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What can readers read after graded readers?
Name: What can readers read after graded readers?
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McQuillan: What Can Readers Read after Graded Readers? 64 Reading in a Foreign Language 28(1) words in that text (Hu & Nation, 2000; Schmitt, Jiang, & Grabe, 2011); (b) To achieve this 98% vocabulary coverage for challenging texts, one must know the 9,000 most frequently occurring word families in English (Nation, 2006); and (c) To have a reasonable chance of acquiring an unknown word family, one must encounter it at least 12 times in text. The logic Nation presents here is straightforward: If we know how many words one must read to encounter the first 9,000 word families at least 12 times, we can provide estimates of the amount of text and time L2 readers need to acquire a sufficient vocabulary to handle challenging texts. Are Nation's assumptions reasonable? Several researchers (Hu & Nation, 2000; Laufer & Ravenhorst Kalovski, 2010; Schmitt et al., 2011) have argued that "adequate comprehension" of text requires somewhere between 95% and 98% vocabulary coverage. While vocabulary knowledge is not the sole factor in determining reading comprehension, it has clearly been shown to be an important one in both the first language (L1) and L2 research (Anderson & Freebody, 1981; Hu & Nation, 2000). Laufer and Ravenhorst Kalovski (2010), for example, found that vocabulary knowledge accounted for 64% of the variance in reading comprehension scores. The exact percentage of words a reader needs to know to understand a text depends on how "adequate" comprehension is defined. Laufer and Ravenhorst Kalovski suggest that 95% is the "minimum" coverage needed, with 98% (or more) being "optimum." In choosing the higher figure of 98%, Nation attempted to provide a conservative estimate of the percentage of words a reader needs to understand text independently.1 The other key assumption made by Nation that 12 exposures to an unknown word are sufficient to acquire the word is based on previous studies that produced differing estimates both above and below that figure (e.g., Brown, Waring, & Donkaewbua, 2008; Pellicer Sanchez & Schmitt, 2010; Waring & Takaki, 2003). These analyses attempted to determine the number of exposures to a word needed to, in Nation's words, "develop something approaching rich knowledge" of a word (p. 2). In Pellicer Sanchez and Schmitt (2010), for example, unknown words that occurred at least 10 times in the text were acquired 80% of the time, as measured by a meaning recognition test (Table 1, p. 41). In Waring and Takaki (2003), at least 15 repetitions were required for a similar level of success (72%). Based on these and other similar studies, Nation's use of 12 occurrences as a threshold for acquisition appears to be an attempt to find a middle ground between competing estimates. Nation and other researchers acknowledge that acquisition of vocabulary depends on more than just the number of exposures to the acquired word, and any estimate depends on one's criteria for determining the "depth" of knowledge as well as its breadth (Wesche & Paribakht, 1996). Nation (2014) analyzed a corpus comprised of 25 novels taken from Project Gutenberg ( He also provided estimates of how long it would take a reader to read that amount of text, assuming a reading speed of 150 words per minute. Table 1 shows Nation's results for the number of words that one would need to read in order to

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McQuillan: What Can Readers Read after Graded Readers? 65 Reading in a Foreign Language 28(1) encounter a word family at least 12 times in his chosen corpus of novels, and a calculation of the time required to read them. Estimates are broken down by 1,000 word family groups, from the 2nd to the 9th 1,000 word family levels. Table 1. Amount of input and time needed to acquire the 2nd through the 9th most frequently occurring 1,000 word families in English 1,000 Word Level List Amount to Read Hours Needed Per Level (@150 wpm) Cumulative Hours 2,000 200,000 22 22 3,000 300,000 33 55 4,000 500,000 56 111 5,000 1,000,000 112 223 6,000 1,500,000 167 390 7,000 2,000,000 222 612 8,000 2,500,000 278 890 9,000 3,000,000 333 1,223 Total 11,000,000 1,223 Note. Data from Nation (2014), Table 4 Assuming you know the 1,000 most frequently occurring words in English already, Nation estimated that you would need to read approximately 200,000 words in order to have a reasonable chance of acquiring most of the words in the 2,000 word family level. After acquiring most of the words in the 2,000 word family level, you would then need to read another 300,000 words in order to encounter most of the words in the 3,000 word family level at least 12 times, and so on. As shown in Table 1, one would need to read approximately 11,000,000 words to reach the 9,000 word family level, and that this feat would take about 1,200 hours to complete. At one hour per day, this represents a little over three years of reading, very doable for a motivated adult or adolescent acquirer. One hour per day of reading is in line with what is expected of university students in the United States for out of class assignments. Nearly half of all American professors expect their students to do at least six hours of homework outside of school per week, or nearly an hour per day (Sanoff, 2006). If Nation's analysis and the assumptions behind that analysis are correct, it appears that free reading can indeed provide L2 readers with the opportunity to acquire the necessary vocabulary to handle challenging texts. Between Graded Readers and Challenging Text If free reading is sufficient, the next step is to determine what sort of texts L2 acquirers should read. Nation (2014, p. 11) noted that controlled vocabulary materials such as graded reader series can provide students with enough input to reach approximately the 4,000 word family level. But what should readers read after graded readers? How is this "gap" between the 4,000 and 9,000 word family levels to be filled? The problem can be summarized this way:

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McQuillan: What Can Readers Read after Graded Readers? 66 Reading in a Foreign Language 28(1) Graded Readers > ?? > Challenging Texts Mid Frequency Readers Nation (2014) proposed that the gap can be made up in part by the use of "mid frequency readers." Mid frequency readers are adaptations of texts that meet the 98% vocabulary coverage criterion at lower vocabulary levels than the texts were originally written. The texts are created by substituting the less frequently occurring words in the stories and novels with more frequently occurring synonyms, as well as by controlling the number of new word families the reader will encounter in the text (Nation & Anthony, 2013; Schmitt & Schmitt, 2014). Texts have been developed by Nation and others at the 4,000 , 6,000 , and 8,000 word family levels. Nation's proposal to fill the gap is thus: Graded Readers > 4K Readers > 6K Readers > 8K Readers > Challenging Texts Mid frequency readers can be an important source of input for English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) acquirers. However, the number of such readers is still small, and for copyright reasons, the mid frequency readers have thus far been limited to adaptation of works that are in the public domain. There is also the question of interest: not all L2 readers will find the texts chosen for adaptation to be sufficiently engaging to do the kind of voluminous reading required to read several million words. But it is one possible path, and given enough adapted texts, one that could allow readers to acquire sufficient vocabulary to read more challenging texts. Light Reading, Narrow Reading Krashen has long advocated the use of self selected "light reading" to bridge the gap between modified texts such as graded readers and challenging, academic texts (2004a, 2010). Light reading refers to the materials being read, and may include comic books, children's books, young adult fiction, popular adult fiction, and popular magazines. In particular, Krashen (2004b) advocates a specific approach to light reading called "narrow reading." In narrow reading, readers read books by the same author or on the same topics. An example of narrow reading is the use of series books, texts written by the same author and usually involving the same main characters in the same or similar settings (Hwang & Nation, 1989; Schmitt & Carter, 2000). Narrow reading of series books takes advantage of the powerful influence of prior knowledge on comprehension (Eidswick, 2010). Once readers finish the first book or story in the series, they have considerable background knowledge about the characters and setting that in turn can facilitate comprehension of subsequent stories. In narrow reading, readers also become familiar with the writer's style and word choices, as well as the proper nouns (character names, places). This in effect reduces the vocabulary load required for reading additional novels in the series. This vocabulary "recycling" is particularly

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McQuillan: What Can Readers Read after Graded Readers? 67 Reading in a Foreign Language 28(1) strong with narrative fiction written by a single author (Gardner, 2008). Previous research with L2 adults confirms that popular series books are an effective way of promoting language acquisition. Cho and Krashen (1994, 1995a, 1995b), for example, studied a group of adult women immigrants to the United States who began reading series books as a way of improving their English. They read books in the Sweet Valley collection by Francine Pascal, a series of children's books about the adventures of two twin girls. They started with the easiest books in the series, Sweet Valley Kids. After finishing Sweet Valley Kids, they graduated on to the next set of books in the series, written at a slightly higher vocabulary level, Sweet Valley Twins. From there, some of the women in the Cho and Krashen studies continued on to Sweet Valley High, written at a slightly more difficult level than Sweet Valley Twins. One reader continued on further (Cho & Krashen, 1995b). After reading dozens of the Sweet Valley series books, she read adult novels by best selling author Danielle Steele, all within the space of one year. Not only did the women enjoy their reading, they made impressive gains in vocabulary knowledge as a result. The series books provided a bridge to more challenging texts written for adult native speakers. We can summarize Krashen's proposed path this way: Graded Readers > Light Reading > Challenging Texts While there is some case study evidence that L2 readers can move from graded readers to "ungraded," unsimplified texts (Uden, Schmitt, & Schmitt, 2014), at least two additional research questions are raised by Nation's results: 1. Is there an adequate amount of reading material to satisfy Nation's recommended amount of input up through the 9,000 word family level? 2. Can these texts be read with sufficient vocabulary coverage (at or above 98%) to provide a smooth transition from where graded readers leave off (between the 3,000 and 4,000 word family levels) and more challenging texts begin (the 8,000 and 9,000 word family levels)? This study seeks to answer both questions by analyzing a set of popular fiction series books in terms of the quantity of input they can provide, and the levels of vocabulary coverage they require. Method Materials Selections were analyzed from a number of popular fiction series written for children, young adults, and adults, all of which are either freely available on the Internet or widely available commercially (see Appendix).2 As in the case of Nation's corpus of 25 novels, text selection in this study did not follow any strict criteria for selection other than that the text might be of

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McQuillan: What Can Readers Read after Graded Readers? 68 Reading in a Foreign Language 28(1) interest to adult language acquirers. Various genres (adventure, detective, Western) were chosen to appeal to a wide range of readers, perhaps slightly more so than Nation's selection of more "classic" novels currently in the public domain. The texts were hoped to reflect the kind of reading adults do for pleasure, as noted in previous reader preference studies (Nell, 1988). Also included were popular teen and children's books that previous research has shown can appeal to adult L2 readers (e.g., Cho & Krashen, 1994). The analysis aimed to determine the percentage of vocabulary coverage from the 3,000 to the 8,000 word family level for each series of novels, as well as the total number of words in the series. Vocabulary Coverage In some cases, an entire text (a complete novel) was analyzed; in other cases, a selection from the text of between 1,500 and 5,000 words was used from one of the novels in the series. It was assumed that most of the novels in a given series would be of roughly similar vocabulary difficulty, recognizing that variations might take place from book to book within a series. To check the assumption that smaller samples of text would produce equivalent results as a fuller analysis, small samples of text (1,500 words) were analyzed from the first novel of the Twilight series (Meyers, 2011) and compared to an analysis of the entire text. The results in terms of determining the 1,000 word family level at which 98% coverage was obtained were identical for the complete text and the sample texts, indicating it was not necessary to analyze an entire novel in order to arrive at a reasonably accurate estimate of the vocabulary coverage needed to read it. The texts were analyzed with either the VocabProfile Compleat (VP Compleat), online software available on Tom Cobb's Lextutor website ( (for shorter texts), or the AntWordProfiler (Anthony, 2012, available from (for longer samples and entire novels). Both programs provide the same breakdown of word family frequency based on a classification of the British National Corpus (BNC) and the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) into 1,000 word families, as was used by Nation (2014) for his analysis, and both programs yield identical or very similar results. Proper nouns were included in the percentage of vocabulary coverage, following Nation (2006). (For a fuller discussion of the BNC itself, see Nation (2004); for the BNC and COCA, see Nation (2014)). Total Number of Words In addition to vocabulary coverage, estimates were also made of the number of total words (tokens) included in all the books of the book series. For some of the series books used in the analysis, total series word count was based on the average number of words per page from one of the books in the series multiplied by the total number of pages in the entire series as found on an e book vender website ( This was used for series books where the length of the books in the series varied considerably, including the legal thrillers of John Grisham, the Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games series, the Child Called It series by Dave Pelzer, and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. For series books that appeared to have a fairly consistent number of words and pages in each book in the series, the word count was calculated from a sample book, multiplied by the number

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McQuillan: What Can Readers Read after Graded Readers? 69 Reading in a Foreign Language 28(1) of books in the series (Victor Appleton's Tom Swift books, Zane Grey's Westerns, R.L. Stine's Goosebumps, Sweet Valley High, Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley Kids, Gertrude Chandler Warner's The Boxcar Children, and Agatha Christie's mysteries). "Fairly consistent" was defined as having no more than a 10% variation in total pages or total words from the average page or word count for the series, determined by examining at least five different books from each series. For two of the series available in electronic format (the Twilight series and the Detective Larose series by Arthur Gask), all the books of the series were analyzed in order to check the accuracy of the methods of word count estimation used with the other series. For the Twilight series, the actual word count from the books in electronic format was 586,748. The estimated word count, using the number of pages per book in the series reported on (2,752) multiplied by the average number of words on a single printed page of the novel (200), was 550,400, a difference of 6%. For the Detective Larose series, the actual word count was 2,400,002 from electronic versions of the books. The estimated word count, using the number of words in a sample book (83,900) multiplied by the total number of novels in the series (27), was 2,265,300, a difference of only 5%. The methods of estimating word counts for the series were considered sufficiently accurate for the purposes of this study. Results Vocabulary Coverage Table 2 lists all of the series books analyzed, sorted using Nation's criterion of 98% vocabulary coverage percentage, from the 3,000 up through the 8,000 word family level. Vocabulary coverage is reported at each 1,000 word family level, with bolded figures indicating the level at which the text reaches 98% vocabulary coverage. Books originally written for children and "tween" audiences fall mostly in the 4,000 and 5000 word family levels (The Boxcar Children Mysteries, Sweet Valley Kids and Sweet Valley Twins, and Goosebumps series). The Harry Potter series is also found at these lower levels, but surprisingly, so are the Hercule Poirot mysteries of Agatha Christie, written for adult readers. Three series written largely for teens (Child Called It, Twilight, and Sweet Valley High) have 98% vocabulary coverage at the 6,000 word family level, as does another popular series written for adults, the legal thrillers of John Grisham. At the top end of the coverage rankings, at the 7,000 and 8,000 word family levels, are three older series written during the early and middle parts of the 20th century: the juvenile adventure series Tom Swift, and two series written for adults (Arthur Gask's detective stories and Zane Grey's Westerns). Perhaps most surprising is the rank of the popular trilogy Hunger Games by the American writer Suzanne Collins, which despite having an intended audience of teenagers, also comes in at the 8,000 word family level for 98% vocabulary coverage. Coxhead (2012) also included an analysis of the Hunger Games trilogy in her study, using a larger sample of text and drawing from all three books in the series instead of just the first book,

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McQuillan: What Can Readers Read after Graded Readers? 70 Reading in a Foreign Language 28(1) as was done in this analysis. She determined readers would need at least the 9,000 word family level for 98% vocabulary coverage, a somewhat higher estimate than the result obtained here. This difference may in part be due to variations in the vocabulary level across books in the series, as well her use of the British National Corpus rather than the BNC COCA list used in this analysis, that latter incorporating both British and American texts. Table 2. Vocabulary coverage of selected popular fiction series books Popular Fiction Series Books 3K 4K 5K 6K 7K 8K The Boxcar Children Mysteries (The Boxcar Children) 97.4 98.1 98.6 99 99.3 99.3 Sweet Valley Kids (Lila's Secret) 96.5 98.0 98.4 98.7 98.8 98.8 Goosebumps (Welcome to the Dead House) 96.9 97.8 98.9 99.4 99.5 99.6 Sweet Valley Twins (Jessica On Stage) 98.8 97.8 98.4 98.6 99.1 99.1 Harry Potter (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) 95.1 97.1 98.3 98.8 99.1 99.2 Agatha Christie's Poirot Mysteries (The Mysterious Affair at Styles) 96.1 97.5 98.3 98.8 99.1 99.4 Child Called It (Child Called It) 96.7 97.1 97.9 98.6 98.9 99.3 Sweet Valley High (Double Love) 94.2 96.3 97.9 98.6 98.9 99.2 John Grisham's Legal Thrillers (The Firm) 95.9 97.1 97.7 98.3 99.0 99.3 Twilight (Twilight) 95.3 96.7 97.5 98.0 98.6 98.9 Tom Swift (Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle) 93.2 95.5 96.9 97.8 98.3 98.5 Arthur Gask's Detective Gilbert Larose (The Master Spy) 94.5 96.3 97.1 97.7 98.1 98.3 Hunger Games (Hunger Games) 93.1 95.3 96.8 97.4 97.8 98.7 Zane Grey's Westerns (Betty Zane) 91.6 93.4 95.9 96.9 97.6 98.0 Note: The names of works from which the text selections analyzed were taken are shown in parentheses, with references found in Appendix. Total Number of Words Table 3 includes the number of books in each series, the 1,000 word family level at which they can be read with 98% coverage (taken from Table 2), and an estimate of the total word count for that series. The number of books and total word count vary widely across series, as would be expected. Series written for children and teens generally have the greatest number of texts in them, although Zane Grey's Westerns have the highest total word count of the series analyzed, at just over five million words. Table 3 also shows how one related set of series (Sweet Valley Kids, Sweet Valley Twins, and Sweet Valley High) has a sufficient number of texts to provide adequate input for acquiring the word families of the 4,000 , 5,000 , and 6,000 word family levels. This is

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McQuillan: What Can Readers Read after Graded Readers? 71 Reading in a Foreign Language 28(1) consistent with Cho and Krashen's (1994, 1995a, 1995b) results in improving the reading proficiency of their adult ESL subjects. Table 3. Estimated word count for popular series books Popular Series Books Level @ 98% Vocab. Coverage Number of Books in Series Estimated Word Count The Boxcar Children Mysteries 4K 139 1,400,000 Sweet Valley Kids 4K 88 528,000 Goosebumps 5K 179 4,800,000 Sweet Valley Twins 5K 118 2,400,000 Harry Potter 5K 7 1,000,000 Agatha Christie's Poirot Mysteries 5K 42 3,300,000 John Grisham's Legal Thrillers 6K 22 3,200,000 Twilight 6K 4 586,000 Child Called It 6K 3 194,000 Sweet Valley High 6K 143 4,300,000 Tom Swift 7K 29 1,200,000 Arthur Gask's Detective Gilbert Larose 7K 27 2,400,000 Zane Grey's Westerns 8K 52 5,200,000 Hunger Games 8K 3 240,000 Adequacy of Series Books as a Source of Input Table 4 combines the information from Table 1 on Nation's recommended volume of reading for the 5,000 to 9,000 word family levels with the total number of words from the selected series books found in Table 3 that would be appropriate for that level. Note that texts that can be read at 98% coverage at a given 1,000 word family level are used to help readers acquire words in the next 1,000 word level. For example, texts that can be read at 98% coverage at the 4,000 word family level are used to help the reader acquire the word families at the 5,000 word family level, and so forth. A similar logic is used by Nation (2014) in the creation of the mid frequency readers: the 4,000 , 6,000 , and 8,000 level readers are intended to help the reader acquire words at the 5,000 , 7,000 , and 9,000 word family levels, respectively. In Table 4, the total word count for the 5,000 word family level shown in the last column is the sum of the word counts for the series books that can be read at 98% at the 4,000 word level (that is, Boxcar Children (1,400,000 words) plus Sweet Valley Kids (528,000 words), for a total of 1,980,000 words). The total word count shown for the 6,000 word family level is the sum of all those books that can be read at the 98% at the 5,000 word family level, and so forth. Table 4 shows that for each 1,000 word family level from 5,000 to 9,000, popular series books can provide sufficient input to meet Nation's recommended amount of reading to acquire most of the word families at those levels. For some levels, a single popular fiction series could theoretically provide enough input to acquire the majority of the word families. Readers could, for example, get all 1,500,000 words of input needed to acquire words at the 6,000 word family level by reading the Agatha Christie mysteries, which have a total of more than three million words. Nation (2014) points out, however, that exposure to a mix of reading genres may offer a

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McQuillan: What Can Readers Read after Graded Readers? 72 Reading in a Foreign Language 28(1) better chance to acquire the widest variety of word families up through the 9,000 word family level. Table 4. Minimum number of words needed and corpus size of series books for the 5th through 9th 1,000 word families 1,000 Word List Level Nation's Minimum Number of Words to Read Estimated Word Count for Series Books 5,000 1,000,000 1,928,000 6,000 1,500,000 11,500,000 7,000 2,000,000 8,280,000 8,000 2,500,000 3,600,000 9,000 3,000,000 5,440,000 Discussion The results provide support for the position that second language acquirers can indeed move from modified texts such as graded readers to challenging texts in English through the use of popular fiction series books. Table 2 shows that there is sufficient input each step of the way, all at Nation's recommended 98% vocabulary coverage, such that readers can follow a "smooth path" on their way to reading challenging texts. Moreover, this reading can be done in a reasonable amount of time. After a little more than one year of reading an hour per day, L2 acquirers would be able to read popular novels such as Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot mysteries, John Grisham's legal thrillers, and the teen vampire series, Twilight.3 A little over three years of reading takes readers all the way to the 9,000 word family level. The results of the present study with regard to the suitability of children's books for ESL readers appear to conflict with the findings of Webb and Macalister (2010). In that study, the researchers found that the vocabulary knowledge needed to read "children's literature" was similar to that required by challenging adult texts. However, Webb and Macalister's study dealt with a very specific type of children's reading material which, one could argue, is not typical of the category: "quality" stories from a literary magazine for children, prepared and distributed by a government office of education. These stories are quite different from the sort of popular reading materials that, if one goes by book sales figures, most children actually read for pleasure outside of school. For Webb and Macalister's sample of texts, a 98% vocabulary coverage required knowledge of the first 10,000 most frequently occurring word families. This is far above the level of vocabulary required to read popular series books such as the Harry Potter, Goosebumps, and Sweet Valley novels, as reported in Table 2. Not every adult reader will be interested in books and stories written for children and adolescents, of course, or even in reading fiction. The particular selection of series books analyzed in this study is just one possible path from graded readers to challenging text. Readers could choose, instead, other combinations of simplified and unsimplified texts. An

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