Type JournalArticle
Date 2001-12
Volume 16
Number 3
Tags nonfiction, language learning, extensive reading, 75 in 2019
Journal Prospect
Pages 55--65

A defence of simplification

In a very perceptive article, Widdowson (1976) pointed out that ‘authentic’ or ‘authenticity’ can be viewed in a different way. Authenticity is not a characteristic of texts, but is the result of the interaction between a reader and a text. If a learner reads a text, and responds to it in a way that we might expect of someone who comprehends the text, then reading the text is authentic for that learner.

The strand of meaning-focused input involves incidental learning through listening and speaking where around 98 per cent of the running words are already familiar or pose no learning burden to the learners (Hu and Nation 2000).

There is now considerable research (Ellis 1994; Spada 1997; Long and Robinson 1998) which shows that deliberate intentional learning has positive benefits in language learning and learning from input, partly through consciousness raising. Research in vocabulary learning (Nation 2001: 263–316) has shown that intentional learning produces faster and better results than incidental learning.

The strand of meaning-focused output involves incidental learning through speaking and writing. Learners’ focus is on communicating messages. The justification for a meaning-focused output strand has a theoretical basis in the work of Swain (1985) and experimental support from research such as that of Joe (1998) and Newton (1995), which show that learning can occur, and is enriched, when learners produce language. Swain argues that having to produce messages makes the learners look at language in a new way. Language features, particularly grammatical elements, that were given little attention in listening and reading, gain a greater importance in production when learners are pushed to make choices in how to say something.

Research on developing speed reading with language learners (West 1941; Cramer 1975) has shown that, with the use of simplified material, substantial increases in speed are possible within reasonably short periods of time.


This paper argues that simplified or graded readers are an essential part of a language learning program if learners of all proficiency levels are to have the opportunity to do incidental language learning through reading, and to develop fluency in reading. Unsimplified texts do not allow for this kind of learning at beginning and intermediate levels because they contain too great a density of unknown words and too many different unknown words. Evidence is provided to support this from a corpus study of versions of Dracula. Many criticisms of simplified texts apply only to poorly simplified texts and to the poor use of such texts in curriculum planning.

Name Role
I. S. P. Nation Author
Jean Paul Deweerdt Author