The Importance of Reading as a Means of Acquiring Language
Elena Saunivalu
This article is an adapted version of a research assignment, a literature review, from a third
year student enrolled in the University of the South Pacific’s course ED 350 Curriculum Stud-
ies II.
This report highlights reading as a means of
One such study was undertaken by Elley and
acquiring language. There is an urgent need
Mangubhai in 1980 (Elley and Mangubhai,
to improve the quality of English language
1981). They investigated the effects of
teaching in schools so that students are not
a book flood in Classes 4 and 5 in eight
penalised in their school work and public
selected primary schools in Fiji. The
examinations across the curriculum by poor
students’ progress in English after a period
English language skills. The writer believes
of eight months was compared to that of
that the school’s approach to reading is a
students in four other ‘control’ schools
crucial issue here, and involves the home
where the teachers had continued their
and the community as well.
normal English classes without the ‘flood’ of
books. The impact of the books was clearly
The writer’s experience of learning in Fiji
positive. It was most marked in general
schools is one of dissatisfaction with the
reading skills  twice the expected rate of
English texts, either because they were
progress in tests of Reading Comprehension
written for other countries (e.g. the P.R.
 but the students also did significantly
Smart Let’s Learn English in the 70s books
better in tests of Listening Comprehension
for New Zealand) or because they were
(Class 5), English Structures (Class 4) and
boring as they followed a set format with
Oral Sentence Repetition (Class 4).
very little variety in content and method (e.g.
the Link books). Despite this dissatisfaction,
Book floods have also been successful in
the students in the writer’s school did well
Niue, Singapore, Sri Lanka and South Africa,
in English, and this is possibly because they
as described in Elley’s article The Potential
read Mills and Boone and comic books like
of Book Floods for Raising Literacy Levels,
Archie ‘under cover’.
(Elley 2000:236). In the same article, Elley
mentions the donation of books to a school
Book Flood Studies
in Fiji by actor Raymond Burr and how
it caused a dramatic improvement in the
The benefits of reading are well known, but
examination record of the children.
factual evidence and details of exactly how
reading benefits children is provided by a
In another study, an Australian school adopted
number of studies, some of which are briefly
an English programme which involved
described in the following paragraphs.
flooding the students with paperbacks. Here,
“reading test scores improved dramatically
Pacific Curriculum Network 11 (1) June 2002

and student writing improved” (Saxby
enjoyment and pleasure. They must read
freely, without fear of having to write book
reports, or answering questions or looking up
In the UK, Hafiz and Tudor investigated the
meanings of difficult words. Children learn
effects of extensive reading on English as
more new vocabulary from reading than
a Second Language learners. They found
from any instruction (Krashen, 1993:15)
that “[E]xtensive L2 input in a tension free
environment can contribute significantly
Simpson (1964) highlights staff and parental
to the enhancement of learners’ language
support, creating reading centres, selection
skills, both receptive [reading and listening]
of appropriate material and educating
and productive [writing and talking] (Hafiz
the community on the values of reading.
and Tudor, 1989:8).
Reading is everyone’s business and a
community that is interested in literacy will
Dlugosz (1999) maintains that reading
contribute a lot to fostering a love of books
is important in the teaching of a foreign
in the young generation.
language, and that even those who have not
yet learned to read in their own language
Across the curriculum
will benefit from learning in a foreign
Chase (1964) highlights the subject teachers’
role in helping children to read. She
Motivating children to read
states that the type of language used in
textbooks differs from that used in stories.
The benefits, then, to children’s language
Subject teachers also need to be teachers of
skills are significant. The next question is:
how do we motivate children to read?
Reed maintains that “one of the easiest and
most enjoyable ways to motivate young
All good things come at a price. The price
children to read is to introduce them to the
for improved reading ability and hence
wide world of young and adult literature”
improved performance across the curriculum
(Reed, 1985).
is the cost of books, colourful, high interest
books. It is an investment in the future.
Krashen (1993:47-8) supports the idea
“In the long run, the cost of not investing
of flooding children with books which
in a successful literacy programme would
he describes as light reading. He states
surely be much greater that the cost of
that “perhaps the most powerful way of
implementation” states Elley (2000:250-
encouraging children to read is by exposing
them to light reading, a kind of reading that
schools pretend does not exist and a kind of
reading that many children, for economic
or ideological reasons, are deprived of ”
Chase, N.C. 1964. Special Problems in
and gives examples which include comics
reading in Secondary Schools. In IRA
strips like Phantom, Superman and Peanuts.
Perspectives in Reading. Reading
Furthermore, Krashen emphasises that
Instructions in Secondary Schools,
children must read first and foremost for
Pacific Curriculum Network 11 (1) June 2002

Dlugosz, D.W. 1999. Rethinking the role of
Krashen, S. 1993. The Power of Reading,
reading in teaching a foreign language
Insights from the Research. Libraries
to young learners. English Language
Unlimited. Englewood, Colorado.
Teaching Journal 54 July2000 Oxford
Reed, J.S. 1985. Reaching Adolescents:
University Press.
The Young Adult Book and the School.
Elley, W.B. 2000. The potential of book
Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, New
floods for raising literacy levels.
International Review of Education 46
Saxby, M. 1997. Books in the Life of a Child:
(3/4) 233-255
Bridge to Literature and Learning.
Elley, W.B. & F. Mangubhai. 1981. The
Macmillan Education Australia PTY
impact of a book flood in Fiji Primary
Ltd. South Yaira.
schools. Institute of Education,
Simpson, A.E. 1964. Organising for
University of the South Pacific.
Reading Instruction in a School. IRA
Perspectives in Reading, Nework.
Hafiz, F.M. & I. Tudor. January 1989.
Extensive reading and the development
of language skills. English Language
Teaching Journal:4-11.
Pacific Curriculum Network 11 (1) June 2002