Advances in Written Text Analysis

By Malcolm Coulthard | Go to book overview

7

The text and its message

Tim Johns

In recent years one of the most important developments in the teaching of English as a Foreign Language has been the attention given to the development of a reading knowledge of the language for students who need access to information published in English. The need has been created by the worldwide increase in the number of students in secondary and tertiary education and by the unique position of English at the higher levels of education as the medium of written instruction in text-books and as the dominant language of international communication. In many countries English-language teaching at school may have been poor preparation for reading in the student’s subject-area. In a more traditional syllabus reading will have been of literary texts, and will probably have involved reading aloud, translation and close examination of difficult points of vocabulary, idiom and syntax. More ‘modern’ methods will probably have concentrated on the development of oral skills by means of ‘habit-formation’ drills within a restricted vocabulary and a limited range of syntactic patterns. The frequent failure of both such methods to produce competent readers of English may be contrasted with the success of self-taught learners who, determined or obliged to read English texts on their subject, develop their own methods for ‘puzzling them out’. It would seen that among the characteristics of self-taught learners that give them advantages over the school-taught learners are their motivation: familiarity with the subject-matter, which allows them to exploit redundancy and guess successfully; and concentration on the message conveyed by a text rather than on details of the code. In this they would have a good deal in common with the successful language-learners whose reading strategies Hosenfeld has compared with those of unsuccessful language-learners (Hosenfeld 1977). Hosenfeld found that her successful language-learners tended to have a ‘positive self-image’ in approaching a reading task, to be able to keep the developing overall message within their span of attention and memory, and to be able to use the context of that message to guess unknown words and phrases, or to realize that it is unnecessary to know a particular word or phrase. Her unsuccessful language-learners, on the other hand, tended to have a negative self-image, and to be easily discouraged, to refer to the glossary or dictionary immediately when they came up against a

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