Reading in a Second Language: Moving from Theory to Practice (Cambridge Applied Linguistics Series)

Book Review
Reading in a Second Language: Moving from Theory to Practice (Cambridge Applied Linguistics Series)
William Grabe. 2009. Cambridge: CUP. Pp. xv + 467.

Jim Bame
Utah State University
Logan, Utah
Reading in a second Language: moving from theory to practice by William Grabe is an impressive examination of what academic reading is and how to learn to read fluently. In order to accomplish this, the author selects core first language research (L1) reading themes, explains them, and examines the themes as they are applied to English as a second language (L2) research.
The book contains major sections with eighteen chapters, each of which ends with a useful section entitled Implications for Instruction that offers suggestions of how teachers, materials developers, and course designers could apply each chapter s information to classrooms.
Part 1 includes 5 chapters explaining the foundations of academic reading. Chapter 1 outlines the purposes for academic reading and defines it. The next chapter outlines how reading works at lower processing levels of word recognition and semantic proposition encoding. In chapter 3, how reading comprehension emerges through top-down models of text and situation comprehension is described, along with reader resources and reading skills, such as strategies, goals, inferences, background knowledge, and comprehension monitoring. The next chapter depicts a number of complex cognitive concepts and issues in reading, such as implicit and explicit learning, automaticity, attention, inference, and background knowledge. The final chapter in this section outlines types of cognitive models and key concepts of well-recognized models.
Part 2 contains 4 chapters depicting learner differences. Chapter 6 overviews issues in learning to read in different L1s, possible L1 word recognition issues and their transfer to L2 reading. In the next chapter, the author surveys differences between L1 and L2 reading, specifically linguistic and processing, educational and developmental, and socio-cultural and institutional differences. Chapter 8 outlines several social-context sources of reading ability variation, such as social factors in L1 literacy, language-minority learners in public schools, and ESL and EFL students. The final chapter in this part describes definitions for motivation in reading, theories of motivation, and motivation for reading in L1 and L2 contexts.
Part 3, Developing L2 Reading Comprehension Abilities, consists of 4 chapters. This part, along with chapters 1-3, 9 and 14-16, would be of most interest to reading teachers. This is because these sections of the book provide very helpful ideas about applying current scholarly investigations about reading and readers to a research-guided teaching approach, designing units based on the approach, and implementing the units with day-to-day activities. Chapter 10 outlines L2 students developing main-idea comprehension, and the next chapter examines how to develop strategic readers. Chapter 12 describes the components of how texts signal discourse, text genres, narrative and expository texts, and patterns of discourse in text. Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension, chapter 13, outlines why vocabulary is the most critical resource for reading.
Part 4 expands on skills and instruction which help a reader become fluent. Chapter 14 defines and outlines L1 research in developing fluency in multiple settings, fluency s relationship with comprehension, and word recognition fluency. L2 perspectives on word- and passage-reading fluency are then outlined. The next chapter examines research on extensive reading s many benefits in L1 and L2 contexts. Research concerning curriculum development and instructional strategies are summarized in chapter 16. The last chapter in this section examines various aspects of assessment.
The book s final chapter glances at important issues not examined thoroughly in the book, such as reading and writing relationships, teacher training, reading and technology, reading and new media, and reading disabilities.
Grabe s book is a comprehensive discussion of an impressive quantity of research. The book synthesizes the significant highlights and organizes it in a lucid, readable style. From the beginning of the text, Grabe clearly outlines the book s goals and limitations and accomplishes the former masterfully, all the while being cautious in his claims, allowing the weight of accumulated research findings to substantiate his conclusions. If there is a weakness in this book, is that it may be a challenging read for a general audience. However, this book should be read by all those involved in most any facet of influencing readers learning to read, including policy makers and administrators, as well as teacher trainers, graduate students, researchers, and teachers.