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Book Review Reflection: English L2 Reading: Getting to the Bottom by Barbara M. Birch and Sean Fulop

Michelle Skowbo

Book Review Reflection: English L2 Reading: Getting to the Bottom

By Barbara M. Birch and Sean Fulop 

Image Cover English L2 Reading Getting to the Bottom Barbara M Birch and Sean Fulop ESL & Applied Linguistics Professional Series Routledge

By Soo Min Lee, Ed.D.

English L2 Reading: Getting to the Bottom, written by Barbara M. Birch and Sean Fulop, offers foundational knowledge on the brain organization and interactions between working memory and long-term memory. The main focus of this book is native speakers of English acquiring English from the very early stage of cognitive development to developing fluent listening and reading skills at school. Therefore, it starts off with the human brain organization and language awareness in early childhood. What’s important is that as children develop their cognition, it influences language awareness and vice versa. The authors point out that once a child has more developed language awareness, they have better support for reading and writing at school. Even though English L2 learners do not necessarily have language awareness issues in their early development, due to their various L1 backgrounds, they have to deal with a different writing system. As a result, English L2 readers go through interlanguage and language transfer in the process of becoming a fluent reader in English. 

The authors argue that listening comprehension is a good predictor of reading comprehension for native English readers; they devote one chapter to discuss not only the phonology of English in depth but also prosody of the language. They also stress that orthographic awareness is necessary for English L2 readers to process letters and be fluent readers. On a related topic, the authors discuss the relation between graphemes (spelling) and phoneme (actual pronunciation). Additionally, the use of statistics helps language teachers be aware of what are some common examples of grapheme-to-phoneme when they teach beginners of English. What’s more, language awareness activities that are introduced at the end of each chapter can be used in the classroom without any modification; moreover, these could work as a good topic to discuss and expand lessons in master’s programs. Throughout the book, various topics are introduced; English spelling and pronunciation rules, morphemes, eye movements, linguistic infrastructure (semantic memory, lexical awareness, and word count), word formation, reading development phases, and so on that English L2 educators would find useful. However, a lot of topics from this book overlap with those of fundamental linguistics. Because of the nature of this book, it does not expand topics further, such as setting a purpose of reading, using literature in the L2 reading classroom, or how to assess L2 English reading, which could be more practical for classroom instructors.