Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Reading Comprehension Models of Saudi Non-Native Speakers of English

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Reading Comprehension Models of Saudi Non-Native Speakers of English

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Reading in a second language is a very complex task. The reading process itself constitutes a major worry to teachers and researchers alike. Teachers have been experiencing all sorts of difficulties in promoting the reading abilities of their students. They resort to scientific research to find guidance and explanations for their questions.

Researchers have been trying to create a theory that describes the process of reading. As a result of this effort, three major models of reading have been identified in the field of English as a second/foreign language (ESL/EFL): the bottom-up model which was prevalent during the 1960s and revised by Gough (1972); the top-down model developed from the research of Goodman (1967); and the interactive model evolved from the work of Rumelhart (1977, 1981), Clarke (1979), and Carrell (1983).

The bottom-up model (the oldest of the three models) views reading as a chain process. The reader starts by recognizing/decoding the written text at the letter level, then the syllable, words, sentences, and at last at the discourse level. In the linear movement of this model, it seems that readers need to move from one level to the next without interruption. The faster the decoding process of the meaning of words and their components, the more proficient readers become and, consequently, more comprehension is attained (Pressley, 2000). In other words, any break in the chain could result in a failure of the reading task, i.e., an unknown word would impede the successful understanding of a whole sentence. Therefore, an ESL learner must be all-knowing of all syllables, words, sentence structures, and paragraph structures to complete a reading task successfully.

This strict, unrealistic stance held by the bottom-up model raised many questions for researchers. There is little likelihood for an ESL/EFL learner to know every word in a text. In addition, it is hard to expect learners to go through this tedious process from letter level to discourse level. Goodman (1967) introduced the top-down model. This model is the counterpart of the bottom-up model. Readers handle texts initially in light of their background knowledge and their expectations of the text. Then their familiarity with samples of the words in the text helps them to guess, to predict, and to reconstruct the meaning of the text. Therefore, the top-down approach is also called the psycholinguistic guessing game.

This model was well received by people researching ESL/EFL reading. Whole curricula were built based on the top-down model (Grabe, 1988). However, this model neglects the contributions that knowledge of single words and clause structures offer to the comprehension of the reading texts. Mazzone (2105) describes this model as "goal representations [that] are part of our repertoire of schemata in memory and they can contribute to determine context via backward inferences" (p. 12). This is because communication (written and/or spoken) is essentially a goal-oriented activity. However, this is a bottom-up model strength. Therefore, questions about the role of the bottom-up processing were raised (Clarke, 1979; Coady, 1979).

Towards the end of the seventies and early eighties, researchers like Rumelhart (1977, 1981), Clarke (1979), and Carrell (1983) realized that reading employs both top-down and bottom-up processes. Consequently, a new model has emerged; it is called the interactive model. In this model, both earlier models are employed. The model acknowledges what the reader brings along to the reading including reading skills, world knowledge, and/or linguistic knowledge.

Within the interactive model, researchers found that good readers and poor readers vary in the use of the two processes. Stanovich (1980) identified an interactive-compensatory model. In this subsection of the general interactive model, Stanovich contended that readers who lack knowledge required by one reading process, say the bottom up, would shift to the other reading process, the top-down, to compensate for that deficiency. …

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