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Flesch-Kincaid readability scales and their relevance for the EFL / ESL
Judging the difficulty of reading texts for learners of
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
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:
- A Grade
level score corresponding to standard US
school grades, in which 12 is the final year of high school
Readability score on a scale of 0 - 100 in which 0 in
difficult" and 100 is "very simple".
the readability scale, scores between 80 and 70 are considered "plain
English"; scores between 70 and 60 are "fairly easy to read".
Flesch-Kincaid and the
scales are designed to measure readability by students who are native
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
and 5 years of EFL or ESL in a high-school environment (grades 7 - 10),
the language skills of the students.
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.
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.