Author Topic: Readability  (Read 4544 times)

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Offline Randall Sadler

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« on: November 11, 2010, 09:25:12 AM »
While readability often is used to talk about whether a text is worth reading at all (e.g. That book was soooooo unreadable), it is also a term used to refer to a number of features from a text.

According to our friends at Wikipedia (downloaded 11/11/2010), readability refers to "Readability tests, readability formulas, or readability metrics are formulae for evaluating the readability of text, usually by counting syllables, words, and sentences."

There are a number of different formulas used to determine readability, but no that are fully developed for use in ESL classes.  Nonetheless, using a readability formula on a reading that  you have found to be an appropriate level for your students, getting the resulting number, and then using that number as a baseline for choosing future readings, can be a good strategy to ensure you are getting the right level of readings for your students.

You can also obtain some basic readability statistics directly from Microsoft Word (Flesch Reading Ease & Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level).  Just search for "readability" in the Word help area.  In Word '10 you can use this by: 
 1.  Click the Microsoft Office Button, and then click Word Options.
 2.  Click Proofing.
 3.  Make sure Check grammar with spelling is selected.
 4.  Under When correcting grammar in Word, select the Show readability statistics check box.
 5.  Now do a spelling & grammar check, and the statistics should pop up in a new window.

Another popular readability formula is the Gunning Fog Index
Here is an online tool to determine this index:

Other readability formulas include:
Some Online Text Analyzers
One of the challenges of ESL writing/reading teachers is to decide what texts are really appropriate for your students.  There are a number of text analyzers freely available, and though most of them are aimed at L1 readers, they can still have a very good idea of the relative level of readings.  A general note on readability stats.  You'll notice that the numbers they'll give you often vary...sometimes a lot!  They are tools to use in conjunction with your own judgment and experience.

A listing of a number of text analysis tools

Paste in a URL to test the readability of a website

Here is a website that lets you paste in or upload an attachment and provides a number of readability results:

One text anaysis formula specifically designed for EFL/ESL readers is the McAlpine EFLAW.  Unfortunately, I've been unable to find a free version of a program that does this calculation, so if you want to try it you'll have to use your own brain!

It is important to note that all of these formulas have strengths and weaknesses---sometimes more weaknesses than strengths.  However, they are an excellent way to have a more objective way to determine exactly how difficult a reading may be for your students.
« Last Edit: November 15, 2011, 08:58:44 AM by Randall Sadler »
Randall Sadler, Site Owner
Asst. Prof, Linguistics, U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign