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Essay Book Review

Reading in a Second Language: Moving From Theory to Practice. William Grabe. 2009. New York: Cambridge
University Press. 484 pp. Hardcover ISBN 9780521509862. US$100.00. Paperback ISBN 9780521729741. US$43.00.
Second Language Reading Research and Instruction: Crossing the Boundaries. ZhaoHong Han & Neil J.
Anderson (Eds.). 2009. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 248 pp. Paperback ISBN 9780472033508. US$32.50.

Issues in Second-Language Reading:

Implications for Acquisition
and Instruction
Hossein Nassaji
University of Victoria, BC, Canada

The study of second-language (L2) reading comprehension and instruction has become the focus of increasing attention
in the past few decades. Two recent publications, Reading in a Second Language: Moving From Theory to Practice by
William Grabe and Second Language Reading Research and Instruction: Crossing the Boundaries edited by ZhaoHong
Han and Neil J. Anderson, have each explored and provided up-to-date analyses of current theory and research in L2
reading and their implications for reading pedagogy. Grabe has provided a detailed examination of the various processes
involved in L2 reading and their implications for effective classroom instruction. Han and Anderson have addressed the
issue of L2 reading research and pedagogy by putting together a useful collection of essays, each exploring a specific
aspect of L2 reading. This article reviews the two books and evaluates their theoretical, empirical, and practical insights.

eading in general is a complex cognitive skill, differences to experiential, institutional, and sociocul-
involving many subskills, processes, and knowl- tural ones (Grabe & Stoller, 2002). These differences
edge sources ranging from the basic lower level have profound implications for understanding how L2
visual processes involved in decoding the print to reading comprehension works and should be taught.
higher level skills involving syntax, semantics, and Both books reviewed here, Reading in a Second
discourse, and even to skills of text representation and Language: Moving From Theory to Practice by William
integration of ideas with the reader’s global knowledge. Grabe and Second Language Reading Research
When it comes to second-language (L2) reading, the and Instruction: Crossing the Boundaries edited by
issue becomes even more complicated. As Bernhardt ZhaoHong Han and Neil J. Anderson, emphasize
and Kamil (1995) noted, L2 reading is “not merely an and seek to understand the complexity of L2 reading.
impoverished version of L1 [first-language] reading” However, each book has its own specific characteristics
(p. 31). For instance, L2 reading is a cross-linguistic and structure. Grabe’s is a detailed examination of the
process involving more than one language (Koda, various processes involved in L2 reading in general, tar-
2005). Thus, added to the overall complexity of reading geting a variety of readers reading for a variety of pur-
are a host of L2-specific processes that make the nature poses. A major focus is on fluent reading in academic
of L2 reading unique and different from L1 reading. contexts. Han and Anderson’s book is an edited volume,
Furthermore, although L1 and L2 reading have many consisting of a collection of chapters, each examining a
processes in common, they also have a number of ma- particular aspect of L2 reading. A major theme is the
jor differences, raging from linguistic and processing idea that L2 reading is not simply a literacy skill to be

Reading Research Quarterly  •  46(2)  •  pp. 173–184  •  •  © 2011 International Reading Association 173
learned for comprehension purposes but also a neces- goals, and purposes for L2 reading. Indeed, not only
sary tool for developing linguistic competence. Thus, a should implications from research be empirically vali-
critical point of departure addresses how to make use of dated, but their relevance should also be tested and
reading opportunities for the purpose of both compre- tried out by individual teachers in their own teaching
hension and language acquisition. This is an important contexts. Grabe has structured the book into four parts
and appropriate focus of the book, given that for many and 18 chapters, which I briefly review next, discussing
L2 learners, learning to read in an L2 involves the devel- their key themes and insights.
opment of literacy skills and a considerable amount of
language learning. Foundations of Reading
Much of the discussion in both books concerns
Part 1 of the book consists of five chapters that collec-
English as an L2, learned by those who are already liter- tively attempt to explain the nature of reading compre-
ate in their L1, although there are occasional references hension and how it takes place. The view of reading
to other languages or learners. In addition, most of the presented describes reading as a complex set of com-
literature drawn on focuses on the North American con- ponent skills and processes that interact in an intricate
text, but both books are written with an international manner to produce comprehension. This perspective
audience in mind, where English may be largely limited on the nature of reading is an important one and is cur-
to the classroom. In what follows, I will first summa- rently shared by many L2 reading researchers, includ-
rize briefly the contents of each book, discuss what I ing many of the authors in Han and Anderson’s book,
consider the most important themes running through reviewed below. Grabe defines reading ability also in
their chapters, and evaluate their insights from my own terms of the different types of reading, such as reading
perspective. I will then conclude with some additional to learn, reading to evaluate, and reading for general
remarks about the books and their contributions. comprehension. Such a perspective is also important,
as there are different goals for reading, and therefore,
there are different ways in which readers approach
Reading in a Second Language: a reading task. These different ways of reading affect
considerably the way in which information in the text is
Moving From Theory to Practice extracted and processed.
Grabe provides a detailed and comprehensive discus- In exploring the component processes, Grabe pro-
sion of the various cognitive and linguistic processes vides a detailed discussion of the role of the various cog-
involved in L2 reading and their implications for L2 nitive and linguistic processes that underlie reading. To
reading comprehension and development. In the pref- this end, he provides a thorough analysis of both lower
ace, he describes two main goals for the book. The first level processes involved in decoding the text, includ-
and primary one is to describe how information about ing word recognition and phonological, orthographic,
the nature of reading could be used to improve reading syntactic, and semantic processes, as well as higher
practices. To fulfill this aim, he provides an in-depth level processes used in creating interpretation and rep-
analysis of the implications of the issues discussed in resentation of a text, including inferential and contex-
each chapter for effective instruction. The second goal tual processes, schema activation, and executive control
is to explore how reading comprehension takes place processes. He also shows how a number of other cogni-
and, in particular, what processes underlie fluent read- tive concepts, such as automaticity, associative learning,
ing. To this end, Grabe explores a wide variety of topics attention and noticing, inferencing, and explicit and
essential for understanding reading processes, includ- implicit learning, are essential to an understanding of
ing the various linguistic and cognitive skills and strate- reading processes.
gies involved in L2 reading, models of reading, L1–L2 A central theme in Part 1 also relates to the various
relationships, reading fluency, vocabulary, grammar, theoretical models of reading. In this context, Grabe
motivation, and reading assessment. presents a useful review of different theories and mod-
Grabe observes that if teachers are to understand els proposed in the literature to explain the nature of
the implications of research for teaching practices, they the reading process. There are many such models in the
need to have a good understanding of the nature of literature, ranging from those that attempt to explain
skilled reading and how it develops. However, he has the overall nature of reading comprehension, such as
also been careful to point out that implications from Kintsch’s (1988) construction–integration model and
theory and research are tentative and do not directly Stanovich’s (1980) interactive-compensatory model, to
translate into pedagogical practices. Thus, before any more specific models that attempt to explain the nature
implications can be turned into curriculum decisions, of reading subcomponents, such as syntactic and lexical
they must be verified by further research. This is a key processing, working memory, and the role of cognition.
consideration in light of the wide range of contexts, In his review, Grabe focuses on the former group, that

174 Reading Research Quarterly • 46(2)

is, the models that describe comprehension processes. different groups of L2 readers (e.g., Koda, 2005). If con-
However, he also reviews word recognition models, sidered along with L1-based research, this body of work
such as the E-Z reader model of eye movement (Reichle, can provide a fuller understanding of the realities of L2
Rayner, & Pollatsek, 2003) and the lexical quality model reading processes.
(e.g., Perfetti, 2007). Although these models do not con- The reading models Grabe reviews are L1-based.
cern comprehension, they are included as models of L1 models are helpful for explaining reading processes
reading on the grounds that efficient reading in essence in general. However, they are not helpful for explain-
involves efficient lower level word recognition processes ing the unique character of L2 reading, because they do
without much demand on higher level processes. not take into account the cross-linguistic nature of L2
Visual word recognition is also a component reading. In addition, since such models are based on
unique to reading and not to other types of language research primarily conducted in English, they are also
skills, such as listening or speaking. Grabe, however, biased toward a particular writing system and a particu-
excludes an inf luential model from his list of use- lar conception of literacy (Bernhardt, 2005). L1-based
ful models, Goodman’s psycholinguistic model (e.g., models are also based on the assumption that read-
Goodman, 1994), and he does so for a good reason. ing development occurs after the development of oral
Although Goodman’s model has been popular, particu- language skills. Although this is true for L1 readers, it
larly among L2 reading researchers (see, e.g., Freeman is not necessarily true of L2 readers, who often begin
& Freeman’s chapter in Han & Anderson), as Grabe their reading instruction without having sufficient oral
points out, this model is not supported by much evi- proficiency. Many L2 learners may even begin learn-
dence from current research. Goodman’s model views ing to read when they have very minimal knowledge of
reading as a psycholinguistic process, whereby good basic L2 vocabulary and grammar. For these readers,
readers simply sample the text to verify conceptually learning to read becomes less about comprehension or
driven hypotheses. It also claims that these processes getting information from text than a tool for developing
are universal across all languages. Ample evidence from
basic language skills.
current research, however, suggests that reading pro-
Thus, what is missing from Grabe’s discussion is
cesses are not the same across languages and also that
L2-specific models. Of course, there are not many L2
good readers do not sample the text to derive meaning,
reading models, and if there are, they are mainly deriva-
but rather they process efficiently and effortlessly most
tions of L1 models. However, one L2 reading model that
print symbols on the page (see Stanovich & Stanovich,
recognizes and attempts to explain L2-specific reading
1995, for a review).
processes is Bernhardt’s (2005) reading model. Grabe
One thing that is worth noting, and also acknowl-
edged by Grabe, is that the bulk of research drawn on mentions Bernhardt’s (1991, 2000) model, but describes
in Part 1 is L1-based research conducted in the field of it as vague in its specification of the processes involved
cognitive and educational psychology on readers with in reading. Bernhardt (2005), however, presents an inter-
English as their L1. He points out that most of the in- active compensatory version of the model that attempts
formation available about how reading works in general to deal with some of the limitations of the earlier model.
derives from L1 research. Furthermore, most of the L2 What is noteworthy about Bernhardt’s (2005) model
research in this area has followed L1-based research. He is that it provides an integrative, three-dimensional con-
also observes that, despite major differences between L1 ceptualization of the L2 reading process that not only
and L2 reading, basic cognitive processes operate simi- takes into account the complex interactions of various
larly across languages. Therefore, L1 research findings textual processes (i.e., word recognition, graphophonic,
in these areas can be easily generalized to L2 reading. syntactic) and intratextual variables (e.g., prior knowl-
While these observations are true, given the com- edge, strategies) but also encompasses a number of
plex interaction between general and L2-specific pro- L2-specific factors that are absent in L1-based models,
cesses in the act of reading, the reading behavior of L2 such as L2 proficiency, differences in syntactic and vo-
readers cannot be fully understood if these processes cabulary knowledge, and L1–L2 linguistic distance (see
are examined or discussed separately or irrespective of Bernhardt, 2011). The model also attempts to capture
one another. Furthermore, although much of the early the interplay of readers’ L1 literacy skills and L2 knowl-
research in L2 reading has followed L1 reading research, edge sources over time. Because of these characteristics,
as Grabe himself points out, there is no true replication. Bernhardt’s model provides a useful framework for ex-
Therefore, even L2 studies that have followed L1 re- amining and understanding the nature of L2 reading
search have led to important additional insights about and the factors that impact its development. Thus, an
the nature of L2 reading. Furthermore, there is currently advantage of this model is that it allows us to under-
a growing body of research that has examined L2 com- stand the additional sources of variance in L2 reading
ponent processes, including word recognition, among ability that are not explicated in L1-based models.

Issues in Second-Language Reading: Implications for Acquisitionand Instruction 175

Patterns of Variation in Reading developmental interdependence hypothesis holds that
Part 2 of the book examines patterns of variation in there is a common reading proficiency that underlies
reading. Languages differ in their orthographic, phono- both L1 and L2 reading. In other words, L1 and L2
logical, syntactic, morphological, and semantic systems. reading developments are interdependent, in that the
Grabe shows how reading processes in any language development of reading skills in one language is facili-
are influenced by these differences. Other important tated by that of the other. Grabe reviews a number of
themes discussed include processing differences across studies that have provided some evidence for the vari-
languages, the relationship between L1 and L2 reading, ous aspects of this hypothesis. Of course, the exact re-
and the role of social and motivational variables. lationship between L1 literacy and L2 knowledge has
In exploring processing differences across languag- remained controversial. As Grabe points out, a debat-
es, Grabe focuses on word-level processes. To this end, able issue, for example, is the nature of the common un-
he provides a useful discussion of variations in ortho- derlying proficiency. The interdependence hypothesis
graphic, phonological, and morphological processes. seems to give particular attention to the role of general
Although languages also differ in syntactic and seman- reading ability over that of L2 proficiency and suggests,
tic processes, such differences are not discussed on the for example, that L2 learners who have a weak L2 pro-
grounds that there is relatively little empirical research ficiency can still be successful readers as long as they
in these areas. With respect to word-level processes, a have strong L1 literacy skills. This assumption has been
major hypothesis discussed is the orthographic depth challenged by research that has shown that L2 knowl-
hypothesis (e.g., Katz & Frost, 1992), according to which edge not only plays a crucial role but is also a stronger
languages differ in the way they are processed depend- predictor of L2 reading than general L1 literacy skills
ing on their orthographic depths, that is, the degree of (e.g., Bernhardt & Kamil, 1995).
transparency between the orthography and phonology Another concept regarding the relationship between
of a given language. Grabe provides a fairly detailed L1 and L2 reading is the notion of L2 reading as a cross-
discussion of the different ways in which orthographic linguistic process (e.g., Koda, 2005). This perspective
depth can be analyzed and their implications for the holds that bilingual reading is different from monolin-
reading process. However, there is not much discussion gual reading, in that the former involves a dual-­language
of how lexical access occurs in L2 reading or how mean- system. That is, while L1 reading processes take place
ing is activated in the L2 lexicon. in one language, L2 reading processes involve at least
There is a growing literature on the exact mecha- two (Koda, 2005). Grabe provides a brief description of
nisms whereby L2 word recognition takes place in bi- this perspective, as well. Of course, he does not discuss
linguals and the various L2-related factors affecting the nature of cross-linguistic variability at any length,
these processes (see Koda, 2005; Koda & Zehler, 2008). or how and what cognitive or language-specific aspects
There is not much discussion of these mechanisms ei- of L2 reading are affected by L1-based processing strat-
ther. However, Grabe provides an insightful discussion egies. The focus seems to be more on overall L1–L2
of the factors affecting orthographic depth, such as the differences. Koda (2005) has presented a thorough dis-
regularity of sound–letter correspondences, consistency cussion of the cross-linguistic nature of L2 reading.
of spelling patterns, and degree of completeness of or- Although understanding the role that cognitive and
thographic representation. He also shows how a number linguistic processes play in reading is essential, there
of other orthographic-related factors are relevant to the are other factors that can be the sources of variations
development of word recognition in different languag- among readers that cannot be explained simply by psy-
es, including syllable and morphological complexities cholinguistic factors. Grabe examines the role of two
as well as the visual density of written texts. These are such factors: social context and motivation. The discus-
important issues, as they reveal the complexity of the sion of social factors concerns the role of a number of
notion of orthographic depth and the different ways in sociocultural variables, such as learners’ socioeconomic
which its effects can be studied in different languages. status, family beliefs, values, attitudes toward reading,
Grabe also provides a very useful analysis of key home language, and literacy environments, as well as
differences between L1 and L2 reading, including lin- identity and sociocultural values and status affecting
guistic processing differences, educational and devel- language-minority learners.
opmental differences, and institutional and cultural As for social context, the major focus of Grabe’s dis-
variables. In this respect, he provides a thoughtful dis- cussion is on children learning to read in the U.S. K–12
cussion on the major theories that have attempted to settings with little discussion of other contexts. However,
explain the relationship between L1 and L2 reading, in- although much of the social context research on reading
cluding the developmental interdependence hypothesis has been carried out with children in L1 contexts, there
(e.g., Cummins, 1979, 1991) and the language threshold are a variety of sociolinguistic settings for L2 learning,
hypothesis (e.g., Alderson, 1984; Clarke, 1980). The ranging from places where the L2 is the predominant

176 Reading Research Quarterly • 46(2)

language (e.g., speakers of minority languages in the emphasize the importance of these language skills for
United States) to those in coexisting bilingual environ- reading, although largely from an acquisition perspec-
ments (e.g., French speakers learning English in Canada) tive. Their concern is more with how best to employ
or various multilingual settings (see Siegel, 2003, for reading as a tool to facilitate the development of these
a discussion of social context in second-­language ac- skills. Grabe’s focus, however, is on the relationship
quisition [SLA]). L2 learners also vary considerably in between these knowledge sources and reading com-
terms of the classroom contexts in which they learn the prehension. Drawing on evidence from a large num-
language, ranging from learners who learn the L2 in ber of studies in both L1 and L2 reading, he provides
monolingual classrooms, to those who are in classroom a comprehensive and coherent discussion of these fac-
settings where learning takes place solely in the L2, to tors and their relevance for L2 reading development and
those whose L2 instruction is supported by different instruction.
degrees of L1 use. These context factors can also have One important theme discussed concerns aware-
important influences on how adult L2 learners socialize ness of text structure. Much research in the field of both
into literacy events and consequently develop reading L1 and L2 reading has shown that successful readers
skills. There is little discussion of the role of these is- are able to identify how texts are organized and utilize
sues. Grabe, however, emphasizes the diversity of social this information effectively to support text comprehen-
factors that can affect students of English as a second sion. This research has shown how readers use differ-
language (ESL) or English as a foreign language (EFL) ent types of discourse-level information and how these
and also provides a clear discussion on the role of factors knowledge sources contribute to reading and process-
such as educational background, instructional history, ing text. Grabe discusses the role of knowledge of text
and expectations in advanced literacy development. structure, including that of cohesion, the way given and
Another source of variation discussed by Grabe is new information are structured, transitional words,
motivation. Many L1-based studies have examined the anaphoric references, text coherence, and text genre and
role of motivation in L1 reading. However, this area has purposes. An extensive body of research has also dem-
been much less explored in the field of L2 reading. Of onstrated the critical importance of vocabulary knowl-
course, a great deal of research has explored the role of edge for L2 reading development, as do Horst, Pulido,
motivation in L2 learning in general (e.g., Dörnyei, 2001; and Cobb in Han and Anderson’s book. Grabe also em-
Gardner, 1985; Gardner & Lambert, 1972). Grabe, how- phasizes the role of vocabulary knowledge in L2 read-
ever, highlights the essential role that motivation plays ing and presents a number of useful suggestions about
in L2 reading specifically. He also offers numerous how to address learners’ vocabulary needs in reading
suggestions about how motivation can be enhanced in comprehension.
classroom instruction. As for grammar, the role of this knowledge source
One issue that could have been further discussed in has not received much attention in L2 reading instruc-
this chapter is the role of motivation in different L2 set- tion. As Han and D’Angelo also point out in Han and
tings, such as EFL contexts, where the target language Anderson’s volume, with the emergence of communica-
is not spoken in the country where the learner lives, ver- tive approaches to L2 pedagogy over the last decades,
sus ESL contexts, where the target language is also the L2 reading instruction has tended to focus primarily on
language of the home country. In many EFL contexts, how to extract meaning from texts. This dominance of
English is merely a compulsory subject matter that meaning-focused approaches has downplayed the role
learners have to take. Also, in such contexts for many of grammar in L2 reading instruction. Grabe, however,
learners, the only motivation for learning to read could emphasizes the importance of grammar in L2 reading,
be passing exams or getting scores on tests. It would be enumerating a number of key roles for it, such as provid-
useful to know how to tackle the issue of motivation in ing information about content through the ways words
different L2 settings, particularly EFL ones. and sentences are ordered, disambiguating ideas, track-
ing referents, helping interpret the timing of events, and
indicating an author’s attitudes or position. Through
Developing Reading Comprehension examples, he shows how these functions provide im-
Abilities portant information needed for text comprehension and
Whereas Parts 1 and 2 of the book examine the role of interpretation.
linguistic and cognitive processes underlying reading, Another important issue in L2 reading concerns the
Part 3 shifts attention to the role of other component role of reading strategies. The fact that successful read-
skills, including the skill of main idea comprehension, ing involves effective use of strategies is well document-
the contribution of vocabulary and grammar, aware- ed in the field of both L1 and L2 reading. This research
ness of discourse structure, and the role of reading strat- has identified a number of cognitive and metacogni-
egies. A number of authors in Han and Anderson also tive strategies that have been shown to support reading

Issues in Second-Language Reading: Implications for Acquisitionand Instruction 177

comprehension. Grabe highlights their importance to field of L2, however, the major concern has been with
L2 reading. An important focus of the discussion con- reading accuracy with relatively much less attention on
cerns the notion of the strategic reader, that is, readers the importance of fluency, although this issue has start-
who are able to select, use, and adjust reading strategies ed to receive attention.
effectively and appropriately depending on the type of Grabe provides an in-depth discussion of the im-
text they read as well as the context and goals of reading. portance of fluency in L2 reading. A major theme of the
Grabe believes that effective reading strategies cannot discussion concerns the development of word recogni-
be developed simply as a result of reading but should tion fluency and its relationship with other aspects of
also be explicitly instructed. However, he emphasizes reading ability, such as reading rate and automaticity.
that strategies should not be presented in isolation; In this context, an important reference is made to the
rather, they should become an integral component of work of Segalowitz (e.g., Segalowitz, 2000; Segalowitz &
L2 reading instruction, which is best achieved through Segalowitz, 1993) and his distinction between two types
teaching that involves regular modeling, scaffolding, of fluency: performance (e.g., speed, accuracy) and cog-
and long-term practice. These are crucial points, be- nitive (i.e., the efficiency of the cognitive processes un-
cause guiding learners to become strategic readers is not derlying fluency). In Segalowitz’s framework, central to
an easy task, and it certainly needs considerable time reading fluency is understanding the nature of cogni-
and effort. tive fluency, as performance fluency may simply involve
Of course, one question that arises here and needs speed of processing without any changes to the under-
consideration is how such guidance can be effectively lying processes such as automaticity. Grabe favorably
conducted in instructional contexts where important reviews this line of research and also presents L2 stud-
time limitations exist, such as in many EFL classes ies that show how the development of word recognition
where students meet only a few hours a week. In such fluency is critical to reading fluency. He also offers a
contexts, affording proper instructional time for teach- number of instructional practices that can be used for
ing even the most basic aspects of the L2 would be a improving L2 reading fluency, including repeated read-
great challenge. Thus, it is important to know how to ing, assisted reading, timed reading, and word recogni-
tackle the teaching of various aspects of reading in such tion exercises.
contexts. Perhaps one solution is that teachers recognize Another key issue in Grabe’s discussion relates to
and then prioritize those aspects of the language that the notion of extensive reading, which is an important
should become the focus of instruction. one, because it highlights the significance of the much-
Another issue relates to the ineffective strategies needed ability of reading-extended L2 text. Grabe
that L2 readers employ when reading. For example, be- emphasizes the crucial role of extensive reading, de-
ginner L2 readers often use strategies such as engaging scribing it as “a hallmark of fluent reading” (p. 311). He
in word-by-word reading, translating into their L1, or then reviews a considerable number of L1 and L2 read-
paying too much attention to words that are not essen- ing studies in the past two decades that strongly sup-
tial to the overall meaning of the text. Grabe points out port the benefits of extensive reading. This review also
that engagement in such local strategies might be the draws attention to the results of the meta-analysis by the
result of text difficulty or lack of adequate L2 knowl- National Reading Panel in the United States (National
edge to efficiently process the text for meaning. Such Institute of Child Health and Human Development,
observations underscore the importance of L2 profi- 2000), which reported that there was no evidence of a
ciency (e.g., Bernhardt & Kamil, 1995), and therefore, significant impact of extensive reading on reading im-
teachers should ensure that learners have the necessary provement. Grabe attributes such findings to the strict
resources to linguistically process a given text before criteria that the National Reading Panel adopted in
they expect learners to use reading strategies effectively. screening studies. Including only experimental studies
with a large sample size eliminated many correlational
Expanding Reading Comprehension Skills studies that have found major effects of extensive read-
Whereas Part 3 deals with the various knowledge sourc- ing on reading development. In Han and Anderson’s
es and strategies that learners use to support compre- book, Horst offers an excellent discussion of the impor-
hension, Part 4 expands on these topics and introduces tance of extensive reading and its effects on L2 reading
a number of other issues important for effective reading, abilities.
including the development of reading fluency, the value The other important theme discussed relates to
of extensive reading, and the role of reading assessment. reading assessment. Assessment is a key component of
The notion of fluency has received considerable atten- effective reading instruction, as it provides important
tion in the field of L1 reading, and as a result, many information not only about what learners know or do
L1-based studies have explored its various aspects and not know but also the amount of classroom learning ac-
their relationship with reading comprehension. In the complished as well as the extent to which instructional

178 Reading Research Quarterly • 46(2)

activities are in line with curricular objectives. Grabe essays with different orientations: those that emphasize
provides a very useful discussion of the various goals the importance of component processes in L2 reading,
for assessment in L2 reading and also various kinds those that stress overall comprehension processes, and
of assessment procedures commonly used in instruc- also those that highlight the role of reading as a resource
tional contexts, such as standardized assessments, for language learning. The volume seeks to bring to-
classroom-based assessment, placement, and diagnos- gether these perspectives and their insights for reading
tic assessment. pedagogy.
Drawing from the literature on reading assessment, The book is organized into two parts, each with four
he also presents a number of specific tasks that testers chapters, plus an epilogue. Part 1 focuses on research
can use in assessment situations, such as cloze tasks, and begins with a study by Shiotsu, who takes the view
free recall, text segment ordering, and editing tests. A that successful reading comprehension depends on
brief description of some of these tasks is also provided, competent word recognition abilities. She then exam-
although there is less information about most of them. ines this hypothesis in a study with a group of Japanese
Of course, a detailed treatment of all the test options EFL university students and finds evidence that effi-
would need much more space than what an author has ciency of visual orthographic and lexical semantic pro-
in one chapter. However, further information about cessing is strongly related to reading proficiency.
what aspect of the reading ability each test option mea- In their chapters, Horst and Pulido take an acqui-
sures or the purposes for which each should be used sition perspective, addressing what linguistic elements
would have been helpful. Alderson (2000) presents a are learned through reading. Presenting a quasi-­
thorough discussion of these issues. experimental study involving ESL students participat-
ing in a five-week extensive reading program, Horst
shows how extensive reading can contribute to the
Second Language Reading development of L2 vocabulary knowledge, in line with
Grabe’s discussion on the topic. Pulido also highlights
Research and Instruction: the issue of vocabulary learning through reading, with
Crossing the Boundaries a special focus on factors affecting the rate of vocabu-
To understand the complexity of the reading process, lary learning. Reviewing a large number of studies, she
reading researchers and educators have used a vari- shows how the differential growth of vocabulary learn-
ety of perspectives. In their introduction to Second ing through reading is related to learner-related variables
Language Reading Research and Instruction: Crossing such as background knowledge, L2 reading proficiency,
the Boundaries, Han and Anderson, joined by Freeman, and passage sight vocabulary. Leow addresses the role
begin the book by discussing three different approaches of text modification and simplification in facilitating
to reading development and instruction that have been comprehension and acquisition. Reviewing research
prominent in the reading literature: whole language, findings in three strands of research, that is, simplified
skills oriented, and an acquisition view. They argue that text, textual enhancement, and glossing, he demon-
these perspectives present not only different conceptu- strates that simplification may promote comprehension
alizations of the role of reading processes but also dif- but not necessarily acquisition.
ferent methodological suggestions about how to teach Part 2 focuses on instruction and begins with a
reading. For example, whereas the whole-language chapter by Freeman and Freeman, who argue for the
perspective emphasizes a holistic content-focused ap- importance of overall literacy skills in teaching L2 read-
proach, the skills-based perspective stresses the cru- ing. They take the perspective that L1 literacy skills are
cial importance of the various cognitive and linguistic critically essential for successful L2 reading compre-
skills that underlie reading comprehension. The third hension, and hence, reading skills should be first taught
perspective, acquisitional, treats reading not simply as in learners’ primary language. They believe that once
a literacy skill but as a source of input for L2 acquisi- learned, L1 reading skills can be transferred into L2
tion. Thus, it stresses the need to move beyond teach- reading (see Grabe for a discussion of the complexity of
ing reading for comprehension to using it as a tool for transfer issue). Anderson focuses on successful reading
language learning. instruction by presenting and reviewing the research
Han, Anderson, and Freeman argue that treating basis for six principles that he believes underlie effective
these perspectives separately is counterproductive to reading pedagogy: activating prior knowledge, cultivat-
L2 reading instruction. Thus, they emphasize the need ing vocabulary, teaching for comprehension, increasing
for an approach that combines insights from diverse reading rate, verifying reading strategies, and evaluating
theoretical approaches and consider their potential im- progress. He also offers a number of suggestions about
plications for L2 reading instruction. The book reflects how to facilitate the development of these strategies in
the diversity of researchers’ perspectives by including L2 classrooms.

Issues in Second-Language Reading: Implications for Acquisitionand Instruction 179

Cobb discusses the role of the computer in devel- usually requires a considerable amount of instruction.
oping reading abilities with specific focus on learn- Furthermore, although Goodman’s psycholinguistic
ing vocabulary. He provides an excellent review of the model claimed that reading is a universal process involv-
essential role of vocabulary in L2 reading and then ing mainly conceptually driven processing, as Grabe re-
shows how computer technology can be used as a tool viewed in his volume, many cross-­linguistic studies have
to support vocabulary learning and instruction. Han shown that reading processes are not the same across
and D’Angelo argue for the importance of attention to languages. Finally, as many SLA researchers, including
both comprehension and acquisition in L2 reading in- a number of authors in Han and Anderson’s book, have
struction. They begin by discussing the inadequacies emphasized, comprehension does not necessarily lead to
of purely comprehension- and meaning-focused ap- the acquisition of linguistic forms.
proaches to L2 reading instruction and then propose a Indeed, the distinction between comprehension
pedagogical approach that seeks to balance reading for and acquisition is an important one and is related to the
communicative and form-focused purposes. distinction that SLA researchers have made among in-
The book concludes with an epilogue by Grabe, put, intake, and processing. Input is the sample of the
in which he nicely summarizes the main points of the target language that learners are exposed to, and in-
book and outlines additional areas of research that de- take is what is registered in the learner’s mind, whereas
serve attention. processing refers to the mechanism that learners use in
Although each chapter in Han and Anderson’s vol- extracting meaning from input (e.g., VanPatten, 1996).
ume addresses a different topic, an important theme Comprehension involves processing input for mean-
running through most of the chapters relates to the re- ing, but it is the intake that gets further processed and
lationship between L2 reading comprehension and L2 becomes incorporated into the learners’ developing lan-
acquisition. Many of the authors observe, although in guage system. The relationship between input and in-
different ways, that comprehension is distinct from ac- take, however, is not simple, and the fact that the learner
quisition, and that reading instruction should provide processes input for meaning does not necessarily guar-
opportunities for the development of both comprehen- antee that the input will become intake, because decod-
sion and language skills. Leow, for example, points out ing the language for comprehension is not the same as
that simplified text may assist comprehension but not extracting and learning the rules that are used to express
necessarily acquisition. Thus, textual manipulations meaning (Cook, 1996). For the same reason, compre-
will be helpful if they provide learners with opportu- hending the meaning of unknown words in context is
nities to pay attention to form. Han, Anderson, and also different from retaining and acquiring those words.
Freeman, as well as Han and D’Angelo, take the view Due to the difference between comprehension and
that comprehension and acquisition involve different acquisition on the one hand, and input and intake on
processes, and that to be effective, L2 reading instruc- the other, in recent years, much attention has been paid
tion should attempt to help learners develop compre- in the SLA literature to how the linguistic forms in the
hension skills as well as linguistic competence. Pulido input can get processed for meaning and at the same
emphasizes the role of learner engagement, arguing for time become internalized by the learner’s cognitive
opportunities that encourage form-meaning connec- mechanisms. Here, linguistics forms means all features
tions for acquiring new lexical items during reading. pertaining to the formal properties of language, includ-
Of course, not all of the authors in the book have ing phonological, lexical, and grammatical features. In
similar opinions. As noted earlier, Freeman and answering the above questions, many SLA research-
Freeman, for example, emphasize the importance of ers have proposed that intake does not take place until
general literacy skills, and to this end, they review fa- learners notice or somewhat recognize what is in the in-
vorably the studies conducted within Goodman’s psy- put (Schmidt, 1990, 1992; Tomlin & Villa, 1994; see also
cholinguistic view of L2 reading that endorse the claim Leow, Horst, Pulido, and Han & D’Angelo in Han &
that reading is a universal process and that readers rely Anderson’s volume). In other words, for learning to take
mainly on linguistic cues to derive meaning from the place, learners need to attend to the formal features of
text. These researchers assert that written language is the language contained in the input.
like oral language and “is acquired when readers receive However, given the limited capacity of human cog-
comprehensible written input” (p. 114). nition, one problem that L2 learners have in processing
Clearly, the L2 reading process is related to L1 read- input is the difficulty in attending to form and meaning
ing abilities. However, the relationship between the two is simultaneously (e.g., VanPatten, 1996). Thus, they may
far more complex than what Freeman and Freeman pro- either focus on drawing meaning from the text or focus
pose. In addition, learning to read is different from learn- on form, without adequately processing meaning. This
ing to speak; every normally developed human being may also be true for L1 readers. However, L1 children
can speak, but not everyone can read. Learning to read begin to read when they have already acquired a high

180 Reading Research Quarterly • 46(2)

level of grammatical and lexical competence, which Freeman. Thus, the potential effects of narrow read-
is not true of L2 learners. For L2 readers, learning to ing on the intake of language forms should not be seen
read in the L2 is both a reading and a language problem simply in terms of processes that facilitate comprehen-
(Alderson, 1984; Bernhardt & Kamil, 1995). sion. Rather, as Han and D’Angelo note, it should also
Thus, the great challenge for L2 reading instruc- be seen in terms of the fact that repeated exposure to
tion is now understood to be creating conditions for the same linguistic forms increases the saliency of those
tackling these two problems. In their chapter, Han and forms and the chances that they become better noticed.
D’Angelo attempt to address this issue by proposing It is this noticing that will facilitate acquisition. Because
what they call a dual approach to teaching L2 reading. narrow reading involves reading familiar content, it also
According to these authors, reading instruction should decreases learners’ cognitive load by easing comprehen-
have three characteristics: primarily focus on meaning sion processes, thus leaving learners with greater cogni-
necessary for comprehension, facilitate both syntactic tive resources to allocate to processing forms.
and semantic processing necessary for acquisition, and
seek to provide opportunities for focus on grammati- Processing Instruction
cal forms through various explicit or implicit strategies.
Processing instruction is an input-based approach to
Han and D’Angelo discuss this approach in detail and
focusing on form proposed by VanPatten (1996, 2002).
then introduce three instructional strategies from SLA
This approach rests on the assumption that learners
literature that they believe are useful for promoting a
need input for acquisition but that acquisition may be
dual approach in L2 classrooms: narrow reading, input-
hindered by the way in which learners process input.
processing instruction, and textual enhancement. In
For example, when processing input for meaning, learn-
what follows, I summarize key aspects of these three
ers typically assign the role of agent to the first noun
strategies as important techniques for integrating a fo-
in the sentence (VanPatten, 1996). This first noun strat-
cus on form with a focus on meaning in L2 classrooms
egy works well in languages with subject-verb-object
and also comment on their usefulness and compatibil-
word order, such as in English, but not in languages
ity with the goals of the dual approach, as postulated by
with either different or a more flexible word order, like
Han and D’Angelo.
Spanish. Thus, to facilitate acquisition, there is a need
for instructional activities that can alter such strategies.
Narrow Reading The key components of processing instruction are
Narrow reading involves reading a range of texts on the that (a) learners are provided with input, (b) they are
same topic or message. This strategy is different from informed of the input-processing strategies that may
extensive reading, discussed by Horst and by Grabe, negatively affect their processing of the target structure,
which involves reading on different topics to become and (c) they carry out structured input activities that
familiar with different genres, text structures, and help them understand and process certain grammatical
language patterns. Narrow reading is a useful strat- forms during comprehension. A number of studies in
egy for promoting comprehension and acquisition of SLA have examined the effectiveness of processing in-
form–meaning relationships. However, the theoretical struction and found support for this approach as a tech-
foundations of this strategy are often seen in Krashen’s nique for promoting attention to form while processing
(1981) comprehensible input hypothesis and the idea input for meaning. Therefore, as Han and D’Angelo
that reading instruction should be exclusively focused have proposed, a processing instruction approach may
on meaning. In other words, a case for narrow reading promote both a focus on form and a focus on meaning
is often made based on the assumption that “the ac- in L2 reading. However, it should be noted that process-
quisition of both structure and vocabulary comes from ing instruction also has important limitations. First, it
many exposures in a comprehensible context, that is, concerns mainly the acquisition of morphosyntax not
we acquire new structures and words when we under- vocabulary, which is a critical component of reading
stand messages” (Krashen, 2004, p. 17). comprehension. Furthermore, it may enhance compre-
Krashen claimed that comprehensible input is not hension of target forms but not necessarily their produc-
only necessary but also sufficient for language acquisi- tion (see DeKeyser, Salaberry, Robinson, & Harrington,
tion. Thus, there is no need for any formal instruction 2002, for a discussion). If the process of acquisition is
or drawing learners’ attention to linguistic forms (e.g., regarded to be incomplete until learners are able to
Krashen, 1993, 1999). Evidently, these ideas are contrary produce the target language in their output (Batstone
to the argument that learners need to have opportunities & Ellis, 2009), the effects of processing instruction on
for focus on form in addition to focus on meaning. They acquisition can be said to be limited to the same degree.
are also contrary to the view that exposure to compre- Another important limitation of processing instruc-
hensible input, no matter how much, is inadequate for tion, which is more related to Han and D’Angelo’s pro-
L2 development as discussed by Han, Anderson, and posal, is the kind of input activities used in this approach.

Issues in Second-Language Reading: Implications for Acquisitionand Instruction 181

Although VanPatten has suggested the possibility of us- have explored a host of key topics fundamental to un-
ing extended texts, the kind of input activities typically derstanding L2 reading comprehension and instruc-
used in processing instruction involves contrived and of- tion and have been able to do this task in a satisfactory
ten isolated sentences designed to target certain linguis- manner.
tic forms (see Lee & VanPatten, 1995). To direct learners’ Grabe has produced an impressive book, examin-
attention to particular grammatical forms, these activi- ing in great detail the various cognitive and linguistic
ties often remove from the text many contextual clues processes involved in L2 reading as well as a number
that are normally used in naturalistic discourse and are of other important reading-related topics, such as read-
essential for establishing form–meaning relationships in ing strategies, reading fluency, motivation, and issues
the input (Batstone, 2002). Thus, although such activi- surrounding reading assessment. Drawing on his deep
ties may promote learners’ attention to intended forms knowledge of the field, he has been able to synthesize
in the input, hence fulfilling one of the goals of Han and interpret a huge amount of research on L1 and L2
and D’Angelo’s dual approach, they do not necessarily reading related to these topics and also present them
promote skills of processing naturalistic discourse, thus in an easy-to-read manner. His explicit commitment
limiting the usefulness of processing instruction for pro- to pedagogy has also led to numerous practical sug-
moting comprehension of connected texts. gestions and recommendations in the book about how
to improve instructional practices in L2 reading class-
Textual Enhancement rooms. Han and Anderson have assembled a very use-
Textual enhancement aims to draw learners’ attention ful volume, containing a number of important essays,
to linguistic forms by making input physically more sa- each addressing a key area of reading, such as word rec-
lient within the text, which is usually achieved by high- ognition, vocabulary knowledge, extensive reading, and
lighting certain aspects of the text through typographic reading instruction. They have also been able to give
devices, such as bolding, underlining, and italicizing. prominence to a timely issue of how to balance reading
This approach rests on the assumption that such vi- for comprehension and for acquisition.
sual modifications of input make linguistic forms more Of course, there are other issues or topics that could
noticeable and hence promote language intake (e.g., have been included in both books. I have already men-
Smith, 1993). Like processing instruction, many studies tioned some of them, and there are a few others that are
have examined the effectiveness of this approach and worthy of attention. As for Grabe’s book, as he also notes,
shown that, in general, this strategy may promote notic- it does not include a section on teacher training. Given
ing of linguistic forms (e.g., Jourdenais, Ota, Stauffer, that one of the stated aims of the book is to contribute to
Boyson, & Doughty, 1995; Leow, 1997; Simard, 2009; effective reading pedagogy, a specific chapter discussing
White, 1998). However, these studies do not provide details about teacher training for L2 reading instruction
any compelling evidence that textual enhancement pro- would have been a welcome addition. This issue is par-
motes acquisition, because the visual enhancement of ticularly important in light of the increasing need of L2
linguistic forms in the input does not necessarily guar- teachers who should be able to act both as effective read-
antee that learners will process those forms or even no- ing teachers as well as language teachers. Furthermore,
tice them during comprehension. as noted earlier, although the role of social factors in read-
ing have been discussed, the social dimension of adult
L2 reading has not been dealt with in any detail, even
though many L2 readers are adult learners.
Conclusion There are also topics that could have been includ-
In this essay, I have reviewed two books on reading in ed in Han and Anderson’s book, such as the role of
a second language, one by Grabe that explores various cross-linguistic issues, sociocultural factors, affective
processes in reading comprehension and how they can domains of L2 reading, L2 proficiency, and the role of
be facilitated in L2 instruction, and the other edited by individual differences. These omissions are quite un-
Han and Anderson that has an additional acquisitional derstandable and reflect the limitations of an edited
focus, arguing for an integrative approach to reading book with only eight chapters. However, since one of
instruction that promotes both comprehension and the main focuses of the book is on instruction, one es-
acquisition. Writing about L2 reading is not an easy sential and relevant issue that could have been further
task. There are many issues and questions that can be discussed relates to the differences in the context of in-
examined and discussed, ranging from those related struction. In their chapter, Han and D’Angelo have con-
to the nature of reading comprehension itself, to how sidered an exclusive meaning-focused approach to L2
reading abilities are acquired and taught, and still to the reading instruction as inadequate and instead rightfully
many differences between first- and second-language argued for a dual approach to L2 instruction. However,
reading comprehension and instruction. Both books there is little discussion of how the dual approach can

182 Reading Research Quarterly • 46(2)

be implemented in different instructional contexts that Bernhardt, E. (2005). Progress and procrastination in second lan-
may necessitate different instructional focus. guage reading. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 25, 133–150.
For example, whereas some learners may learn Bernhardt, E.B. (2011). Understanding advanced second-language
an L2 in contexts where there is already a substantial reading. New York: Routledge.
amount of explicit instruction and limited amount of Bernhardt, E.B., & Kamil, M.L. (1995). Interpreting relationships
exposure to meaning-focused input, like many foreign- between L1 and L2 reading: Consolidating the linguistic thresh-
language contexts where the dominant approach to old and the linguistic interdependence hypotheses. Applied
Linguistics, 16(1), 15–34. doi:10.1093/applin/16.1.15
teaching is traditionally focused on grammar, others
Clarke, M.A. (1980). The short circuit hypothesis of ESL reading—
may learn the L2 in settings where there is already sub- or when language competence interferes with reading perfor-
stantial exposure to meaning-focused L2 but perhaps mance. Modern Language Journal, 64(2), 203–209.
limited amount of form-focused instruction, as in many Cook, V. (1996). Second language learning and language teaching
L2-immersion or K–12 contexts. These characteristics (2nd ed.). London: Arnold.
Cummins, J. (1979). Linguistic interdependence and the educa-
of instructional settings are extremely important and
tional development of bilingual children. Review of Educational
have serious consequences for determining the kind of Research, 49(2), 222–251.
instructional approach for each context. For instance, in Cummins, J. (1991). Interdependence of first- and second-language
the former context, where there is already a heavy focus proficiency in bilingual children. In E. Bialystok (Ed.), Language
on form component, a more meaning-focused approach processing in bilingual children (pp. 70–89). New York: Cambridge
may be more appropriate, whereas in the latter, with University Press.
DeKeyser, R., Salaberry, R., Robinson, P., & Harrington, M. (2002).
already a heavy meaning-focused component, a more What gets processed in processing instruction? A commen-
form-focused instruction may be more appropriate. tary on Bill VanPatten’s “Processing instruction: An update.”
Despite the above, the two books are major con- Language Learning, 52(4), 805–823. doi:10.1111/1467-9922.00204
tributions to the field. Both set to balance issues in L2 Dörnyei, Z. (2001). Teaching and researching motivation. New York:
reading research and pedagogy and seek to explain Longman.
Gardner, R.C. (1985). Social psychology and second language learning:
research-based ways of promoting effective instruction. The role of attitudes and motivation. Baltimore: Edward Arnold.
These features distinguish the books from other signifi- Gardner, R.C., & Lambert, W.E. (1972). Attitudes and motivation in
cant publications on L2 reading that mainly focus on second-language learning. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
either research (e.g., Koda, 2005; Koda & Zehler, 2008) Goodman, K.S. (1994). Reading, writing, and written texts: A
or instruction (e.g., Anderson, 1999; Hudson, 2007). transactional sociopsycholinguistic view. In R.B. Ruddell, M.R.
Ruddell, & H. Singer (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes
Both books deserve careful reading by anyone inter-
of reading (4th ed., pp. 1093–1130). Newark, DE: International
ested in learning about L2 reading comprehension and Reading Association.
instruction. Grabe, W., & Stoller, F.L. (2002). Teaching and researching reading.
New York: Longman.
Note Hudson, T. (2007). Teaching second language reading. New York:
Oxford University Press.
I would like to thank Rose-Marie Weber for inviting me to contrib-
Jourdenais, R., Ota, M., Stauffer, S., Boyson, B., & Doughty, C.
ute this essay book review and for her useful comments on an earlier
(1995). Does textual enhancement promote noticing? A think-
draft of the manuscript.
aloud protocol analysis. In R. Schmidt (Ed.), Attention and
awareness in foreign language learning (Technical Report No.
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effects: Evidence from second language word recognition. Applied Department of Linguistics at the University of Victoria, BC,
Psycholinguistics, 14(3), 369–385. doi:10.1017/S0142716400010845 Canada; e-mail

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