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The Flesch-Kincaid readability scales and their relevance for the EFL / ESL class

Judging the difficulty of reading texts for learners of English


Index : The Flesch-Kincaid scales Relevance for the EFL environment

A comparison of different readability scales

The Flesch-Kincaid readability analysis and the CEFR - IELTS grading systems measure slightly different parameters; essentially Flesch-Kincaid analyses documents for their readability by people living in an English-speaking environment, whereas the CEFR and IELTS scales analyse documents for their accessibility to learners of a foreign language.
   In many cases the different systems will produce the same result - but not always. Flesch-Kincaid, for example, underestimates the difficulty for non-native speakers of documents containing lots of short sentences, such as dialogues.
The Linguapress overall assessments are a synthesis between these and other grading systems.

Linguapress overall assessment
Flesch-Kincaid readability scores and levels CEFR LEVELS  - IELTS
0-50 Very difficult (Higher education level) C2 Mastery  8 - 9
50 - 60 Fairly difficult (11th or 12th grade - final years of high school) C1 Advanced  7 - 8
60 - 70  Plain English - should be easy to understand by students from 14 to 15 years upwards B2 Upper intermediate - 6 - 7
70 - 80  Fairly easy - accessible to students aged 13 upwards B1 intermediate - 4.5 - 6
80 - 90  Easy  A2 elementary  - 3 - 4
90 - 100  Very easy :  A1 EFL beginners  - 1 - 2

The Flesch-Kincaid readability scales

The Flesch-Kincaid scales were originally devised in the 1970s by the United States Navy in order to ensure that all documents were written in a level and style of language that would be understandable by people who would have to read them. They were later developed as a tool for grading the difficulty of written texts used in education.
    The scores awarded for any written document are obviously not always perfectly accurate, given that they are the result of a computerized textual analysis that cannot take all incidental criteria into account; but they give a fairly good overall assessment of how easy or difficult a written document will be to understand.
    In brief, they are a technical analysis of the use of short words and longer words, and the number of words per sentence. Basically speaking the shorter the words, the easier the level of English, and the shorter the sentences, the easier they are to understand.
    This analysis works particularly well for texts in English, since English is an "analytic" language with very few word endings; in addition, the bulk of everyday English vocabulary consists of words of Germanic origin, whereas most of the more complex words, literary words or scientific terms, are of Latin or Romance origin (See the history of English), and also longer.

The Flesch-Kincaid analysis or a text produces two scores:   

Flesch-Kincaid and the EFL class

Flesch-Kincaid scales are designed to measure readability by students who are native English speakers. 
Consequently the Grade level result for a given text normally needs to be adapted for judging which grade or which class a text is suitable for using with in an EFL or ESL environment.
   A text that is analysed as being suitable for study in Grade 6 (last year of primary education, ages 11 - 12 ) in a native-English school environment can be considered suitable for students with between 2 and 5 years of EFL or ESL in a high-school environment (grades 7 - 10), depending on the language skills of the students.
   Technical texts will get a higher grade rating on account of the specialist vocabulary used, so a text graded 8 for an English-speaking school environment may be suitable for grades 8-10 in an EFL environment.
   Dialogues: Flesch-Kincaid analyses do not work well on dialogues, on account of the many short sentences and short words. Flesch-Kincaid considers them to be easier than they actually are.



Any text can be checked online using the tool available here. This readability tool will grade a text for Flesch-Kincaid values and according to a number of other readability indices.

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A selection of teaching resources in graded English
from Linguapress
Selected pages
Advanced level reading :
Charles Babbage, the father of the computer
Who killed Martin Luther King?
USA - Discovering Route 66
London's Notting Hill Carnival
Advanced level short stories:
Blue Gum Tree
Lucky Jim
More: More advanced reading texts  
Intermediate resources :
Mystery - the Titanic and the Temple of Doom
Who is James bond ?
Sport: Sports, American style
Big red London buses
USA: Who was Buffalo Bill?
USA: Close encounters with a Twister  
More:   More intermediate reading texts  
Selected grammar pages
Online English grammar
Noun groups in English
Word order in English
Reported questions in English
Miscellaneous
Language and style 
Word stress in English
The short story of English




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