Reading Research Summaries

It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find a language expert in the world that does not advocate reading to drastically improve language proficiency. Good things happen to students who read a great deal in the foreign language. Research studies show they become better and more confident readers, they write better, their listening and speaking abilities improve, and their vocabularies become richer. Below you will find a collection of academic studies we have collected for you to explore the importance of reading when learning a language.

frog holds books

Extensive Reading and the Development of Language Skills

Hafiz and Tudor (1989) investigated whether extensive reading improves general English language skills of L2 learners. Their methods were to expose learners to a substantial amount of L2 content in a natural language context. Learners were involved in an extracurricular program that was centered on extensive reading, with the aim that participants would earn 60 hours of reading time over 12 weeks. A pre-post test experimental design was used to test for L2 reading and writing skills at the beginning and end of the program. Both tests were from the National Foundation for Educational Research Tests of Proficiency in English and scored according to the same criteria.

Three experimental groups were formed from children aged 10-11 from schools in Leeds, UK. The experimental group consisted of 16 participants and was involved in the extracurricular program. The extracurricular program was structured as 1 hour reading sessions, 5 days per week for 12 weeks. Students were to engage in extensive reading on their own chosen material and were infrequently conducted oral reflections on the material. No other tests or assessments were required of the students during the experimental treatment.

Two other groups were used as control groups, one of which was composed of 15 ESL students from the same school and the other was 15 ESL students from a separate school in the Leeds area. These control groups received no special treatment between the two administered tests.

Statistical analysis indicated that students in the experimental group performed significantly better on the post-test assessments compared to their pre-test assessments. Significant differences were observed between every pre and post-test comparison, but were particularly substantial in the writing tests. In contrast, the first control group (from the same school) showed no improvement in reading or writing performance. The second control group (from a separate school) showed significant improvement between the pre and post-test on two writing tests. Otherwise, the second control group showed no significant improvement in other tests.

After presenting these results, the authors recommend extensive reading for improving L2 reading and writing performance among ESL students and advocate for extensive reading as a method to generate enthusiasm for L2 content.

Hafiz, F. M., & Tudor, I. (1989). Extensive Reading and the development of language skills. ELT Journal43(1), 4–13.

Extensive Reading in English As A Foreign Language

Mason and Krashen (1997) were interested in studying whether extensive reading was a viable strategy for teaching English as a foreign language. In particular, the researchers were interested in whether extensive reading programs would increase student performance in cloze tests relative to students in a traditional program. In this article, the researchers present three separate experiments.

All three experiments showed support for the overarching hypothesis that extensive reading aids learning English as a foreign language, specifically in reading comprehension tasks such as the cloze test. In all three experiments, the extensive reading groups made significantly greater gains than the control groups. The researchers also note that students that were formerly “reluctant” EFL students were able to improve their reading comprehension skills and attitude towards reading in English. The researchers highly recommend extensive reading due to its benefits in second language acquisition, first language development, and for its notable effect on the attitude of students towards reading.

Mason, B., & Krashen, S. (1997). Extensive reading in English as a foreign language. System25(1), 91-102.

Repeated reading for developing reading fluency and reading comprehension: The case of EFL learners in Vietnam

Gorsuch and Taguchi (2008) investigated the effect of repeated reading on English L2 learners’ reading fluency (measured in words read per minute) and reading comprehension. The authors review scientific literature on repeated reading and how it improves word recognition and reading comprehension for L1 readers. They then suggest that similar benefits should be experienced by L2 readers.

The control and experimental groups in the experiment were composed of 26 and 24 individuals, respectively. All participants were from a university in Vietnam, who were studying English as a second language. At the beginning of the study, a cloze test revealed that participants in the experimental group performed slightly worse in terms of their reading comprehension.

After this assessment, the groups were involved in a pre-post test experimental design where all participants took a repeated reading comprehension test and recall test. Participants’ reading speeds were measured on every reading of the testing material. The control group outperformed the experimental group during the reading comprehension and recall pre-tests.

After the pre-tests, the experimental group took part in 16 repeated reading sessions over a 11-week period. During each session, participants read a short passage five times over before writing a small summary in Vietnamese or English. The control group did not experience any special treatment during the 11-week period.

After the treatment period elapsed, all participants were administered the post-test, which was identical to the pre-test procedure except that it was based on a new passage sourced from the same book. Although the groups did not perform differently when it came to reading speed, the experimental group outperformed the control group on both the short answer post-tests and recall post-tests by a statistically significant margin. The results support the hypothesis that the repeated reading treatment improved L2 reading comprehension in the experimental group.

Gorsuch, G. & Taguchi, E. (2008). Repeated reading for developing reading fluency and reading comprehension: The case of EFL learners in Vietnam. System36(2), 253-278.

Developing reading fluency in EFL: How assisted repeated reading and extensive reading affect fluency development

Taguchi, Takayasu-Maass, and Gorsuch (2004) were interested in how repeated reading (RR) and extensive reading (ER) compared in terms of developing reading fluency and comprehension in L2 learners.

The researchers sourced 20 Japanese university students studying English as a second language. These students took a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) as a pre-assessment before being assigned to a RR group or ER group. At the outset of the study, the two groups did not show significant differences in English ability according to their test results. The main experiment involved a pre-test / post-test experimental design. Both tests involved each participant repeatedly reading a passage from the same graded reader. All readings were timed, but on the first, third, and fifth reading the participants were given the same set of reading comprehension questions. After the pre-test procedure was completed, the groups participated in specific reading treatments over the course of 17 weeks.

The RR group took part in 42 individual  sessions where they were required to read passages from one of two graded readers. In each session, the RR participants read a previously read passage, if applicable, before reading the next passage a total of five times. The first reading was silent and timed, the second and third readings were accompanied by an audiotape recording, and the fourth and fifth readings were silent and timed. After each session, RR participants were tasked with writing a book report on the passage. Over the course of the 42 sessions, the participants read the same two texts 5 times.

The ER group was asked to complete ER sessions with 83 graded readers. They were asked to keep detailed records of their starting page, ending page, start time, and end time for each session.

Groups performed similarly on the pre-test, with no significant difference in reading fluency or reading comprehension. Over the course of the treatment, the average reading rate (WPM) of the first reading increased significantly between the first four and last four sessions of the RR treatment. The RR group’s reading rates were faster than the ER group’s rates in the post-test, but results were not significantly different. The RR and ER groups performed similarly in pre-test and post-test comprehension questions, with no statistical differences found.

In conclusion, the authors suggest that RR and ER are similarly promising methods for improving reading fluency among L2 readers. In particular, they recommend RR as participants grew to enjoy reading, which would encourage further L2 reading and greater L2 development.

Taguchi, E., Takayasu-Maass, M., Gorsuch, G. (2004). Developing reading fluency in EFL: How assisted repeated reading and extensive reading affect fluency development. Reading in a Foreign Language16(2), 70-96.

Reading aloud for comprehension: A neglected teaching aid

A study from the University of Bahrain by Dhaif (1990) investigated the effects of reading aloud on reading comprehension of english language learners. How does comprehension of reading material differ when students are read aloud to, as opposed to reading silently to themselves? Students in this study were 140 first year students at the University of Bahrain. These students were described as having a basic level of proficiency in English.

The study consisted of two reading sessions, one for silent reading and one for reading aloud. During these sessions, the students were exposed to three modified passages from Cambridge FCE examinations at the Oxford Grade 5 reading level. In the first session, students were asked to silently read and answer 5 multiple choice comprehension questions after completing each passage. In the second session, the researcher read the passages aloud to the student and asked the students to complete another 5 multiple choice comprehension questions. To clarify, students were instructed to read along silently as the teacher read aloud. At the end of the second session, students were asked to provide feedback on which session they preferred.

Statistical analysis of the reading comprehension questions revealed that students performed significantly better in the reading aloud session than in the silent reading session. Additionally, 77% of the participants indicated that they preferred the reading aloud session, as it aided their understanding of the material.

Dhaif, H. (1990). Reading aloud for comprehension: A neglected teaching aid. Reading in a Foreign Language7(1), 457-464.

Reading aloud activity in L2 and cerebral activation

Takeuchi, Ikeda, & Mizumoto (2012) conducted a series of empirical experiments to establish a cerebral basis for the effectiveness of reading aloud in L2. Although many studies had previously applied reading aloud activities in L2 learning environments, the underlying mechanisms for how reading aloud in L2 aids L2 learners, in research and applied contexts. The researchers in this paper present two hypotheses:

  1. Reading aloud in L2 results in higher cerebral activation than reading aloud in L1.
  2. Reading difficult L2 passages aloud results in higher cerebral activation than reading relatively easier passages in L2.

For both studies, a brain-imaging technique called near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) or “optical topography” was used to measure changes in activation in the prefrontal cortex of participants as they worked through a number of reading exercises.

In the first study, 14 participants (9 females, 5 males, all right-handed), who were all Japanese adults with advanced English-as-a-foreign-language (EFL) skills, were recruited. These participants were asked to read through a set of treatments in a repeated measures experimental design. During the experiment, each participant read through easy and difficult passages in both L1 (Japanese) and L2 (English). Results from this experiment were analyzed using a two-way repeated measures ANOVA, which revealed a significant effect of language on activation. Therefore, the researchers concluded that reading aloud in L2 produced more activation in the prefrontal cortex than reading aloud L1, regardless of the difficulty of the text. This finding supported Hypothesis #1 in their study.

The results from this experiment did not support Hypothesis #2, as participants did not show significantly different brain activation with different passage difficulties. The researchers ran a second study that accounted for each participant’s individual reading ability. The researchers also respecified Hypothesis #2 to state that appropriately difficult passages for a reader would produce greater activation than inappropriately difficult passages (e.g. too easy or too hard).

Each of the 17 adult participants were sorted into intermediate and advanced EFL groups depending on their performance in pre-tests. During the main experiment, participants were asked to work through a series of repeated reading aloud exercises of varying difficulty.

Results from this study were analyzed in a three-way repeated measures ANOVA. The analysis revealed a significant effect of group on activation, which supported the hypothesis that appropriately difficult material increases activation than inappropriately difficult material (relative to learner proficiency).

In conclusion, the researchers presented evidence that supports a cerebral basis for reading aloud in L2. The researchers also suggest that teachers and learners should pay attention to the difficulty of the reading material for each student. This is because optimal activation occurs when learners are assigned appropriately difficult reading materials.

Takeuchi, O., Ikeda, M., & Mizumoto, A. (2012). Reading Aloud Activity in L2 and Cerebral Activation. RECL Journal43(2), 151-167.

The effect of the teacher’s reading aloud on the reading comprehension of EFL students

Amer (1997) conducted an experiment to test the hypothesis that a teacher reading aloud in L2 aids student reading comprehension relative to reading silently.

The participants for the study were 75 male students in an intermediate school in Cairo who had been taking English classes for 6 years. Students were split into two groups: a control group that read silently and an experimental group which was read aloud to by their teacher in L2 (English). The reading material was a short story that was divided into 4 parts. Each part was read during a 50 minute session, scheduled every other day. Before each reading session, students took part in a pre-reading exercise where vocabulary from the upcoming reading was reviewed. During each reading session, the control group students read the material silently. Conversely, students in the experimental group were read aloud to in L2 while students read along. Three days after the reading sessions were completed, two tests were administered: a multiple choice test and a story frame test (a cloze test that prompted participants for phrases instead of individual words).

Results from the tests revealed that the experimental group outperformed the control group. Statistically significant differences were found between the experimental group’s scores and the control group’s scores in both tests. The researcher concluded that the experiment’s results supported the hypothesis that reading aloud in L2 by a teacher aids student reading comprehension. The researcher suggests that reading aloud by a teacher facilitates a top-down understanding of reading material as opposed to the bottom-up, word-by-word comprehension that reading silently facilitates.

Amer, A., A. (1997). The effect of the teacher’s reading aloud on the reading comprehension of EFL students. ELT Journal51(1), 43–47.

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Bethany MacDonald

Bethany MacDonald

Bethany MacDonald has contributed articles since 2020. As their Blog Lead, she specialises in informative pieces on culture, education, and language learning

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