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“Pleasure reading” key to second language learning

“Pleasure reading” key to second language learning

Victoria University of Wellington PhD graduate Gillian Claridge says the task of learning to read in another language could be made a lot easier.

Dr Claridge’s research investigated the perceptions of learners, teachers and publishers involved in second language learner reading, and found that learners often try to read at an inappropriately difficult level.

“Learners, teachers and publishers tend to believe that the harder the text, the greater the learning benefits will be. However, the evidence from this study suggests that devoting time to reading easy texts for pleasure, alongside the traditional approach of examining difficult texts, would benefit learners in developing fluency.”

Dr Claridge surveyed a group of second language learner students in English at International Pacific College, Palmerston North, over two years, and also canvassed the opinions of teachers and editors of four of the major publishers of second language learner books.

She says previous studies have focused on measuring the amount that English proficiency has improved through extensive reading, but few have looked at whether the learners actually enjoy reading.

“Enjoyment or lack of it obviously has implications for the amount learners read, which appears to be as little as they possibly can, in many cases.”

Dr Claridge says her research shows learners want an emotional experience from reading, but teachers’ expectations and the requirement for accountability in all aspects of ESOL teaching and learning, often impede this.

“The kind of experience they want is the 'lost in the book' feeling that native speaker readers get when they can't put a book down. This kind of reading is effortless.”

However, she says learners often don’t get this experience because they are nearly always reading at a level which is too high to allow them to become submerged.

“So they are doomed to be disappointed as pleasure readers, because each time they start to get involved in a story, they come up against a word that they don't know, and have to stop and look it up in the dictionary.”

She says the 'no pain, no gain' view of teachers, students and their parents, and an emphasis on grades is to blame.

“Teachers encourage learners to read above their level, apparently not understanding that true pleasure reading both requires and develops a vital reading skill—fluency.”

She says the situation can be improved by persuading students and teachers that learners should read below, rather than above, their level.

“It’s also important to encourage the publishers to produce far more riveting books at really low levels, to get learners hooked early on in their progression in English, and also to explore the use of electronic possibilities in reading these days, which might be more attractive to the younger generation than paper based books’

Gillian Claridge will graduate with a PhD in Applied Linguistics at Victoria University of Wellington on Monday 12 December, and is currently the dean of the degree programme in the Faculty of International Studies at International Pacific College in Palmerston North.

More about the researcher
Gillian says she is a “reading addict” in three languages (English, French and Russian). As well as advising students to read as much as they possibly can, she also organises and teaches TESOL training programmes, which include extensive reading.

She has come to doctoral studies rather later in life than is usual; she started her career as a Russian transcriber and analyst in the British civil service, and then helped her husband run a fish farm, before taking up ESOL teaching.

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