Acquiring Literacy in a Second Language: The Effect of Book-Based Programs


  • Requests for reprints may be sent to the author at Education Department, University of Canterbury, Christchurch 1, New Zealand.


This article outlines a set of recent little-known empirical studies of the effects of “book floods” on students’ acquisition of a second language in elementary schools. In contrast to students learning by means of structured, audiolingual programs, those children who are exposed to an extensive range of high-interest illustrated story books, and encouraged to read and share them, are consistently found to learn the target language more quickly. When immersed in meaningful text, without tight controls over syntax and vocabulary, children appear to learn the language incidentally, and to develop positive attitudes toward books. In some cases, the benefits are found to spread to other subjects and languages. Implications are drawn for language policy in developing countries and some support is established for such concepts as “comprehensible input” and “whole language” approaches to language acquisition in schools.