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Interview with Richard Day & Junko Yamanaka

richard_day.jpg junko_yamanaka.jpg Richard Day is Chair & Co-Founder of the Extensive Reading Foundation (ERF). he is currently a Professor in the Department of Second Language Studies at the University of Hawaii. He is also co-editor of the online journal Reading in a Foreign Language. He has developed teaching materials, including Impact Issues and Impact Topics, both with Junko Yamanaka, and Journeys Reading 3, with Jim Swan and Masayo Yamamoto. Junko Yamanaka is Chief Instructor and Teacher Trainer at Trident College of Languages in Nagoya and is Vice-Chair of the ERF.

Richard and Junko gave this interview by e-mail in November, 2004.

ELTNEWS
Before we talk about the work you do today and the concepts behind it, can you tell us how you first got into English teaching?
Richard
I was in the US Army in Seoul, Korea, when I started tutoring high school students. I really enjoyed it, and then joined the US Peace Corps to continue teaching English.
Junko
I went to a teacher's college hoping to be a Junior or Senior High English teacher. After graduating I had this great opportunity of post-graduate studies in the State University of New York as a Rotary Fellow. There I was determined that I would teach real communication rather than test preparation, so I took a teaching job at a language school.
ELTNEWS
You have worked together on several books. How did that come about?
Richard
Junko had made a contribution to a book I edited for the International TESOL organization, New Ways in Teaching Reading. Then, when I started work on Impact Issues, I thought that she would be a great person to work with. And I was right!
Junko
Just to add a few things. Mike Rost, who is the series editor for our books, was actually the go-between for us. He asked me if I was interested in working with Richard on Impact Issues. It was, by chance, just after I had contributed a few ideas for New Ways in Teaching Reading
ELTNEWS
What's different about the teaching materials you developed?
Richard
We think that the topics that are in our books are directly related to the lives of our students. For example, we deal with issues of gender identity, sex before marriage, being different, living together before marriage. Publishers do not want to have these topics in their books because they might offend someone. Longman ELT, to its credit, did not shy away from these issues.
Junko
Controversial and at the same time interesting and relevant issues are introduced in easy English, not heavy in vocabulary. Each chapter makes students really want to say something.
ELTNEWS
You have, I believe, one particular language interest in common - extensive reading. Can you give a little background for teachers who may not be familiar with ER?
Richard
Extensive reading is an approach to learning a foreign language that involves reading a great deal of easy and interesting books. Students choose the books that they want to read. If a book is too easy, or too hard, or boring, the student is free to stop reading and select another one. There is a great deal of research that demonstrates that students who engage in extensive reading become better readers, enlarge their vocabulary, and improve their listening, speaking and writing skills.
ELTNEWS
How easy or difficult is it to get students to actively participate in an extensive reading program? What practical advice can you offer a teacher thinking of setting one up?
Richard
My first piece of advice is to start early and small. You need to order a good supply of books, the kind that I call language learner literature books written especially for language learners. They are often called graded readers.

Then you need to set up the extensive reading library. You will also need to decide if the extensive reading will be part of an existing course, a separate course, or an after-school club.
ELTNEWS
Teachers often wonder what their students should do when they finish reading a book. Do you have any suggestions?
Richard
The best answer is that students should pick another book and continue to read! But I know that teachers really want to do more than sit in class and watch their students reading. I have my students do activities that build on the reading their students have done.

ER activities that allow students to respond on a personal level to their books often work well. This is because they encourage learners to relate what they read to their own world of knowledge and experience. They contribute to student motivation and make student reading a resource for language practice and use in reading, vocabulary learning, listening, speaking and writing. They can also help teachers monitor and evaluate their students' reading.

The book I edited with Julian (Bamford) has 106 ER activities (Bamford, J. & Day, R. R. (Eds.) (2004) Extensive Reading Activities for Teaching Language. Cambridge University Press.)
ELTNEWS
Many years ago, Stephen Krashen referred to a "relaxed, tension-free learning environment" as one of the necessary conditions for success of a reading program. Has the concept enjoyed more or less success within the usually formal Japanese educational model?
Junko
I would say it still has a long way to go. In Japanese classrooms, intensive reading using difficult texts still seems to be the standard. Still many teachers have their students translate, and grammar is emphasized. However, I sense that the idea of extensive reading is slowly but steadily spreading. I hear some teachers mentioning it, even though they have not started it yet.
ELTNEWS
How much time should be allocated to reading aloud, given the large class sizes and reduced class time in Japan?
Richard
Oral reading is controversial. The approach to oral reading that is common in Japan has nothing to do with learning to read. It is really a pronunciation activity. An alternative approach involves students listening to the teacher read aloud (or to a cassette or CD) and following along in their books. This helps students to develop the connection between the spoken language and the written language. I highly recommend the oral reading activities by Marc Helgesen in the book I mentioned above, New Ways in Teaching Reading.
ELTNEWS
Can you tell us about how the Extensive Reading Foundation came about?
Richard
For a number of years, Julian Bamford, Marc Helgesen and I had talked about recognizing good language learner literature. But we didn't know how to go about doing it. Then Julian and I started working on our second book on extensive reading, which I mentioned earlier. We decided to use the royalties from that book to set up the Foundation. The primary goal of the ERF is to support and promote extensive reading.
ELTNEWS
At the ERF you've been organizing "language learner literature" awards. Can you tell us about that?
Richard
The Language Learner Literature Award is the first project of the Extensive Reading Foundation. For this first year, there were four categories of the Award for individual books:
Adolescents & Adults (3 categories)
Beginner
Intermediate
Advanced
Young Learners (1 category)

Publishers nominated up to three books in each of the four categories (i.e., a maximum of 12 books per publisher per year). There was an Award Jury that read the books and came up with a shortlist of three (3) books. The results were posted on the ERF's website and students and teachers voted for their favorite books. The members of the Award Jury used the results of the Internet voting in reaching their final decisions.
ELTNEWS
Why do think reading has become such a focal point in ELT in the last few years? Is it in any way connected to the fact that a growing number of people in many countries are moving away from reading in their own language?
Richard
I am not sure...
Junko
I don't think they have connections. I am guessing that teachers who have been promoting extensive reading have seen success in their students and that is beginning to be recognized in ELT. And of course like Richard pointed out earlier in this interview, "there is a great deal of research that demonstrates that students who engage in extensive reading become better readers."
ELTNEWS
Do you have a stance on the best way to teach reading to young learners in Japan (phonics, sight word, whole language)?
Richard
There is no best way. I have found that a combination of approaches works well. Some young learners respond well to whole language, while others, usually a much small number, find phonics helpful.
Junko
I also agree with the combination of approaches idea. It seems to me that the whole language approach works better with very young learners, and that older children, who have developed a logical mind, benefit from phonics.
ELTNEWS
What projects do you have in the works?
Richard
Junko and I are developing a three-level set of reading materials. These materials are innovative in that they involve strategies, fluency, and extensive reading.



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