Back to interview list

Julian Bamford
Bunkyo University Shonan Campus
Information and Communications Department


I asked Julian to start with a brief summary/overview of an ER program he’s involved with. Julian maintains a lending library of graded readers in his office and employs ER in a senior-level seminar.  
I have a 300-book adult and children's graded reader and manga library in my office, and another 300 books placed in the university library. Students can borrow books for a week. They are asked to evaluate and perhaps comment on the book when they return it, using the form on page 69 of Extensive Reading Activities (CUP). Book borrowing in my office is with library cards and no supervision. Newly published books are purchased with my own research budget. Unpopular and unread books are removed from the library regularly. The bulk of the books are now at EPER levels C, D, E, F and G. The purpose of keeping the library is for students who enjoy reading to be able to use and improve their English through reading. I always encourage students to try reading when they ask me how they can learn English.

 I also use ER as part of one 4th year seminar class on English and how to study a foreign language (non-English majors). Students must read two EPER level G books (e.g., Penguin Easystarts, Oxford Bookworms Starter) per week for homework for a total of 24 books in the first semester, and books at their own choice of level (G or higher) in the second semester. They bring their book(s) to class and spend five minutes chatting about their week's reading to a partner, using optional prompts similar to pp. 93-4 in Extensive Reading Activities. The class is held in my office so the students borrow the books from my office library. The purpose is to give students all the good results of ER (more motivation to read and study, decoding/comprehension automaticity, deepening English knowledge, etc.).

After receiving Julian’s summary, we progressed with a follow-up interview.

What do you see as the relative advantages/disadvantages of the library-based and office-based collections? Why maintain both?

  • Library-based advantages:
    • Librarians do all check in/out work and reshelving (no need for me to make library cards, reshelve, etc.).
    • Books are available on Saturdays when my office is closed. This is especially useful for graduates and local residents.
    • Many students are too shy to come to my office, but have no trouble borrowing easy English books from the library.
  • Office-based advantages:
    • When students come asking how to improve their English, I have the books right there to show them the reading option, along with everything else on offer in my office (DVDs, magazines, etc.).
    • If I can show students actual books, there is more reality when I recommend reading to students.
    • Easy books help give an English ambiance to my office;
    • Easy books are good resource for students to pick up and read if they're in my office with no one to talk to--English magazines and manga are popular for this right now.
    • I can walk over and recommend particular books to a particular student (i.e. put the books in their hands).
    • I teach two classes in my office, so the books are right there for browsing, borrowing, returning.

Is your office structured so students can browse books without getting in your way? Or is part of the idea to keep in contact with them and talk about books?
I have a big office, so students can browse the library without bothering me. But it’s also a big advantage that I can glance over from my desk and intervene if I want to or am asked. And I can ask a reading student: "How was it?" or "You finished Volume 1. Do you want the next volume of GTO (manga)?"

Any general estimate of how many books get borrowed each week? Are most borrowers from your department?
Ten seminar students read two books a week = 20. Others: 10 books a week. (Right now, a graduate is borrowing 30 books and called to say she finished them all in a couple of weeks, but that's very unusual.) Most non-seminar borrowers are from the International Department. (There are no English majors in our college.)

I’m not sure how many are borrowed per week from the library.

How were the books in the library purchased? Library budget? How about the ones in your office collection?

  • Library: The initial purchase was made with a special library budget of several hundred thousand yen.
  • Office: The initial purchase was made with a special "large purchase" budget that I applied for. The library is mostly updated with my own money as I’d rather not bother to submit documentation for reimbursement.

Have you had any problems with losing book from your office library?
No problem at all. A small number of books wear out and fall to pieces. A very few students treat books badly (roll them up in their pockets or crease the covers), but the book survives. I do lose a few DVDs!

Do you see many students really latch onto this as an important, ongoing strategy for learning/enjoyment?
A very few, and of these, manga are what hook many of them. More latch on to hanging out and chatting (a dozen people per day), studying with study videotapes (6 borrowed a week), or watching DVD movies and TV shows (50 borrowed a week). That said, there are a lot of casual readers who browse magazines and read books in my office. It may not be ongoing, but reading in English is a part of life for these students.

How about your seminar course? What do you think are some of the main motivations for students choosing your seminar? How much previous English/ER exposure?
Students sign up for a number of reasons—interested in learning more English, having a foreign sensei and/or avoiding other more arduous or boring seminars. Before enrolling in the seminar, they've had six credits (four classes) of English with no ER.

How do you present/"sell" the ER program to them? (e.g., explaining goals & benefits, introducing them to the books?)
I tell them they have to read two EPER G-level books a week in the first semester, and that it's a great way to practice English. Guidelines include…

  • Don't use a dictionary--skip or guess or look at the picture
  • Don't reread bits you don't understand--just keep going.
  • Quit a book you don't like.
  • Choose books that look good, and read for fun. The only result I talk about is enjoying books.

Students give oral book reports to each other every week, sometimes recommending that their partner read the books. Things get more personal and individualized in the second semester when they can read at higher levels, and they usually do.

Is ER their only homework for the course?

No. Other duties include…

  • watching a one-hour study videotape
  • coming to my office to chat with others for 10 minutes (or watch 20 minutes of a movie or TV show)
  • keeping an English study diary for the week
  • doing a 15 to 30-minute assignment--part of an ongoing project connected with how people study foreign languages. This semester they are making an English phrase book for the university.

Do you have a method for monitoring student work with ER (e.g., short reports, reading logs)? How does student reading impact their grades?
I only count the number of books read. And I listen to the five student pairs giving their book reports simultaneously each week. If they read the 24 books, they get full credit; if they read more, they get extra credit. This semester, no one read more, though half the students did more chatting or TV/movie watching for extra credit.

What's your perception of how things are going / have gone? Any comments on student response, progress/benefits, attitudes, etc.?
I guess the greatest success is that students in the seminar come to see reading in English not as a big deal, but just as a natural part of their English identity, instead of being something they hate and can't do. Some students actually pick up books to browse and think nothing of it except, "is this something I want to read?"

Do you teach other English classes? If so, what dictated the decision to include ER in this seminar, but not other courses?
I don't want to burden my regular English classes with extra homework. It's also in response to the attitude of students--most wouldn't show up if I didn't take attendance. When a student does say she wants to improve her English (one or two a semester), then I invite her to my office, and reading easy books is one of the options I'll introduce. I try to give to the students in my regular courses, but how much I give does depend on how much they give me… ER would be a nutritious addition the regular classes, but the average student isn't hungry enough to appreciate it, so I don't bother.

Is anyone else in your department/school doing ER? Any cooperation there?
Not in my department. But a couple of teachers in Kokusai Gakubu are big on ER. Kokusai have recently made a graded reader library in their language center, and have dedicated staff to run the library and other resources. They've bought hundreds of mainly low level readers. The teachers assign them as homework, and the staff recommend visitors to the language center to read. I expect that 50 books or so are borrowed per week there.

Was there a particular experience, article, presentation, epiphany, etc. that got you started with ER?
It goes back to the early 1980s. Christopher Brumfit's article on graded readers* was the first thing I came across. After reading it, I laid in a bunch of readers at the English senmon gakko and found students loved reading them. Here’s a quote from Tony Donnes’ TLT article**:

Tony Donnes: To start with a bit of background, how did you become interested in reading in general, and extensive reading specifically?

Julian Bamford: For me, extensive reading came first. In the early 80s I was teaching beginning and intermediate students in an intensive EFL program in Tokyo. Most of the British publishers had graded readers in their catalogs and, ever on the lookout for something useful, we ordered some. Our students read them for homework and we began to realize we were on to something. Students were excited because they could read in English and succeed at it and excited at finding words that they'd learned in class. We saw that it was a way for the students to increase their contact with English and to practice skills they'd learned in their intensive reading classes. Deciding to write up what we were doing for The Language Teacher was probably the turning point for me, however. While researching that article, I found that the more I read about and considered extensive reading, the more interested I got.

*Brumfit, C.J. (1979). Readers for foreign language learners of English (ETIC Information Guide 7). London: The British Council.
**Donnes, T. (1999). Extensive reading revisited, An interview with Richard Day and Julian Bamford. The Language Teacher, 23(7), 4-7.

What are the main ways your ER work/program/system has evolved? Reasons for those changes?
The way I worked with ER/graded reading at the senmon gakko and at university are different, as the students and programs are different. I think I'm more laid back than I was in all my teaching, ER included--there is loss and gain in that. But something that hasn't changed is that I try to respond to what student like and want. I'll get more sports books, for example, or manga comics because they ask for them.

Any comments on response you've had to your approach from other faculty, administration, library staff, etc.?
Never negative. From most indifference (as for anything I do--each teacher is unto themselves); and from a few great enthusiasm. I enjoy helping Kokusai develop it's library.

Has the level of your students affected your decisions about whether or how to implement ER?
Yes. Everything about the students affects whether and how I do ER.

Back to interview list