Approaches to Teaching Reading in a Second Language and the Benefits of Extensive Reading Essay

Approaches to teaching reading in a second language and the benefits of extensive reading Written texts are indispensable parts of everyday life as sources of information or pleasure, therefore, developing reading skills is necessary not just in L1 but also in L2 learning and teaching. Reading is a complex psycholinguistic activity that incorporates combinations of determinants which differ in their level of importance depending on the reading context (Hudson 2007).Therefore, teaching reading should take into consideration factors like students cognitive development, the L1 and L2 proficiency level, learning styles, purpose of study, culture orientation and background knowledge. These could be different for each reader, therefore, as Coady (1979) notes “there is no one way to teach reading,” but rather it is the combination of various activities and approaches. The purpose of this paper is to describe the process of second language reading and the features and variables that affect it.Secondly, it points out how some current pedagogical approaches follow these theoretical facets.

Finally, it evaluates some approaches used within the context of teaching English to students in non-English speaking country where the input sources are limited. Process of second language reading Reading in a second language is no longer seen by experts in reading research as passive but as an interactive process in which the reader actively attains the comprehension from the text using previous experience and knowledge (Brown 2007).This interactive approach integrates simultaneously both bottom-up and top-down processes depending on the kind of the text. Using bottom-up processes the reader decodes in detail all textual components and with top-down processes he employs the world knowledge and previous experience (Richards 1997; Hudson 2007).

The different variables affect reading such as grapheme recognition, syntactic structure, background knowledge, processing strategies, text structure understanding, vocabulary and context of the reading act (Hudson 2007).The role and combinations of these vary according to the nature of the text, desired comprehension, time and the development of a reader from “concrete process strategies such as phoneme-grapheme correspondences and word meaning, gradually to the more abstract process strategies such as context and syntax. ” (Coady 1979:8) For reader to comprehend the L2 text, the fluent orthographic processing (word recognition) is essential (Jung 2009). Background knowledge also carries significant importance.The research realized by Recht and Leslie (1989 cited in Hudson, 2007:144) indicates that, regardless the reader? s reading ability, the prior knowledge can determine the quality of text interpretation and understanding.

Reading in L2 is also influenced by factors like reader? s cognitive development, L1 and L2 language proficiency, metacognitive knowledge, degree of difference between L1 and L2 and cultural orientation (Aebersold 1997). Prerequisite for any L2 reading with adequate comprehension is lexical knowledge.Several studies that examined the needed lexical threshold for successful comprehension present different findings. According to some Liu and Nation 1985, Laufer 1989, Hirsh and Nation 1992 cited in Prichard, 2011) a 95% lexical coverage is required to comprehend L2 text. However, this cannot be taken literally as for example, the research conducted by Prichard and Matsumo (2011) shows that even 90-95% coverage has not effectuated sufficient comprehension, while Hu and Nation? s (2000 in Hudson, 2007) study concluded satisfactory threshold level between 80% and 90%.One of the possible reasons of this disparity could be found in text difficulty.

Efficient reading requires certain level of lexical knowledge; furthermore, it also instigates an incidental and/or intentional word acquisition and supports fluency development. While studies revealed only small but not insignificant indirect vocabulary gain, provided that words occur in texts with high frequency, the intentional word acquisition through explicit instruction before or after reading seems to be more effective, particularly for lower level proficiency students (Sonbul 2010).The reader applies different reading skills and reading strategies while reading. The definitions and categorisations of these differ. For example Gordon (1982 in Hudson 2007:82) divides reading skills to three main categories: lower-level skills (decoding), higher-level skills (comprehension) and strategies (metacognition). By skills Paris (1996 cited in Hudson, 2007:106) apprehend automatic information-processing techniques used by reader unconsciously while the strategies are described as intentionally adapted actions to obtain meaning from the text.Metacognition in reading helps reader to understand and regulate the reading process, its planning, monitoring and evaluation. According to Lovet and Flavell (1990 cited in Hudson, 2007:112) study the more experienced reader, the better use of appropriate strategies.

Approaches to teaching reading As it has been said, both bottom-up and top-down processes collaborate in ones reading, but some approaches, like for example teaching phonics also known as phonemic awareness, focus mainly on bottom-up processes like decoding and spelling.Contrary to teaching phonics is the Whole Language Approach with focus on meaning and strategy instruction. In recent years the strong emphasis has been on developing top-down processes not just in reading but also in teaching other language skills. One approach that relies on students’ previous knowledge is the Language Experience Approach where students compose their material for reading (Brown 2007).

This is mostly suitable for beginning readers who can control the content, structure and choice of lexis (Aloyousef 2005).Most traditional coursebooks contain texts and reading activities for explicit intensive reading. This direct approach, often realized through task-based learning, concentrates on learners’ comprehension, expansion of vocabulary, language focused learning and developing specific reading strategies such as skimming, semantic mapping, prediction and inferring. On the other hand, the indirect approach that receives a lot of attention in ELT research and practice, is extensive reading based on principles that are described in Krashen? s input hypothesis theory in natural approach of language acquisition.Studies realized in EFL settings confirm the benefits of extensive reading in language learning (Renandya 2007, Lee 2007). Extensive reading Incorporation of extensive reading into the curriculum compensates unbalanced proportion of time spend on actual reading and comprehension activities within intensive reading. As Smith (1988 in Renandya 2007:135) and others mention, the reading is learnt by reading. This is the principle on which the extensive reading approach is based.

(Day 2011) Students read a lot of comprehensible material provided by graded readers without the urge to understand and translate every word or focus on grammar.This makes reading more enjoyable and has a positive effect on developing writing skills, spelling, vocabulary, grammar and fluency. Grabe (2010) states that implicit learning rather than explicit learning is the way to acquire many reading skills such as automatic word recognition, a large vocabulary, skilled grammatical processing, and the meaning formation for reading comprehension. However, implicit learning only has this positive effect when students are extensively and repeatedly exposed to it over a longer period of time.Some important features that affect reading are motivation, content and media, text structure, strategies and skills (Hudson 2007).

Pre-reading activities used with ER help to increase motivation and activate students’ schemata as a base for the text-reader interaction. The freedom of choosing reading material encourages students to encounter different content and use individual strategies and skills. After-reading activities provide opportunity for students “to respond personally, imaginatively or creatively” (Parminter 2011) to their reading.Using extensive reading in classroom with pre-, while- and post- reading activities can bring balanced learning environment applying all four strands: meaning-focused input by level appropriate enjoyable material; meaning-focused output in form of oral or written respond to reading content; language-focused learning practiced in the same context as meaning-focus input; and fluency development (Nation and Bonesteel). Extensive reading, as a highly individual activity, despite its proven positive effects, challenges the traditional teacher cantered instruction teaching.

There are other reasons for absence of ER in education such as class time limitation, lack of adequate reading materials and teachers beliefs (Macalister 2010). Teaching reading in context of non-English speaking country Although the reading has been described as interactive process in many EFL contexts, including my home country, students are still exposed to inconsequential, overfamiliar, often artificial, difficult texts in course books that are used for grammar, vocabulary or structure analysis without the place for text-reader interaction and enjoyment (Donough 2003).This kind of reading could have negative effect on students attitudes towards reading when it is seen as a laborious word by word translation, studying grammar or language analysis.

It also forms slow reading habit leading to vicious circle of understanding less, reading less and enjoying less (Nuttal 1996). To increase students’ motivation to L2 reading, implementing activities like extensive reading, in the classroom, can strengthen focus on reading instruction rather than prevalent language instruction through intensive reading.Teaching L2 reading in described context with language instruction and comprehension focused tendency often overlooks the importance of developing word recognition automaticity which is important for building sight vocabulary that leads to reading fluency. Coursebooks texts often introduce new vocabulary on every page without providing context for reappearing. Statistics made by Zahar, Cob and Spada (2001 in Alyousef 2005:151) uncovered the necessity to encounter word 6-20 times depending on context before its acquisition.

One way of sight vocabulary development and reinforcement is repeated reading.The learners read shorter parts from graded readers repeatedly silently or orally in order to form automaticity in lower-level comprehension, furthermore, combined with listening the correct pronunciation is strengthen. Study carried by Taguchi, Takayasu-Maass and Gorsuch (2004) approved positive effect of repeated reading on reading fluency and comprehension.

However, teacher should consider the way of application of this method according to teaching goals and students’ needs as reading the same text over and over can lead to attention and motivation loss especially with young learners.From my observation, the common practice in many English classrooms in Slovak primary schools is repeated oral reading that in some ways helps students to adopt correct pronunciation and develop word recognition skills, but most of the time only lower-level skills are engaged without proceeding to higher-level skills. In some EFL contexts the L2 reading sources are often limited and primary consist of texts from coursebooks. These are often based on foreign background which can on one hand help students to raise cultural awareness but on the other hand it slows the reading process and comprehension.

Study carried by Anderson (1979 in Jung 2009:35) and also Lipson? s research (1983 cited in Hudson 2007:143) showed that the reading speed and comprehension is better when the students read about their native culture rather than reading culturally unfamiliar text because more of background knowledge is activated. Even though the background knowledge is not the only condition of comprehension it has significant role, therefore, the reading material should include also some culturally familiar texts. L2 reading is significantly influenced by L1 reading.Many students in school settings develop L1 reading strategies and skills, as part of the curriculum, at the same time as they attain second language. Although the emphasis on particular reading strategies taught in L1 may vary in different educational systems, forming cross curricular connections can have positive influence on developing students? metacognitive knowledge. In Calero-Breckheimer and Groetz (1993 in Hudson 2007) study, Spanish young EFL students read the stories in both languages while their use of strategies and story recollection was noted and compared.The results show the use of same strategies regardless of language, which proves the transfer of L1 reading skills into L2 reading. Conclusion Reading as a complex process of text-reader interaction requires use of different skills and strategies according to purpose of reading and nature of the text.

Therefore, teaching reading should take into account all different variables, adapt use of methods and approaches to chosen goals and provide balanced learning environment. As Adams (1990) remarks the students will face difficulty in learning to read if “balance” is lost.That happens when “reading instruction becomes so skills-oriented that meaning and the joy of reading are lost, or when literature is emphasized to the point that important skills and strategies are not taught”. In other words extensive reading should complement still predominant intensive reading in the classroom and teachers should use variety of teaching reading methods according to students needs.

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