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Barriers to Reading Comprehension

BARRIERS TO READING COMPREHENSION

Elley (1984) exploring the reading difficulties of second – language learners in Fiji supports more books in schools and an instructional approach that encourages students to read even much more than that taught in the schools. A reading program that is based on high interest stories in order to encourage reading by primary school students is also suggested by him.

The major difficulties in reading comprehension have been identified by various researchers and can be summed up as follows:

ANXIETY

Anxiety is a basic human emotion that consists of fear and uncertainty.  According to Deutsch (2005) there are many variables that cause difficulties in ESL/EFL learning to read. He observed that junior and high school students experience problems while taking reading comprehension tests. “Reading in a foreign language causes anxiety and poor language achievement in conjunction of students’ levels of reading anxiety and general foreign language anxiety.” Unfamiliar scripts, writing systems, and unfamiliar cultural material are some factors that cause ESL/EFL reading anxiety. Low language proficiency and teacher diversity cause an emotional block to reading in students when they take a reading comprehension test. There are many irrational beliefs also that cause anxiety among foreign and second language students. Foreign language anxiety only increases students’ problems with decoding the text and actual processing of textual meaning” (ibid.). Deutsch observed ESL/EFL students’ with Hebrew as their first language, lacking the skills to cope with reading comprehension tests.

It is difficult to get students to take an interest in reading inside or outside the EFL classroom. There are several reasons for this, which all stem from one general problem – “deep – rooted fear of reading in English.” Students may have a sufficiently high level of English to enjoy and appreciate good, interesting authentic texts but they too often lack in confidence to attempt to enjoy it, or think that reading is nothing but a classroom chore (Davies, 2007).

PROCESSING DIFFICULTIES

Many ESL learners have processing difficulties. According to Deutsch (2005), processing difficulties result in students trying to avoid reading or what may be called ‘reading avoidance.’ “ESL students will just give up if they are unable process the words.”

SELECTION OF READING MATERIAL

The material selected for reading, if difficult, also blocks the way to comprehension. Hagboldt (1925, p. 297) writes that if in the first four to six weeks, the content of the reading material is very familiar; it links the target language to the content. If the reading material is interesting and not difficult, a reading habit is established, and the fatigue and discouragement connected with modern language courses easily avoided.

When choosing texts, consideration must be given to what background knowledge may be necessary for full comprehension, figurative meaning, cultural stance, meaningful connection of the text to the lives of learners, letting them bring in their choice of texts. This could be a telephone bill, letter, job memo, want ads, or the back of a cereal box. Motivation will be higher if the teacher uses materials of personal interest to his learners (“Teaching Reading”, July 17, 2008).

DYSLEXIA

It is a slight disorder of the brain that causes difficulty in reading and spelling but does not affect the intelligence. True dyslexia involves the ability to understand spoken language but an inability to decode text (Wren, 2001, p. 14).

Formal diagnosis of dyslexia is made by a qualified professional, such as a neurologist or an educational psychologist. Evaluation generally includes testing of reading ability together with measures of underlying skills such as tests of rapid naming, to evaluate short term memory and sequencing skills, and onward reading to evaluate phonological coding skills. Evaluation will usually also include an IQ test to establish a profile of learning strengths and weaknesses. However, the use of a discrepancy between full scale IQ and reading level as a factor in diagnosis has been discredited by recent research. It often includes interdisciplinary testing to exclude other possible causes for reading difficulties, such as a more generalized cognitive impairment or physical causes such as problems with vision or hearing (“Dyalexia”, 2009).

Dyslexia is a learning disability that manifests itself primarily as a difficulty with writing, particularly with reading. It is separate and distinct from reading difficulties resulting from other causes, such as a non – neurological deficiency with vision or hearing, or from poor or inadequate reading instruction. Evidence suggests that dyslexia results from differences in how the brain processes written and spoken language. Although dyslexia is thought to be the result of a neurological difference, it is not an intellectual disability. Dyslexia is diagnosed in people of all levels of intelligence (ibid.).

Wasti (2008) writes that in Pakistan the state of children, with the same kind of problems and how their struggles to achieve academic success goes unnoticed also it is not only real, but complicated and confusing. Any learning disability can be described as a neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to understand, interpret, or clarify what he sees and hears. Such a person may find it difficult to link information from different parts of the brain, thus confusing themselves completely if presented with multiple instructions. In other words, the person can see and hear, but his brain cannot fully grasp the meaning of an instruction, an action or simply a word.

The greatest problem in Pakistan regarding this situation is the fact that hardly more than one in 20 people are aware what learning disorders actually are. If, for example, a child has difficulty in reading and writing, he is dubbed stupid at school and lazy at home. Both parents and teachers think that the child is deliberately trying to be difficult because he does not want to study. Punishments ensue, and in a matter of days the poor soul begins to believe that he really is stupid or lazy, that there is something seriously wrong with him, and that she can never be like other children (ibid.).

HYPERLEXIA

Hyperlexia is characterized by the ability to rapidly and easily decode the text without understanding what is being read. This is a very rare reading disorder (ibid.).

In hyperlexia, a child masters single –word reading. It can be viewed as a superability, that is, word recognition ability far above expected levels. The more common definition also includes difficulties with comprehension of printed material beyond or even at the single – word level. Many hyperlexics also have trouble understanding speech. Hyperlexic children are often fascinated by letters and numbers. They are extremely good at decoding language and thus often become very early readers. Some hyperlexic children learn to spell long words before they are two and learn to read whole sentences before they turn three. Hyperlexia may be the neurological opposite of Dyslexia. Often, hyperlexic children will have a precocious ability to read but will learn to speak only by Rote Learning  and heavy repetition, and may also have difficulty learning the rules of language from examples or from trial and error, which may result in social problems. Despite hyperlexic children's precocious reading ability, they may struggle to communicate. Their language may develop using repeating words and sentences. Often, the child has a large vocabulary and can identify many objects and pictures, but cannot put his language skills to good use. Spontaneous language is lacking and his pragmatic speech is delayed. Hyperlexic children often struggle with Who? What? Where? Why? and How? questions. Between the ages of 4 and 5 many children make great strides in communicating. Social skills often lag tremendously. Hyperlexic children often have far less interest in playing with other children than do their peers (“Hyperlexia”, 2009).

GARDEN VARIETY

Garden – variety reading disorder characteristically involves a difficulty decoding text and a difficulty understanding spoken language. This disorder is relatively commoner than Dyslexia and Hyperlexia.

LACK OF PRIOR/BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE

According to Readence, Bean & Baldwin (1985), one of the most universal findings to emerge from recent research is the marked degree in which a learner’s prior knowledge of a topic facilitates future comprehension. The prior knowledge of pathway to understanding new ideas, when related to content area assignments, is crucial. Content teachers must take steps to determine students’ prior knowledge and background experiences of a topic before deciding the students can cope with a specific unit of study.

Nuttall (1982, p. 6) writes that the difficulty of a reading material also depends on the “amount of previous knowledge that the reader brings to the text.” So the reading material may be difficult for a person who does not have prior of the material he is reading while the same material may be an easy one for someone else.

Prior knowledge is to be activated even before learners start reading the text, as part of Pre – reading. Pre – reading activities get students ready to read a text. Taking time to prepare students before they read can have a considerable effect on their understanding of what they read and their enjoyment of the reading activity (Sasson, 2007).

ESL/EFL learners need a reason to read. Activating prior knowledge is extremely important therefore for the ESL or EFL learner who does not feel completely confident of his ability to read in the target language. This is where pre – reading activities come in. Pre – reading also has practical implications for lesson design and planning. A reading lesson typically has three parts: pre, while and post activities. The logic behind activating prior knowledge is to build upon what students already know about a topic as a lead – in to the main reading task. The more teachers activate students’ prior knowledge, the easier it will be for the students to retain new information from the main reading task (ibid.).

INBUILT READING DISABILITIES

According to Karen Woodman, a linguistics professor at the University of New England in Australia, language teachers have to face it as a challenge to take a decision when a student’s problem relates to learning English and when it is actually a learning disability. Studies have been conducted to examine accuracy of teacher assessments of second language students at risk for reading disability and to examine the assessment methods for screening children for reading disability (Deutsch, 2005).

LACK OF READING QUANTITY

Tanaka & Stapleton (2007) write that lack of reading quantity in EFL classrooms has remained one of the most serious problems faced by teachers of English in Japan. The extensive reading is not used in many EFL classrooms. Results of this study revealed that than those who read graded readers, scored significantly higher in reading speed and comprehension than those who did not. They suggest that Japanese high schools and more broadly, English teachers in input – poor EFL settings should increase reading input within the students’ linguistic levels both inside and outside of the classroom.

2.7.6 INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES

There may be individual differences which Handschin (1919, p.161) highlighted suggesting that simultaneous class instruction produces students who cannot keep up and also those who are faster. These individual differences can be catered for by dividing the class into two ability groups, each with a student leader. If clear assignments are given to each, the faster group that finishes first may profitably do an extra assignment, while the slower group is able to study more thoroughly without the pressure of keeping up.

Awareness to the individual differences in learning process contributes to effective learning and raises self esteem and also develops students’ potentials in ESL and EFL learning (Deutsch, 2005).

PUNCTUATION MARKS

Punctuation is defined by Watkins (1973, p. 52) in the following words:

It is a set of conventions for representing the syntactical organisation of a written text and also for representing the variation in vocal pitch and rhythm appropriate to a spoken performance of the text … It shows how a piece of writing should ‘go’ in a spoken performance.

While reading the punctuation marks can also become a hindrance towards grasping the meaning. Watkins says that fashions in punctuation change rapidly. Moreover, the situation becomes complicated by each publishing house having its own rules of punctuations. Besides some standard practices, every writer suits his punctuation to what he imagines to be sound of his own voice (p. 53). Students cannot be expected to just to pick up the principles of punctuation without instructions. A teacher has to tell them about the various punctuation rules (p. 54). Watkins does not appreciate the exercise, given to students, of providing punctuation marks to a text which is written by someone else. “There is a risk of pupils becoming skilled at doing punctuation exercises and remaining poor at general punctuation” (p. 54). The effort should be to improve students’ own punctuation not that of someone else’s (p. 54). This makes it clear that if students are not good in understanding punctuation rules and their application, they might face problems in reading and understanding a text.

THE PROBLEM OF ENGLISH SPELLING

As English is not a phonetic language, spelling might be confusing factor for the students to understand a reading text. “Minor errors in spelling often thwart many … from obtaining high grades in otherwise perfect assignments, essays and stories.” Many native and non native speakers of English find spelling rules arbitrary unlike some other languages where mostly the words can be spelled easily following the pronunciation. “This causes hassle for many students when it comes to memorising spelling and leads to errors in written assignments (Mustehsan, 2008, p. 21). On the other hand, Watkins writes that “… It is fashionable to blame bad spelling on the look – and – say method of learning to read and also fashionable to attribute it to dyslexia” (1973, p. 55). Literacy with bad spelling is preferable to illiteracy which gives no chance to spell at all. The best thing to do about spelling is not to fuss and worry about it much. Mostly students, by the age of 16 if practice reading and writing properly, learn to spell quite reasonably and accurately (ibid.). “They do pick up spelling as they go along, and many become perfect. The teacher must try to develop in students a concern for correct spelling as an element in efficient communication (ibid.).

WRONG BELIEFS ABOUT READING

Reading is so much a part of daily life for people living in literate communities that they hardly think about the purpose and process involved in it. This activity is taken for granted just as listening and speaking (Wallace, 1996, p.5). Learners’ attitude and feelings play an important role in ESL/EFL learning when motivational problems affect reading proficiency (Deutsch, 2005).

Wren (2002) points out many wrong beliefs about the instructions of reading skill. Some of them are as mentioned here:

  • Learning to read is a natural process.

He writes that it has often been suggested that children will learn to read if they are simply immersed in literacy – rich environment and allowed to develop literacy skills in their own way. “This pernicious belief that learning to read is a natural process resulting from rich text experiences is surprisingly prevalent in education — despite the fact that learning to read is not only unnatural, it is one of the most unnatural things humans do.”

There is a difference between learning to read text and learning to understand a spoken language. Learning to understand speech is indeed a natural process but reading acquisition is not. Reading and writing are human inventions. If reading were natural, everybody would be doing it, and we would not have to worry about dealing with a 'literacy gap.'

  • Children will eventually learn to read if given enough time.

Wren writes that when a child is not developing reading skills along with peers, that situation should be of great concern. In the early grades, the literacy gap is “relatively easy to cross, and with diagnostic, focused instruction, effective teachers can help children who have poor literacy skills become children with rich literacy skills.” However, if literacy instruction needs are not met early, the gap widens – “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer” – until bridging it requires “extensive, intensive, expensive, and frustrating remedial instruction” (ibid.).

  • Some people are just genetically "dyslexic."

The belief in an underlying genetic cause for dyslexia ignores the fact that reading and writing simply have not been around long enough to become a specific part of genetic makeup. It was long argued that when a disparity existed between a person’s intelligence and hid reading skill, he should be described as a dyslexic. The term dyslexic eventually became a catch – all term used to account for people who failed to learn to read despite apparent intellectual capacity and environmental support (ibid.).

Dyslexia simply means ‘difficulty with words,’ and anybody who has not learned to read could be called dyslexic. There is nothing about this definition that addresses the underlying reasons for the difficulty with words. People fail to learn to read for a very wide variety of reasons, and categorizing all nonreaders under the dyslexia umbrella belies the complexity of reading disorders (ibid.).

Some people have more difficulty learning to read than others. The three reasons people have difficulty developing basic reading skills are that they have difficulty developing decoding skills, language comprehension skills, or both (ibid.).

Difficulties developing decoding skills very often arise from difficulties processing sounds in speech. Some people seem to have an easier time than others mentally breaking spoken words apart and discerning the subparts of spoken words – such as alliteration and rhyme (ibid.).

To learn to decode words in alphabetic systems like English, it is necessary to understand that the letters in text represent the phonemes in speech. It is unlikely that people who have difficulty hearing and manipulating the phonemes in speech will make the connection between letters and phonemes. It could be argued that there is a genetic foundation for variations in phonological processing skills – some people seem to naturally tune in to speech sounds, and others seem to have difficulty examining and manipulating the phonemes in speech. Furthermore, these abilities have a tendency to run in families. However, even if there are specific genetic foundations for phonological processing skills, it is quite easy to teach children to be aware of the phonemes in speech whatever their genetic tendencies (ibid.).

While some learners have difficulty developing decoding skills because of poor phonological processing skills, others simply do not get adequate instruction in other necessary knowledge domains important for developing good decoding skills such as concepts about print, letter knowledge, and knowledge of the alphabetic principle. Sometimes, they fail to get sufficient opportunities to practice decoding real words and thus fail to develop fluent, automatic word recognition skills (ibid.).

There is no genetic factor for insufficient instruction – the deficit is not intrinsic to the child; it is intrinsic to the classroom and the system that failed to help the child to develop these critical knowledge domains (ibid.).

Difficulty developing language comprehension skills often stems from either insufficient exposure to or practice with a particular language. Children often have well – developed language comprehension skills in languages other than English. To understand a language well, children must develop a rich vocabulary and appreciation for semantics, and they must combine that with a wealth of background knowledge about the world. They also need to have an implicit understanding of the mechanics of the language, and their ear needs to be tuned to the phonology of the language so they can distinguish words that sound similar (ibid.).

There are very few genetic factors that lead to reading difficulty. Most factors that result in reading difficulty are environmental, but either way, research has shown that good instruction can overcome all of these factors. The unpleasant fact, that we must come to terms with, is that the reason that so many children are "dyslexic" has little to do with the genetic makeup of the children; it has to do with the quality of their education. They were simply never taught to read (ibid.).

  • Short – term tutoring for struggling readers can help them catch up with their peers, and the gains made will be sustained.

Many reading instruction interventions common in schools involve pulling a student out of the regular classroom for a period of time and sending that student to a reading specialist or a tutor for short, intensive, one – on – one instruction sessions. After a few weeks or months of intensive intervention, the students are exited from the intervention program, and they resume normal classroom activities. The prevalence of these fairly expensive programs reflects an underlying belief that this sort of intervention is effective and that the gains children experience in these programs are sustained when they return to the normal classroom (ibid.).

But it is evident that such gains as are made by children in these programs are not sustained for very long once they are exited from the program. Studies of pull – out tutoring programs have shown that children who are not thriving like their peers in the classroom continue to fail to thrive when they are placed back in that classroom full time. This suggests that there is something about the classroom environment that is not supporting and scaffolding these children as they learn to read (ibid.).

Studies have shown that the best hope for these children is to place them with a ‘strong’ reading teacher full time – a teacher who has a sophisticated understanding of the process of learning to read, a tendency to use assessment data to inform individualized instruction, and a talent for engaging students in focused and interesting instructional activities (ibid.).

  1. The solution for helping struggling readers succeed is to cultivate a population of teachers who are very knowledgeable about how children learn to read and who are adept at applying their understanding of reading acquisition to the assessment and instruction of individual children. Perhaps instead of having our most highly trained and knowledgeable reading teachers pulling students out of class for individual tutoring, a better use of their time would be to make them responsible for providing ongoing, job – imbedded professional development and coaching for the other teachers on staff so that all of the teachers can develop expertise in reading theory and reading instruction (ibid.).
  • If it is in the curriculum, then the children will learn it, and a balanced reading curriculum is ideal.

Just because a concept or skill is taught is no guarantee that every child will learn it. Standards are shifting from an emphasis on what is taught to an emphasis on what is learned, and curricula are making the same shift. However, it is still common to divide a curriculum into instructional minutes and to focus more closely on what is taught than on what is learned. A curriculum is too often confused with a recipe, but creating proficient readers is not as simple as mixing ingredients in correct proportions. Teaching a complicated skill, such as reading, to a diverse group of students requires a great deal of flexibility and creativity on the teacher’s part (ibid.).

As to whether a curriculum should reflect a balanced reading approach, the answer is, again, yes and no. Unfortunately, the term "balanced reading" is not very clearly defined. Most teachers currently claim they employ a balanced approach to their reading instruction, but what a "balanced approach" means to one teacher may be very different from what a "balanced approach" means to another. The approach most commonly used is to provide instruction traditionally associated with both the phonics and the whole – language philosophies and to add such elements as phoneme awareness that were never traditionally associated with either philosophy. Sometimes a balanced reading approach involves first using phonics activities and then adding whole – language activities. Sometimes a balanced reading approach involves supplementing authentic text with phonics worksheets or decodable text (ibid.).

The quality, knowledge, and sophistication of the teacher is what really matters for helping children to become proficient readers. The quality of the teacher plays a very large part in determining the reading success of a student. A high – quality teacher can help everyone of his students develop advanced reading skills. A low – quality teacher can have the opposite effect. The importance of providing good professional development to engender a population of highly qualified diagnostic reading teachers is paramount, and every child will benefit from such teachers. It is not easy, but anyone who tells that there is an easier solution to the mounting problem of illiteracy is trying to sell a myth (ibid.).

  • Phoneme awareness is a consequence — not a cause — of reading acquisition

The evidence showing the importance of phoneme awareness to literacy acquisition is overwhelming. Still, there are some who are not convinced. Some claim that teaching children to develop phoneme awareness is not necessary or even beneficial. They usually believe children develop phoneme awareness as they learn to read, but they claim phoneme awareness is nothing more than a byproduct of reading acquisition, arising as a result of learning to read — not the other way around. Further, it is often argued that phoneme awareness instruction is "inauthentic" and unnatural and therefore inappropriate. Research findings do not support this view (ibid.).

First, it is clear that phoneme awareness is a necessary prerequisite for developing decoding skills in an alphabetic writing system such as English. Phoneme awareness in the early grades is one of the best predictors of future reading success. All successful readers possess phoneme awareness (ibid.).

Those who do not have phoneme awareness are always poor readers, and poor readers almost never have phoneme awareness. The most compelling evidence for the importance of phoneme awareness stems from the research demonstrating that when children are taught to develop phoneme awareness they are more likely to develop good word decoding skills — and they develop those skills faster and earlier than children who are not taught to be aware of phonemes in spoken words (ibid.).

Second, phoneme awareness instruction can be authentic and natural. Teachers can use music, tongue twisters, poetry, and games to help children develop phoneme awareness. Children enjoy playing these games; they love to experiment with language, and teachers should give them every opportunity to explore spoken language (ibid.).

Given the importance of finding developmentally appropriate ways of helping children to develop foundational reading skills as early as possible, assessment of phoneme awareness should begin early, and games and lessons that help children develop an awareness of phonemes in speech should be used to help those that need it (ibid.).

  • Skilled reading involves using syntactic and semantic cues to guess words, and good readers make many "mistakes" as they read authentic text (ibid.).

Research indicates that both of these claims are quite wrong, but both are surprisingly pervasive in reading instruction. But, in fact, repeated studies have shown that only poor readers depend upon context to try to "guess" words in text – good readers depend heavily upon the visual information contained in the words themselves i.e. the letter and word cues, to quickly and automatically identify the word (ibid.).

  1. Research has also shown that good readers depend very heavily upon the visual information contained in the word for word identification what is commonly called the graphemic information or orthographic information. The semantic and syntactic information are critical for comprehension of passages of text, but they do not play an important role in decoding or identifying words. Good readers make virtually no mistakes as they read because they have developed extremely effective and efficient word identification skills that do not depend upon semantics, context, or syntax. For good readers, word identification is fast, fluent, and automatic – it must be so that their attention can be fully focused on using semantics and syntax to comprehend the text (ibid.).

LACK OF MOTIVATION

  1. Motivation also plays a vital role in reading a foreign language. According to Nuttall (1982, p. 3), teachers often confront the students who lack in motivation to lack in a foreign language. It is important that students are made realized the importance of learning that particular language. To do this, Nuttall suggests that the teacher should draw their attention to the use of language outside of the classroom. He should give them “reading materials that reflect the authenticated purposes for which people read.” It is important that the students find reading not only a linguistic activity but “getting of meaning out of a text for some purpose.” “For many a students an automatic expectation that they will have to write about what they have been reading as a way of aiding and demonstrating their understanding is enough to put them off” (Senior, 2007, p. 93).

According to Thomson (1987, p. 12), there are many reasons for lack of motivation in students towards reading. The students can read but do not choose to do so for the purpose of enjoyment. Often books are chosen by the teachers that are least concerned with the issues of students’ interests.

Talking about lack of interest and motivation among students towards reading, Thomson (1987, p. 13) further writes that it is important to foster enjoyment and the encouragement of reading interests, insight to human nature and the relationship of language and literature to it, but the examinations are set in such a way to test the knowledge about the literacy methods rather than the quality of literacy experience. The responses of students to a reading text in terms of sensitivity, discrimination, taste, etc. are most difficult to be assessed by written examination. Instead of this most easily testable things are tested i.e. literacy forms, felt response, conventions, and techniques.

Motivation is no less important a factor in the reading classroom than in any other area of language learning, and at advanced levels it can involve a number of factors, such as lack of immediate visible improvement, boredom due to over – familiarity with the format of course books, etc. However, a motivated student learns far more effectively than one who is less motivated.

Rivers (1972, p. 118) writes that motivation is as much an effect as a cause of learning and the relationship between the two is typically reciprocal, rather than unidirectional. Therefore if, in the reading classroom students can read in English can understand a text, they will be far more likely to go out and do it on their own (Davies, 2007).

To investigate factors that motivate Japanese high school students to read English extensively, Takase (2007) assessed female high school students who participated in an extensive reading program for one academic year. The results showed that the two most influential factors were students' intrinsic motivation for first and second language reading. However, she found no positive relationship between first and second language reading motivation. The intrinsic motivation of enthusiastic readers of English was limited to second language reading and did not extend to their first language reading habits.

“The most frustrating one is the reader who reads well but chooses not to” (Senior, 2007, p. 8). The problem of students who could read but did not lies within instructional strategies that emphasize reading skills at the expense of giving students large amounts of experience with whole texts can be a cause of this according to them. Giving various suggestions, they write that to improve students motivation it is important to put books in the classroom, make time for silently reading and to read aloud by the teacher, and to encourage students to share what they read keeping a record of their reading. Pitfalls of students can be avoided competing with one another over who has read more (Parker, & Turner, 1987).

Rivers (1972, p. 139) states that much practice in second language instruction de – motivated many students. Uniform approaches that left no room for student choice are a major cause of this which either focus on abstract learning of language forms and use of reading materials from other times, removed from the majority of students' interests, or instruction focused on repetitive exercises that left no room for thinking. She suggests that graded readers provide one means of giving students a degree of autonomy, which in turn promotes intrinsic motivation. Bond (1926, p. 416) writes that extensive reading means little, unless the ability to read is increased. The acquired ability is measured by achievement tests; it cannot be measured by pages read. Ability without desire is worse than desire without ability (p. 419).

Yamashita (2007, p. 102) investigated the transfer of reading attitudes from first to second language. The participants were Japanese university – level foreign language students of English. Their first and second language reading attitudes were estimated and it was found that their first language and second language reading attitudes were different from each other. However, no evidence was found that the contribution of first language reading attitude increases at higher levels of second language proficiency.

This study demonstrated that reading attitudes transfer from first to second language but as distinct from transfer of reading abilities and strategies, the influence of second language proficiency is much weaker. The notion of a linguistic threshold does not apply to the transfer of reading attitudes from first language to second language. He writes that the learners with a positive attitude toward first language reading are more or less likely to keep it in second language reading. Such learners may improve in second language reading because their positive reading attitude is likely to motivate them. Therefore the teachers should encourage such learners suggesting reading materials at an appropriate linguistic level for them (p. 103).

ALITERACY

Many ESL/EFL students are proficient readers in their first language but choose not to read. These students are called “aliterates.”   The attitude to reading seems to be prevalent with today’s adolescents as they opt not to get information through traditional print sources. This makes reading in ESL/EFL very difficult (Deutsch, 2005).

Pervez (2008, p. 21) writes a description of a student who preferred watching movies over reading a book:

When the Harry Potter series had first become popular, many reviewers lauded the books for turning teenagers towards reading. These days kids have found an easier, quicker medium: movies. “Why should I read the book if I can watch the movie in two hours?” A Class IX student wondered aloud at a motivational reading workshop recently. “I am getting the same information.” Of course, only someone who has not read the book can say that. When I threw the question back to the audience, the readers were quick to respond: books have the details; movies kill the imagination, besides corrupting the original work.

SOCIO - ECONOMIC FACTORS

Researchers have found the home and family to play important roles in children’s literacy. However the link between socio – economic status and reading was found to be mediated by a range of factors such as access to educational materials and parents’ attitude to reading. Access to educational materials, such as books, computers, magazines and a desk of their own are recognized as influencing pupils’ academic attainment. The researchers found that reading and enjoyment were related to the number of books at home (“What impact does socio – economic status have on children's reading?”, 2009).

Educational materials at home Free School Meals  Non Free School Meals

Computer                                        82%                          93%

Own desk                                        61%                          75%

Own books                                       83%                         90%

Access to newspapers                      63%                         73%

The data on the previous page showed that pupils receiving free school meals had more limited access to educational materials than other pupils (ibid.).

An important finding of the study was the pupils receiving free school meals that had no books of their own enjoyed reading less and rated themselves as less confident readers than their peers (ibid.).

Parents are key role – models for children, and their behavior and attitudes have a significant influence on children’s motivation to learn and their reading behaviors. “Parents who read for pleasure were found to positively influence children to see reading as a worthwhile and valuable activity.” The study found that pupils receiving free school meals reported lower levels of parental reading at home and less encouragement to read (ibid.).

All pupils involved in the study agreed that reading is an important life skill. More of the pupils who received free school meals believed that reading is boring and hard saying that they struggle to find books that interest them. Interestingly, these pupils were also more likely to say that they enjoyed going to the school library than pupils not receiving free school meals (ibid.).

The majority of pupils receiving free school meals, especially boys stated that they do not enjoy reading at all and that they never or almost never read outside school and again boys were highest in this category. There were surprising differences in the reasons given by pupils for why they read. A high proportion of pupils receiving free school meals said that they read to help them get a job, while pupils not receiving free school meals read for fun (ibid.).

The researchers considered ways to encourage pupils to read more, and found that all pupils said that they would read more if they had more time. Pupils receiving free school meals also indicated that they would read more if:

  • books contained more pictures;
  • books were read aloud to them;
  • libraries were closer;
  • they found reading easier;
  • they received more family encouragement; and
  • had better eyesight (ibid.).

About the Author

Shamaila Ali Hasan

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