Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

A Comparative Meta-Analysis on the Effect of Higher vs. Lower Level Skills in EFL Reading

Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

A Comparative Meta-Analysis on the Effect of Higher vs. Lower Level Skills in EFL Reading

Article excerpt


A successful EFL reading entails many factors. Among these, one can refer to both lower level linguistic factors such as 'overall linguistic proficiency of the learners' as well as higher level factors such as 'background knowledge' (schemata) that the learners bring to the learning situation. However, it seems that there's not a clear-cut perspective among EFL researchers as to which factors are more important on the overall process of reading comprehension in EFL settings. To clarify the issue, the authors have tried to comparatively examine the issue though a comprehensive meta-analysis for the bilateral effect of background knowledge vs. linguistic proficiency among the empirical studies done on the subject so far. Some useful pedagogical implications for an EFL reading class are discussed at the end.

Keywords: Schemata, Linguistic proficiency, Higher order skills, Lower order skills, EFL reading

1. Introduction

In EFL classroom situations, reading is, by far, the most important of the other three skills of listening, writing and speaking in a foreign language. In this short qualitative article, it's been tried to examine the effect of background knowledge (schemata) as an outside context factor among higher order skills in reading comprehension and overall linguistic proficiency from among lower level skills. The aim was to determine which one of the two factors above may have more determinative effects in the reading process. This review is based on the most recent literature in L2 reading theories in the last decade or so.

The main issue being closely followed in the present study is the due effect that linguistic proficiency (code knowledge) vs. schemata (background knowledge) have in the L2 reading process. Grabe (1986) believed that 'reading process' is consisted of abilities and knowledge, only some of which are exactly linguistic. Thus, while he acknowledged that L2 learners would be deficient in "process strategies which involved substantial knowledge of the target language. (p. 8), he emphasized the role which may be played in comprehension by other non-L2 specific factors such as reading proficiency in the L1 and level of text-relevant background knowledge. Horiba (2000) and Taillefer (1996), on the other hand, found that linguistic ability was a more effective asset in successful L2 readers compared with outside text factors including schema knowledge.

L2 reading research studies over the last few decades have proved mixed results in this regard. Hollingsworth and Reutzel (1990), O'Hara (1987), Khalil (1989) and Oxford and Young (1997) were among those who emphasized the fact that schemata (of content type) was insignificant and language proficiency could compensate the absence of schemata in reading tasks. On the other hand, Keshavarz, Atai,& Ahmadi (2007), reported a significant improvement on their readers' comprehension and test scores because of content schema in some standardized tests like TOEFL and IELTS. They surveyed 240 Iranian male students and stated that those who were familiar with the content of the texts did a better job compared with those who were not familiar with the text content. Then, according to Carrel (2006, cited in Xiaoyan Zhang, 2008: p. 198), a quite opposing view was issued in that both prior schemata (of linguistic type and background) were effective for a successful reading task. To the authors, the rhetorical structure of the text ("formal" schemata1) were deemed also crucial.

1.1 Research Questions

The main question being closely followed in the present qualitative research is viewing the above mentioned contradictories in detail and finding a pedagogical answer as to the fact that which factor, background knowledge or linguistic competence development, should be more decisive in order for a language teacher to consider specific tasks in teaching reading skills for the learners. In order to reach a conclusive result in this regard, other relevant enquires were also closely followed qualitatively. …

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