An extensive reading program was established for elementary level language learners at the British Council Language Center in Sanaa, Yemen. Research evidence for the use of such programs in EFL/ESL contexts is presented, emphasizing the benefits of this type of input for students' English language learning and skills development. Practical advice is then offeredto teachers worldwide on ways to encourage learners to engage in a focused and motivating reading program with the potential to lead students along a path to independence and resourcefulness in their reading and language learning.
The Role of Extensive Reading in Language Learning
1. It can provide 'comprehensible input'
In his 1982 book, Krashen argues that extensive reading willlead to language acquisition, provided that certain preconditions are met. These include adequate exposure to the language, interesting material, and a relaxed, tension-free learning environment. Elley and Manghubai (1983:55) warn that exposure to the second language is normally "planned, restricted, gradual and largely artificial." The reading program provided in Yemen, and the choice of gradedreaders in particular, was intended to offer conditions in keeping with Krashen's model.
2. It can enhance learners' general language competence
Grabe (1991:391) and Paran (1996:30) have emphasized the importance of extensive reading in providing learners with practice in automaticity of word recognition and decoding the symbols on the printed page (often called bottom-up processing). The bookflood project in Fiji (Elley & Manghubai: op cit.), in which Fijian school children were provided with high-interest storybooks, revealed significant post treatment gains in word recognition and reading comprehension after the first year, and wider gains in oral and written skills after two years.
3. It increases the students' exposure to the language
The quality of exposure to languagethat learners receive is seen as important to their potential to acquire new forms from the input. Elley views provision of large quantities of reading material to children as fundamental to reducing the 'exposure gap' between L1 learners and L2 learners. He reviews a number of studies with children between six and twelve years of age, in which subjects showed rapid growth in language developmentcompared with learners in regular language programs . There was a "spread of effect from reading competence to other language skills - writing, speaking and control over syntax," (Elley 1991:404).
4. It can increase knowledge of vocabulary
Nagy & Herman (1987) claimed that children between grades three and twelve (US grade levels) learn up to 3000 words a year. It is thought that only asmall percentage of such learning is due to direct vocabulary instruction, the remainder being due to acquisition of words from reading. This suggests that traditional approaches to the teaching of vocabulary, in which the number of new words taught in each class was carefully controlled (words often being presented in related sets), is much less effective in promoting vocabulary growth than simplygetting students to spend time on silent reading of interesting books.
5. It can lead to improvement in writing
Stotsky (1983) and Krashen (1984) reviewed a number of L1 studies that appear to show the positive effect of reading on subjects' writing skills, indicating that students who are prolific readers in their pre-college years become better writers when they enter college. L2 studiesby Hafiz & Tudor (1989) in the UK and Pakistan, and Robb & Susser (1989) in Japan, revealed more significant improvement in subjects' written work than in other language skills. These results again support the case for an input-based, acquisition-oriented reading program based on extensive reading as an effective means of fostering improvements in students writing.
6. It can motivate learners...