[Various authors. Italy: ELI Publishing, 2009-2013. (Audio CDs included, and free downloads of complete MP3 audios, booklets and answer keys). Teen readers set: 14 books, ¥16,170. ISBN: 9784907063269; Individual books: ¥1,155, e-books ¥924; Young Adult set: 22 books, ¥34,650. ISBN: 9784865390209; Individual books: ¥1,575, e-books ¥1,260.]
ELI teen and young adult graded readers include original stories, adapted classics, and unabridged classics; currently there are approximately thirty-five titles paired with audio. They are CEFR-graded and range from 600 headwords to 2500 for adapted classics, and choices are increasing (e.g., a new adaptation of the Soseki classic Botchan). Most books include CDs and, notably, free downloads of the audiobooks online. All titles in the collection include background sections supplying relevant cultural or historical information to help learners situate the story. All titles also contain exercise sections, and glossary definitions at the bottom of pages. The paper editions are FSC-certified and e-book versions are now available as well.
These graded readers and audiobooks were piloted with university and adult students in a semester project during which learners were asked to choose something fun for at-home English practice. Other genres and series were competing options but ELI’s attractive collection was clearly appealing. Weekly class meetings began with brief sharing of students’ choices with partners. The pace of borrowing the ELI readers picked up over the semester, indicatingpositive word-of-mouth, which was corroborated both in students’ verbal and anonymous written feedback. Short books (Val’s Diary, or The Egyptian Souvenir) students could complete in a day, while longer ones (Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights) tended to take several weeks to complete.
In their feedback comments students mentioned a number of ways of enjoying their ELI stories. Listening and reading at the same time was a good experience for many, thanks to the inclusion of audio components. Paired reading and listening is gaining support in recent EFL research: Chang and Millet (2014) reported large gains in learners’ listening comprehension and fluency, in addition to vocabulary gains (Chang, 2011), as compared with reading only. Walter (2008), focusing on literacy in L2 English, calls “for progress in reading . . . increasing proficiency and exposure to the spoken language . . . for example, by encouraging students to read books at their level while listening to spoken word CDs” (p. 470).
Students also found another method, listening and reading separately, to be effective. A typical comment from these learners: “Listening before reading is very useful for understanding... I didn’t read book in English, but now I like reading.” This may have been because listening at leisure and reading later felt more natural than trying to force the two activities with sometimes mismatching speeds together, or because listening first provided a preview for understanding the written text. The Eli audiobooks were rated highly by students as pleasant, clear, and well-paced. The pacing is generally a little slower than for L1 listening, and is a pleasure to listen to, in particular the adaptations of Anne of Green Gables and Macbeth, and the original A Faraway World.
The extras in the books received praise from students. Many wrote that the artwork helped them imagine their stories, though some mentioned an occasional drawback: Jane Eyre was singled out by two readers who otherwise liked the story because the “pictures were so dark.” The vocabulary notes occasionally earned appreciation, as from readers of The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Wuthering Heights, though others said they preferred their dictionaries. The concise, helpful and entertaining background sections even include up-to-date information on movie adaptations or related popular music.
A few of the titles proved difficult in the EFL context: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, while slim and expected to be manageable at 800 headwords, defeated readers with its great number of characters with unfamiliar names, and the unabridged Heart of Darkness had no borrowers. In an enormously positive contrast, the 800-headword A Faraway World, which deals with themes of overcoming bullies and building racial understanding, was a favorite choice and borrowers said it helped increase their multicultural awareness.
Overall, the majority of books in the ELI series won enthusiastic reviews from students, who answered in their surveys that they liked the stories they chose, and consistently indicated that they felt their reading and listening skills improved and their vocabulary increased. Most encouraging were comments that their resistance to reading disappeared; all wrote that they wanted to try reading and listening to another book in the future.
The ELI series’ inclusion of audio components makes them particularly enjoyable and effective for learners crossing the bridge from struggling with reading to fluent bi-literacy. I would recommend choosing titles from the ELI series as valuable additions to any university library graded reading collection.
Chang, A. C-S. (2011). The effect of reading while listening to audiobooks: Listening fluency and vocabulary gain. Asian Journal of English Language Teaching, 21, 43-64.
Chang, A. C-S. & Millett, S. (2014). The effect of extensive listening on developing L2 listening fluency: Some hard evidence. ELT Journal, 68(1), 31-41. doi:10.1093/elt/cct052
Stephens, M. (2011). Why exposure to prosody should precede the teaching of reading. The Language Teacher, 35(4), 68–73.
Walter, C. (2008). Phonology in second language reading: Not an optional extra. TESOL Quarterly, 42(3), 455-474.