Peter Viney is the English language consultant for the Usborne English Readers series.
He began teaching English in 1971, and has been a full-time author and teacher trainer since 1980, conducting teacher training workshops all over the world.
Peter is the co-author of many successful English coursebooks and video courses, as well as a longstanding author and series editor of graded readers for OUP, Garnet Education and Penguin. He is a director of the Extensive Reading Foundation, and a former judge of the ERF Language Learner Literature Awards.
Peter Viney – English language consultant for Usborne English Readers
Q: What appealed to you about working with Usborne Publishing?
I’ve always loved the visual appeal of Usborne books, which I used with my own children.
Q: There are so many graded readers on the market already. How are these different?
These are classic stories, carefully adapted with stimulating texts. The grading scheme for grammar and vocabulary has been designed specifically for the type of story. The quantity and quality of illustration is unmatched elsewhere. This supports comprehension and helps with new vocabulary.
Q: Are the series levels compatible with coursebooks and other reader series?
The Extensive Reading Foundation has charts for integrating readers from different publishers into a scheme. As a coursebook author with long experience, I have made sure that the levels meet general perceived notions of level divisions worldwide. The covers indicate CEFR levels and standard level descriptions.
Q: Are they suitable for a global audience?
Yes. Many reader series are aimed at one language group only, and assume guess rates from that. This makes them hard to use elsewhere. This series is in the group of truly international readers.
Q: What is extensive reading, and what benefits does it have for students?
I call it ‘Reading for Pleasure.’ That is, reading to understand the story in an enjoyable way, without continually stopping for language exercises, or comprehension questions, or vocabulary translation. This is why they are graded readers, both in grammar and vocabulary. The careful grading limits the exposure to a set number of new items per level, so that students can actively enjoy reading.
Q: Does extensive reading enhance students’ skills in other areas?
Many studies have shown that students who read more, and for pleasure, perform better in all skill areas. Use with the accompanying audio (recorded in British and in American accents) will enhance listening skills specifically.
Q: What do students learn from readers that they don’t already learn from coursebooks?
They learn to immerse themselves in content without continually referring back to their first language (L1). Vocabulary is expanded. Structures are reinforced by greater exposure. Because they will be able to read at a reasonable rate, they will be motivated.
Q: Shouldn’t students be reading authentic texts?
When? Until students are at a good intermediate level, authentic texts can only be accessed very slowly. They are daunting and demotivating. In fact, students should access some authentic materials in other parts of their studies, through activities like reading for limited specific information from a text. It’s quite a different skill. Much of what people call authentic isn’t. A TV drama for instance is scripted, rehearsed, and the writer will reinforce facts and re-explain events. Genuine spoken “authentic English” is full of hesitations… um, er, like, kinda… and no student wants to learn to be inarticulate.
Q: How are the titles chosen for this series?
At Level 1, there are familiar fairy tales and folk tales. These are reassuring for students as they may already know the story. Level 2 introduces more complex fairy tales, myths and legends. Level 3 has graded versions of English language classics including Shakespeare and Dickens.
Q: Are readers more useful in the library or the classroom?
I would use them in both classroom and in a library system. Ideally, I would have a reader that is a shared experience for a class, coupled with a library.
Q: How can readers be introduced in class?
There is a wide range of pre-activities, feedback, extension and discussion activities for extensive reading which can be done in class. Listening activities can be added.
Q: What’s the best way to use the audio?
The audio can be used with and without the text. I prefer to read silently first… the natural way for us to read. Then read and listen along. Finally, students can try listening without the support of the text. This can be done as a class or private activity. I would always say that students should be encouraged to revisit readers after a few days or weeks, to see how much more easily they can then read them.
Q: What kind of follow-up activities are useful?
The books include activities to test comprehension and consolidate understanding of grammar and vocabulary. There is also further information about the story or the author, and there are glossaries of new words. The activities are innovative in this series. They are designed to be involving and fun, rather than dry repetitions of mundane coursebook activities.