Academic journal article International Forum of Teaching and Studies

Increasing Comprehension of Content Delivered in English to Non-Native Speakers

Academic journal article International Forum of Teaching and Studies

Increasing Comprehension of Content Delivered in English to Non-Native Speakers

Article excerpt

[Abstract] Non-native speakers of English may display behaviors that indicate understanding of lectures even though they are not following the lesson. Prepared lectures delivered by native English-speaking professors may move too quickly for students to comprehend the content. Reading material used with non-native English speakers to supplement classroom lectures can become very cumbersome as students struggle to read quickly, yet comprehend the reading. Chinese students given content instruction in English were found to demonstrate increased understanding of content with the use of a few strategies commonly used in k-12 classrooms to improve reading comprehension.

[Keywords] reading comprehension; teaching strategies; English language learner; non-native English speakers

Students who are non-native speakers of English will demonstrate behaviors that indicate understanding even though they are not following the class lecture or the discussion being carried on by a few English-proficient students (Huang, 2004). Even though students have studied English formally and appear proficient in conversation, they may still have difficulty listening to an academic lecture due to the differences in reading and speaking English common to native speakers (Ferris & Tagg, 1996). Non-native speakers are likely to pay more attention to what is said sentence by sentence rather than extracting meaning from the overall lecture.

In the summer of 2008, the author was offered and accepted a 3-week assignment teaching finance classes at Wuhan University of Technology School of International Education in Wuhan, Peoples Republic of China. University representatives from China assuaged concerns that students would have difficulty with content instruction in English, offering assurance that the students were quite fluent and experienced with foreign professors. The students did speak, read, and write English; however, most of their experiences had been with formal English and not the conversational, quick speech commonly used by professors. It became evident after a few days of instruction that the students were not following what was being said in class.

Early in this assignment, technical difficulties necessitated an abandonment of the prepared slide presentations for the traditional chalkboard. Writing on the chalkboard while referring to hand-written notes became the mode for delivery of content. This naturally slowed the pace, as the lectures became more methodical. Although students did state they preferred the slide presentations for aesthetic reasons, they discovered it was easier to follow the lectures when the chalkboard was used. Rocky (the English name selected by the student) stated:

May 23, 2008

We like the slides. Most professors use slides. They look better, but you talk slower when you write on the board.

Huang (2004) found that well-planned lectures rather than free-flowing lectures were easier for non-native speakers of English to follow, and this experience supports those findings. The PowerPoint lectures were free flowing in nature because the need to stop and write important points on the board was eliminated. This confused the students as they looked at the slides and tried to make sense of what was being said. Use of the chalkboard and hand-written notes forced the lectures and examples to become more organized and consistent.

High-quality instruction includes such characteristics as engagement with content, culture conducive to learning (respectful and rigorous), equal access to content, and effective questioning (Weiss & Pasley, 2004). Through the use of a few simple strategies, the students became quite engaged with the content, which, in turn, created a culture conducive to learning and allowed equal access to the content regardless of the reading level of the students. The use of the chalkboard slowed down the pace of the lectures, but the struggle of the students with reading comprehension in English became evident when they exhibited an inability to answer questions about on the reading. …

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