The results of major reading achievement studies in the last decade have shown that there is an increase of deficits in reading literacy in school and foreign languages, among primary and lower secondary education in the GameLet project countries (cf. OECD 2010, 2014, 2019). For example, in Germany, the results of the International Primary School Reading Survey (IGLU) revealed that from 2001 to 2016 the proportion of pupils with reading difficulties rose from 16.9% to 18.9% (Krauß, 2017). Stated differently, one fifth of all primary school pupils in Germany show deficits in school-language reading skills (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, 2017). Inadequate reading competence has the potential to negatively impact a pupil’s learning across subjects, hence leading to poor overall performance.
As reading fluency has a bridging function between decoding performance and text comprehension, it is of central importance for the acquisition of reading competence in the first language (Grabe, 2009). Reading fluency consists of four dimensions: decoding accuracy, automatisation, reading speed and intonation, and must be taught systematically (Rosebrock & Gold, 2018). A fluent reader is one who is able to read effortlessly. Thus, reading fluency is the ability to automatically decode the words in a text with accuracy and speed. In other words, the ability to read without slowing down reading speed in order to comprehend individual words (Vasinda & McLeod, 2011). Thus, being able to read fluently means possessing basic reading skills that make it possible to assign word meanings reliably and quickly at the level of letters, words, sentences and text segments. It also means the ability to read (aloud) texts at an appropriate reading speed and meaning-oriented intonation (cf. Rosebrock & Nix, 2006).
The acquisition of appropriate reading fluency in both the school language and the foreign language is significant because research shows a close connection between reading fluency and reading competence (NICHD, 2000). Only when all four dimensions of the construct reading fluency function in a satisfactory range, is it possible for textual statements to be constructed and learned from texts (Rosebrock & Gold, 2018). However, school children acquire the ability to read fluently at different rates and, above all, at different levels of proficiency. There may be various reasons for these differences, for example, cognitive ability, acquired knowledge of letters; and phonological processing ability may also be important (Bowey, 2005).
Acquiring satisfactory reading fluency in a foreign language is equally important, so that fluent foreign language learners are able to cope with a greater degree of foreign language input. Moreover, foreign language skills help learners to become more motivated to read. There is evidence that foreign language reading fluency is connected to first language reading skills and the nature of the foreign language, which may differ linguistically at varying degrees from the first language. This points to a relationship between reading fluency in first and second language, which suggests that reading fluency can be transferred from one language to the next (script universal) (Pasquarella et al., 2015) and be acquired across languages with an approach such as the Multilingual Readers’ Theatre (see Kutzelmann et al., 2017).
The promotion of reading fluency, reading accuracy and reading comprehension can be achieved through repetitive reading methods (NICHD, 2000). Reading aloud methods (e.g. repeated reading, paired reading) target the level of the reading process. They promote fluent reading, where words and word sequences are grasped as a whole. In this way children practice word recognition until little if any mental effort is required (Bowey, 2005). In particular, repeated reading enhances learning, builds automaticity and increases reading pace; thus, learners perform better when reading the same passage (Muzammil & Andy, 2018). Moreover, the use of a recorded reading model, i.e. an auditory model, in repetitive reading activities, provides essential gains in oral reading, accuracy and text comprehension (Taguchi et al., 2012). Studies have provided evidence that repeated reading with guidance and feedback, boosts reading fluency in a foreign language, as well (Muzammil & Andy, 2018).
However, as effective as read-aloud methods may be, their use also poses challenges. First of all, they are time-consuming (Jamshidifarsani et al., 2019). Additionally, many of these methods require a reading partner for efficient practising; a condition that might be difficult to meet outside of the classroom (Durski et al., 2019). Furthermore, according to project team observations, some students find repeated reading aloud activities as monotonous, which reduces the motivation to practise (Massler et al., 2019).