Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

A Comparative Study on the Current State of the Art of Reading Skill Accounts

Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

A Comparative Study on the Current State of the Art of Reading Skill Accounts

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION

Reading skill has invariably been a major concern for EFL educators. Although a plethora of reading skill books and research papers has been written to unravel the secrets of reading skill over the past decades, a great many of them regrettably have primarily focused on fragmented parts and pieces of reading skill boiling down to a sort of incomprehensive account of it. To delve further into the current issues on reading skill, the present paper aims to offer a survey on a number of major vantage points proffered by outstanding scholars in the field to provide the readers with a far broader comprehensive perspective as far as this particular skill is concerned.

2. CURRENT POSITION ON APPROACHES TO READING SKILL

To start off, it should be noted that the substantial vitality of reading skill is not a mystery currently. Irrespective of whether this skill is pertained to identifying main ideas, determining meaning from the context, or improving reading speed, L2 learners need to be regularly reminded of the importance of this activity and why it is being practiced.

There is a wide agreement that ESL/EFL students need to increase their vocabularies and to develop strategies for coping with unfamiliar words. The value of studying word derivations, cognates, and word formation has long been cited, along with the need for regular practice in determining lexical meaning from the context (e.g., Chastain 1976; Norris, 1970; Yorkey 1970). Even a number of scholars in t he field have stressed on discussing with the language learners what they need to do to become efficient readers (e.g., Chastain, ibid. Plaister, 1968).

Placing a great deal of emphasis on the "meaning-centered" reading, Nunan (1999) relates the concept of reading to the parameters of "schema theory". Noting that the basic principle behind the schema theory is that texts themselves, whether spoken or written, do not carry meaning, rather they provide signposts, or clues, to be utilized by learners or readers in reconstructing the original meanings of speakers or writers. Nunan accounts for reading as an interactive process between the reader and the text in that the reader is required to fit the clues provided in the text to his or her own background knowledge. He distinguishes between two opposing approaches to reading (i.e. bottom-up vs. top-down). To him the bottom up approach views reading as a process of decoding written symbols into their aural equivalents in a linear fashion. To delineate it concisely, he states that in this approach one first discriminates each letter as it is encountered, sounds them out, matches the written symbols with the aural equivalents, blends these together to form words, and derives meaning. He states that contrary to this approach in a top-down approach one starts with a whole concept/word and gradually gets to its ingredients. He also dubs this approach as the "whole word approach" by the virtue of the fact that the words are taught by their overall shape and configuration.

In addition to these approaches he also refers to a third approach called "phonics", pointing out that it is an approach to the teaching of reading in which learners are taught to decode words by matching written symbols with their aural equivalents. Pointing out the mutual exclusiveness of either of these approaches, however, Nunan (1999) states that "reading is an interactive process, in which the reader constantly shuttles between bottom-up and top-down processes" (p. 254).

Among other things, recognizing the salience of cultural aspects of reading comprehension, Nunan also holds that "background knowledge" is a more important factor than "grammatical complexity" in the ability of the readers to comprehend the cohesive relationships in the texts. Thus he maintains that having access to some background knowledge would facilitate the job of reading comprehension to a great extent.

Although Nunan's proposals initially enjoyed a wealth of support they have come under intense scrutiny and criticism. …

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