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Children's reading attitudes in L1 and FL.


This study examines elementary school students' reading attitudes in both their first language (L1) and a foreign language (FL) among students who had done extensive reading in both languages at school. Their cognitive and affective attitudes towards reading were examined in relation to their gender and proficiency levels in L1 and FL, and their affective attitudes were further examined with regards to academic and recreational reading.


Extensive reading has been recognized as an effective instructional tool for facilitating second/foreign language learning in vocabulary, syntactic knowledge, reading comprehension, and writing abilities among adults (e.g., Bamford & Day, 2004; Krashen, 2002) as well as children (e.g., Cho & Kim, 2004; Elley, 1991; Elley & Mangubhai, 1983). There also is a substantial amount of research among adult L2/FL learners indicating that extensive reading also positively influences attitudes towards reading, which in turn leads to L2/FL learning (e.g., Cho & Krashen, 1994; Constantino, 1994). However, relatively little is known about the role of attitudes among young learners of FL, despite the growing popularity of Foreign Language at Elementary Schools (FLES) worldwide. As part of a larger project examining the effect of recreational reading in FL learning, the present study focuses on examining young learners' attitudes towards reading in their first language (L1) and in a foreign language (FL) in FLES contexts in relation to their gender and proficiency levels in L1 and FL.

Defining reading attitudes is a complex process and a number of different models have been proposed in the attempt to explain the relationship between reading attitudes and reading performance (e.g., Mathewson, 1994; McKenna, 1994). Theories differ with respect to what constitutes reading attitudes, the relationship between beliefs and attitudes, and the causal relationships among different constructs (and subconstructs) including attitudes, beliefs, feelings, behaviors and so forth. In Mathewson's well-known tripartite model, reading attitudes are divided into three components: prevailing feelings (an affective dimension); action readiness; and evaluative beliefs (a cognitive dimension). According to Mathewson, such attitudes towards reading will lead to an intention to read and ultimately influence one's behavior. Focusing on affective and cognitive dimensions (since action readiness is difficult to operationalize in foreign language contexts), Yamashita (2004) found that comfort (a positive affective dimension) and self-perception (a cognitive dimension) showed positive correlations with extensive FL reading among college EFL students in Japan. Yamashita also found that the attitudes prevalent in one's L1 transfer to FL attitudes, but that the attitudinal transfer in affective domains appears less likely to be affected by one's FL proficiency.

The McKenna model (1994), a synthesis of the Mathewson's model and others, was developed based on the view that attitudes are mainly affective and that attitudes and beliefs are causally related. McKenna and Kear's instrument (The Elementary Reading Attitude Survey, ERAS) was designed to measure the affective aspects of children's reading attitudes in two dimensions: their attitudes towards recreational reading and their attitudes towards school-based academic reading (McKenna & Kear, 1990). McKenna, Kear and Ellsworth (1995) administered ERAS to 1st to 6th grade students across the U.S. and found the following: (1) students' attitudes towards both recreational and academic reading in L1 became gradually negative as they became older; (2) negative attitudes towards recreational reading were strongly related to students' reading levels, and the attitudinal gap by reading level widened with age; (3) girls showed more positive attitudes towards both recreational and academic reading than boys; (4) ethnicity and the degree of use of basal reading did not appear to be related to students' attitudes towards both types of reading.

The present study aims to investigate young foreign language learners' reading attitudes towards both their L1 and FL. More specifically, the study investigates the following questions: (1) What are the relationships between affective attitudes and cognitive attitudes towards L1 and FL reading?; (2) Are there any differences in such relationships depending on gender and FL proficiency levels?; (3) What are the relationships between affective attitudes towards recreational reading and academic reading in L1 and FL?; (4) Are there any differences in such relationships depending on gender and FL proficiency levels?



The participants were 50 6th grade students (25 girls and 25 boys) at a small private elementary school in Japan. The school itself opened one year prior to the students' participation in the current study (in 2003), and all of the students at the 6th grade level were recruited for the study. They all came from middle class families. All of the participating students started learning English as a FL from the 5th grade. The school has an intensive English FLES program and the students bad received 6 hours of English instruction per week: 5 periods of English as an academic subject and 1 period of conversation. Approximately 600 words were covered in class in each of the 5th and 6th grade levels. Perhaps due in part to the fact that this school had a very intensive English language program, the students in the present study rarely received any English instruction outside of school.


The school introduced extensive reading as part of its curriculum. When the participants were in the 5th grade, they engaged in recreational reading in L1 (Japanese) three times a week at school (with 15 minutes for each lesson). When the students were in the 6th grade, they engaged in recreational reading in FL (English). Although extensive reading in L1 was not included in the formal curriculum when they were in the 6th grade, the students had been encouraged to read continuously in L1 outside of class. There also was a wide collection of Japanese books in their library. During the extensive reading time, the students were simply instructed to choose books of their interests and enjoy reading them silently. Although the teachers were present in the classroom and were asked to observe the students' reading behavior, the teachers did not provide any specific reading instructions during the extensive reading time. If the students wished to do so, however, they were allowed to either look up a dictionary or ask the teacher questions. In the extensive reading time in their FL classes, the students were asked to keep a reading log at the end of each week indicating which English book(s) they read during the week and providing brief comments about the book(s) they read. In total, 178 English books of varying genres and difficulty levels were available for the students to read.


(1) Attitude questionnaire

The present study used a four-point Likert scale attitudinal questionnaire which had two components, namely, affective and cognitive components. For the affective part of the questionnaire, 10 items (5 items concerning recreational reading and 5 items concerning academic reading) were selected from the ERAS, which originally contained 20 items altogether. This decision was made, in consultation with teachers at the participating school, because the study design meant giving the students two sets of items for both their L1 and FL reading, thereby making the questionnaire twice as long and potentially overwhelming the young learners. Moreover, some of the items used in the ERAS were deemed unsuitable given the particular context of this study. For example, most students in the present study, as is often the case in many FLES contexts, did not have any children's books in FL at home, and thus the item "How do you feel about reading for fun at home?" would not be appropriate to include in the questions concerning FL reading. The cognitive part also was composed of 10 items concerning self-perception. An sample item regarding self-perception was: "I came to be able to read English books faster." Identical sets of items (all in Japanese) were prepared to investigate the students' attitudes towards L1 and FL reading. The questionnaire also contained a few additional questions concerning: (a) the number of books in L1 and FL that the students read per month; and (b) the amount of time that they spent for reading.

(2) Examinations for establishing the students' general proficiency levels in L1 and FL

Since there were no established proficiency/achievement tests available in both the students' LI and FL for the given context, this study utilized a series of exams specifically developed for this study as well as teachers' holistic evaluations. The exams included a series of vocabulary tests, oral reading performance reviews, and reading comprehension tests. For the students' FL, oral production tests were also taken into account. Based on these multiple measurements, as well as the teachers' recommendations, the students were divided into two proficiency groups (high and low) for each language.


Before answering the research questions, the students' reading habits and their general feelings towards reading books in both languages were analyzed to provide some background information. The participating students indicated that they read 4.59 Japanese books per month on average (Min = 0, Max = 35, SD = 6.53) and 5.02 English books (picture books) on average (Min = 1, Max = 20, SD = 4.10). On average, they spent 41.0 minutes reading Japanese books each day (Min = 5, Max = 200, SD = 38.32), while most students read English books only at school.

QI : The relationship between affective and cognitive attitudes towards reading in L1 and FL

Since the coefficient-alpha reliabilities were high overall, aggregated scores were used for the rest of the analyses. As shown in Table 1, affective attitudes in L1 scored higher than those for FL (measured using an ANOVA with repeated measures (F(I, 49) = 11.22, p < .01, Eta squared = .19). The same results were found for the Cognitive attitude measure (F(I, 49) = 10.73, p < .01, Eta squared = .18). Affective and Cognitive attitudes were highly correlated within the same language reading. Affective attitudes were highly correlated between L1 and FL reading, but cognitive attitudes were only moderately correlated between L1 and FL reading (please refer to Tables 1 and 2). See issue website

Q2: Affective and cognitive attitudinal relationships by gender and proficiency levels

A main effect for Gender was found only in Affective attitudes for L1 reading (F(1, 49) = 5.50, p < .05, Eta squared = .11 for Gender); girls had more positive attitudes than boys. A main effect for Proficiency was found in both Affective and Cognitive attitudes towards FL reading (F(1, 49) = 5.15, p < .05, Eta squared = .10 for Affective in FL; F(1, 49) = 4.39, p < .05, Eta squared = .09 for Cognitive in FL). No interaction effect was found in any of the attitudinal variables (please refer to Tables 3 and 4). See

Q3: The relationship between recreational and academic reading attitudes

The students showed more positive attitudes towards Recreational reading in L1 than FL (F(1, 49) = 19.11, p < .001, Eta squared = .28), but not in Academic reading attitudes (F(1, 49) = .005, p = .94). Academic reading attitudes showed a high correlation across L1 and FL, but Recreational reading attitudes showed only a moderate correlation between L1 and FL reading (please refer to Tables 5 and 6). See website

Q4: Recreational and academic reading attitudes by gender and proficiency levels

A series of two-way ANOVAs were again employed to compare the means across gender and proficiency levels. A main effect for Gender was found only in Academic reading attitudes in LI (F(1, 49) = 5.82, p < .05, Eta squared = .11); girls showed higher scores than boys. Although it did not reach a significant level, Recreational reading in L1 also showed a similar tendency. A main effect for proficiency was found only in Recreational reading attitudes in FL (F(1, 49) = 9.86, p < .01, Eta squared = .18); the students who had higher FL proficiency showed more positive attitudes towards Recreational reading in FL. No interaction effect was found in any of the attitudinal variables. (Refer to Tables 7 and 8.) See issue website


This study investigated young foreign language learners' reading attitudes in both their L1 and FL. First, the study found that students had higher affective and cognitive attitudes towards L1 reading than FL reading. This is consistent with Yamashita (2004), which investigated the reading attitude relationship between students' L1 and FL among college students. However, the present study also found that affective attitudes were highly correlated between L1 and FL reading, while cognitive attitudes showed only moderate correlations. While this finding supports the general claim that learners' reading attitudes in L1 are related to those in FL (or L2) reading, this is not consistent with Yamashita, wherein the cognitive domain showed a higher correlation between L1 and FL than the affective domain. The cognitive domain deals with learners' self-evaluations of their own reading abilities as well as their reading strategies. Since the present participants were young and did not have much experience learning a FL, these types of cognitive-related attitudes might not yet have been fully developed.

Affective attitudes towards recreational reading and academic reading were examined further in this study. It was found that the students showed more positive attitudes towards recreational reading in L1 than FL. Again, this may be due to the fact that the students in the present study might not yet have sufficient experience in recreational reading in FL compared with their L1 to develop attitudes specific to FL reading. Interestingly, the study also found a higher correlation between L1 and FL in academic reading attitudes than in recreational reading attitudes. In other words, students' feelings towards academic reading (i.e., the kinds of reading that is exercised in class) have more commonalities across languages than is the case with recreational reading. It is possible that young learners develop such attitudes in both languages simultaneously and that these attitudes are mutually reinforcing. How academic reading is introduced in both L1 and FL classes may reinforce the development of such attitudes. More detailed developmental analyses will be necessary to test this possibility.

The present study also examined young learners' reading attitudes depending on their gender and proficiency levels in FL and L1. First, consistent with McKenna et al. (1995), girls showed more positive affective attitudes than boys. Girls also showed more positive attitudes towards both recreational reading and academic reading. As McKenna et al. stated, this may be due to cultural expectations towards boys and girls depending on their specific cultural heritage.

Finally, the present study found that students who had a higher proficiency in FL showed more positive attitudes towards recreational reading in FL. It is interesting to note that such an attitudinal difference was already observed among even young, beginning learners of FL. This in turn suggests the importance of initial guidance and assistance for young learners to be able to find pleasure in reading in foreign languages.


The present study examined elementary school students' reading attitudes in both their L1 and FL (English in this case). In McKenna et al. (1995), elementary school students' attitudes towards reading in their L1 became less and less positive as they grew older. While the present study investigated only a single case of 6th graders studying in an EFL context, it would be important in future research to evaluate how students' reading attitudes towards both their L1 and FL develop over time, and how such attitudes may interact with their reading abilities in both languages. Moreover, a close examination would be needed to identify instructional techniques that can help young learners develop positive reading attitudes in both languages in bilingual/FL learning contexts. This seems particularly important given the fact that bilingual/FL education has become increasingly popular at the elementary school level in recent years.


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Constantino, R. (1994). Learning to read in a second language doesn't have to hurt: The effect of pleasure reading. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 39, 68-69.

Cho, K-S., & Kim, H-J. (2004). Recreational reading in English as a foreign language in Korea: Positive effects of a sixteen-week program. Knowledge Quest, 32(4), 36-38.

Cho, K., & Krashen, S. (1994). Acquisition of vocabulary from the Sweet Valley Kids series: Adult ESL acquisition. Journal of Reading, 37(8), 662-667.

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Mathewson, G. C. (1994). Model of attitude influence upon reading and learning to read. In R. B. Ruddell, M.R. Ruddell, & H. Singer (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (pp. 1131-1161). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

McKenna, M. C. (1994). Toward a model of reading attitude acquisition. In E. H. Cramer & M. Castle (Eds.), Fostering the life-long love of reading: The affective domain in reading education (pp. 18-40). Newark, DE. International Reading Association.

McKenna, M. C., & Kear, D. J. (1990). Measuring attitude toward reading: A new tool for teachers. The Reading Teacher, 43, 626-639.

McKenna, M. C., Kear, D. J., & Ellsworth, R. A. (1995). Children's attitudes toward reading: A national study. Reading Research Quarterly, 30(4), 934-956.

Yamashita, J. (2004). Reading attitudes in L1 and L2, and their influence on L2 extensive reading. Reading in a Foreign Language, 16(1), 1-19.

Yuko Goto Butler, University of Pennsylvania

Yuko Goto Butler is Assistant Professor in Language and Literacy in Education at the Graduate School of Education.
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Author:Butler, Yuko Goto
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 2007
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