vocabulary acquisition), nor on the sufficiency of extensive reading for lexicon learning (Cobb 2007).
Cobb (2007) thus proposed a computer-based study to quantitatively assess the efficiency of extensive reading. Cobb estimated the reading quantity of common learners within the L2 language (~175,000 words over 2 years), then randomly took 10 words in each the 1st thousand most frequent words, the 2nd thousand, and the 3rd thousand, to see how many times those words would appear. Those results should be higher than 6 to 10 encounters, the number need for stable initial word learning to occur.
Cobb (2007) summarizes as following :"[the quantitative study] shows the extreme unlikelihood of developing an adequate L2 reading lexicon [above 2,000 words families] through reading alone, even in highly favorable circumstances" since "for the vast majority of L2 learners, free or wide reading alone is not a sufficient source of vocabulary knowledge for reading". Thereafter, Cobb restated the need of lexical input, and stated the possibility to increase it using computing capabilities.
McQuillan & Krashen (2008) answer that learners may read far more than 175,000 words but rather +1,000,000 words in 2 years, but Cobb (2008) counters that view as being based on excessively successful cases of reading oversimplified texts. Experiments cited by McQuillan & Krashen use easy and fast to read texts, but not material suitable for discovering new vocabulary; unsimplified texts are far harder and slower to read.
Advocacy and Support Organizations
The Extensive Reading Foundation is a not-for-profit, charitable organization whose purpose is to support and promote extensive reading. One Foundation initiative is the annual Language Learner Literature Award for the best new works in English. Another is maintaining a bibliography of research on extensive reading. The Foundation is also interested in helping educational institutions set up extensive reading programs through grants that fund the purchase of books and other reading material.
The Extensive Reading Special Interest Group (ER SIG) of The Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) is a not-for-profit organization which exists to help promote Extensive Reading in Japan. Via a website, the publications Extensive Reading in Japan and Journal of Extensive Reading, presentations throughout Japan, and other activities the ER SIG aims to help teachers set up and make the most of their ER programs and ER research projects.
Similar to extensive reading is extensive listening, which is the analogous approach to listening. One issue is that listening speed is generally slower than reading speed, so simpler texts are recommended – one may be able to read a text extensively, but not be able to listen to it extensively.
- Extensive Reading FAQ, Rob Waring
- Nation, K. (2005). Children’s reading comprehension difficulties. In M. J. Snowling and C. Hulme (Eds.), The Science of Reading: A Handbook (pp 248-265).
- (Hill 2008)
- What is Extensive Reading? (English) 日本語多読研究会 (Japanese Extensive Reading Research Society) 活動報告 (Report on Activities) 2006 (Japanese)
- (Hill 1997)
- Francis William Newman, Rebilius Cruso: Robinson Crusoe, in Latin; A Book to Lighten Tedium to a Learner, London, Trübner & Co., 1884.
- Starting Extensive Listening, Rob Waring
- The primacy of extensive listening, Meredith Stephens, doi:10.1093/elt/ccq042
- Ausubel, D.P. (2000), The acquisition and retention of knowledge: a cognitive view, Kluwer Academic Publishers, ISBN 978-0-7923-6505-1
- Bell, Timothy (1998), Extensive Reading: Why? and How? IV (12), The Internet TESL Journal
- Cobb, T. (2007), "Computing the Vocabulary Demands of L2 Reading", Language Learning & Technology 11 (3), pp. 38–63
- Cobb, T. (2008), "Commentary: Response to McQuillan and Krashen (2008) [Can free reading take you all the way? A response to Cobb (2007)]", About Language Learning & Technology 6 (27), pp. 109–114
- Day, R.; Bamford, J. (1988), Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom, Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press
- Furukawa, A. (2005), Eigo Tadoku Kanzen Bukkugaido [The complete book guide for extensive reading], Tokyo: Cosmopier Publishing
- Holley, Freda M.; King, Janet K. (2008), "Vocabulary glosses in foreign language reading materials", Language Learning, 21(2): 213–219
- Huckin, Thomas; Coady, James (1999), "Incidental vocabulary acquisition in a second language", Studies in Second Language Acquisition 21: 181–193, doi:10.1017/S0272263199002028
- Krashen, S. (1989), "We Acquire Vocabulary and Spelling by Reading: Additional Evidence for the Input Hypothesis", The Modern Language Journal 73 (4), pp. 440–464, JSTOR 326879
- McQuillan, J.; Krashen, S.D. (2008), "Commentary: Can free reading take you all the way? A response to Cobb (2007)", About Language Learning & Technology 6 (27), pp. 104–109
- Parry, K. (1997), "Vocabulary and comprehension: Two portraits.", in J. Coady & T. Huckin, eds., Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition, Cambridge University Press, pp. 55–68, ISBN 0-521-56132-9
- Rott, Susanne; Williams, Jessica; Cameron, Richard (2002), "The effect of multiple-choice L1 glosses and input-output cycles on lexical acquisition and retention", Language Teaching Research 6(3): 183–222, doi:10.1191/1362168802lr108oa
- Coady, J.; Huckin, T.N. (1997), "L2 vocabulary acquisition through extensive reading", Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition: A Rationale for Pedagogy, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-56764-0
- Laufer, B. (1997), "The lexical plight in second language reading - Words you don't know, words you think you know, and words you can't guess", in J. Coady & T. Huckin, eds., Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition, Cambridge University Press, pp. 20–34, ISBN 0-521-56132-9
A series of periodic surveys of graded extensive readers in English have been undertaken by Helen C. Reid Thomas and David R. Hill, which provide a good overview of the evolving state of available readers.
- Earlier 1988, 1989
- 1993, ELT J (1993) 47 (3): 250-267. doi:10.1093/elt/47.3.250
- 1997, ELT J (1997) 51 (1): 57-81. doi:10.1093/elt/51.1.57
- 2001, ELT J (2001) 55 (3): 300-324. doi:10.1093/elt/55.3.300
- 2008, ELT J (2008) 62 (2): 184-204. doi:10.1093/elt/ccn006
- The Extensive Reading Foundation
- ER Central
- http://www.extensivereading.net/ (content moving to ER Central)
- Extensive reading in Japan: http://www.seg.co.jp/sss/information/SSSER-2006.htm
- The JALT Extensive Reading Special Interest Group