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Most extensive reading programs rely on graded readers as the main source of reading material, especially for learners at lower proficiency levels. There is considerable variation among publishers with regard to the way graded readers are categorized into levels of difficulty. The most common means of categorization is the number of headwords. This paper reports on some initial findings of a 3-year study of Japanese language learners. Interviews and think aloud protocols carried out with junior and senior high school and university students (N = 83) show that additional factors need to be taken into consideration when assessing the level of difficulty of graded readers. The findings suggest that authors and editors need to pay closer attention to the likely age range of the target readers, cultural issues, use of idiomatic and figurative language, literary devices, illustrations, and plot structure when determining the readability of graded readers.
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