Empirical Study of the Effects of Discourse Markers on the Reading Comprehension of Spanish Students of English as a Foreign Language

By Martínez, Ana Cristina Lahuerta | International Journal of English Studies, July 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Empirical Study of the Effects of Discourse Markers on the Reading Comprehension of Spanish Students of English as a Foreign Language


Martínez, Ana Cristina Lahuerta, International Journal of English Studies


ABSTRACT

The aim of this work is to analyse how Spanish readers react to English discourse markers in a text. We carry out an empirical study in which we ask three research question: (a) if there is any relationship between presence of discourse markers or absence of discourse markers and reading comprehension in English as a foreign language, (b) if there is any relationship between the readers' proficiency in English and the effect of the presence or absence of discourse markers on reading comprehension and, (c) if there is any relationship between the readers' age, sex, competence as learners and as learners of English, and the effect of the presence or absence of discourse markers on reading comprehension. The results obtained show that discourse markers enhance reading comprehension in foreign language reading, and that the more successful students tend to use discourse markers as aids to help their reading comprehension. This latter result is nevertheless limited by the possible effect of the readers' familiarity with the topic of the text and points to a need for further investigation.

KEYWORDS: Discourse markers, reading comprehension, foreign language reading

I. SCHEMA THEORY AND L2 READING COMPREHENSION

The role of background knowledge in language comprehension has been formalized as schema theory. Schema theory was originally proposed by Bartlett (1932), a follower of Gestalt psychology, to account for how information in stories and events is reconfigured in memory for further recall. In the 1970s and 1980s, schema theory became the theoretical framework within which the structure and the role of knowledge in the mind were described (e.g., Minsky, 1975; Schank, 1982; Schank & Abelson, 1977).

Schema theory was used to explain and interpret a large number of cognitive processes, such as inferencing, remembering, reasoning, and problem solving, and gave rise to a large volume of experimental research in learning, comprehension, and memory (e.g., Adams & Collins, 1979; Anderson, 1984; Anderson & Pearson, 1984; Anderson, Reynolds; Bloom, 1988; Bransford & Johnson, 1972; McDaniel & Kerwin, 1987; Schallert, 1991). This theory recognised the constructive nature of the reading process, and the critical role of the reader and the interaction between the text and the reader's background knowledge, which gave rise to a large volume of meaningful research on the role of conceptual and background knowledge in L2 reading comprehension and instruction (e.g., Alderson & Urquhart, 1988; Barry & Lazarte, 1995; Carrell, 1987, 1992; Carrell & Eisterhold, 1983; Carrell & Wise, 1998; Hudson, 1982; Lee, 1986; Peretz & Shoham, 1990; Steffenson & Joag-Dev, 1984; Tan, 1990).

Schema theory suggests that background knowledge constitutes the main guiding context through which information is interpreted (Schank, 1978; Schank & Abelson, 1977). However, it is now quite established that the comprehension process does not proceed in such a top-down mode. Research in the field of L1 reading comprehension has shown that individual words in a text are processed visually even when they are highly predictable in the context (Balota, Pollatsek, & Rayner, 1985; Pollatsek, 1993; Rayner, 1986; Rayner & Sereno, 1994). Besides, in L2 reading a growing body of research shows the critical role of lower-level processes in L2 reading comprehension (e.g., Haynes & Carr, 1990; Horiba, 1996; Koda, 1992, 1998, 1999; Nassaji & Geva, 1999; Segalowitz, Segalowitz, & Wood, 1998).

As a consequence of these developments, most of the current models of L2 reading comprehension are interactive in that L2 comprehension is considered to be a process consisting of both data-driven and reader-driven processes (e.g., Bernhardt, 1991; Carrell, Devine, & Eskey, 1988; Swaffar, Arens, & Byrnes, 1991).

Within this framework, the aim of this work is to analyse how readers react to discourse markers in a text. …

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