New Ways of Studying Fluency in English by Harold Smith

New Ways of Studying Fluency in English

Harold Smith
hsmith [at]
Shenandoah University, Winchester, Virginia, USA


Most researchers calculate the time needed to become fluent in English by studying persons who have already reached fluency Studying those who had not yet reached fluency, when researchers evaluated the Santa Ana [California, USA] Unified School District’s English language development (ELD) programs, yielded interesting results. Their findings: it may take seven or more years to reach full fluency (Mitchell, et. al, 1997).

The Santa Ana school district has four major kinds of ELD: Transitional Bilingual Education, which gives native language instruction along with ESL; Immersion, which gives sheltered instruction in English; combined Transitional Bilingual Education and Immersion; and Mainstream Limited English Proficiency.

Differences observed in achievement levels for reading and math in Santa Ana’s various ELD appeared to be due primarily to students’ placement in a particular program, not relative effectiveness of the programs. That is, students were not randomly assigned to different programs. Students who entered Santa Ana schools above kindergarten level, and those moving between schools, were more likely to be placed in mainstream or mixed Transitional Bilingual Education or Immersion. And students in Immersion tended to enter (and exit) at higher levels of fluency.

Several factors appeared to predict reading and math achievement for nonnative speakers: special education, movement between schools, test language, students’ English language development levels, primary language development levels, and English Language Development programs.

Each program was more effective at some fluency level(s) than others. Transitional Bilingual Education seemed most effective from Pre-Production to Early Production levels, Immersion worked best in helping students progress from Early Production to Speech Emergence. Mainstreaming was the least effective program below the Intermediate level; it did best from Intermediate to Advanced Fluency levels. Transitional Bilingual Education best helped students progress from Advanced Fluency to Fully English Proficient levels.

If students, families, and schools know that it may take seven or more years to reach full fluency, they might have more reasonable expectations of student progress in developing English fluency. Kindergarten students, for example, who were assigned to Transitional Bilingual Education programs began nearly a full level below others, and by grade 5 they were still about one third of a level below.

While Mitchell and team saw that as “closing the gap by nearly half,” one may wonder if there is some better program that would develop fluency more quickly. Teachers, researchers and administrators should continue looking for more effective and efficient ways to build English language fluency in nonnative students. Though it was not the focus of their study, Santa Ana’s results indicate that how students are taught has a strong influence on how long it takes to attain fluency, and that seems to be even more important than who is studied.

Reference: Mitchell, D.; Destino, D.; and Karam, R. (1997) Evaluation of English language development programs in the Santa Ana Unified School District. California Educational Research Cooperative, School of Education, University of California, Riverside.


The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. V, No. 2, February 1999



Add a comment Desember 15, 2010

Using the Community Language Learning Approach to Cope with Language Anxiety byNaomi Koba, Naoyoshi Ogawa, and Dennis Wilkinson

Using the Community Language Learning Approach to Cope with Language Anxiety

Naomi Koba, Naoyoshi Ogawa, and Dennis Wilkinson
koba [at]
Siebold University of Nagasaki (Nagasaki, Japan)

Many studies have been done to investigate the relationship between affective variables and second or foreign language learning. One of the affective variables, anxiety, will be focused on in this paper. To begin with, this paper will examine what anxiety is and how anxiety affects second or foreign language learning. The Community Language Learning (CLL) approach seems to be suitable to cope with language anxiety. To prove this notion, first, the CLL approach is analyzed along with learners reflections about a demonstration. Second, interviews with college students are provided to compare the traditional classroom and the CLL approach. Finally, a study which compared the Counseling-learning approach and the Audio-Lingual Method is investigated.


Anxiety is defined as a state of uneasiness and apprehension or fear caused by the anticipation of something threatening. Language anxiety has been said by many researchers to influence language learning. Whereas facilitating anxiety produces positive effects on learners’ performance, too much anxiety may cause a poor performance (Scovel, 1991).

Horwitz, Horwitz and Cope (1991) have found that anxiety typically centers on listening and speaking. Speaking in class is most frequently difficult for anxious students even though they are pretty good at responding to a drill or giving prepared speeches. Anxious students may also have difficulties in discriminating sounds and structures or in catching their meaning. Horwitz et al. (1991) also state that over-studying sometimes makes students so anxious as to cause errors in speaking or on tests. According to Krashen (1980), anxiety contributes to an affective filter, which prevents students from receiving input, and then language acquisition fails to progress (Horwitz et al., 1991).

Price (1991) investigated by asking questions about what made students most anxious in foreign language class. All of the subjects answered that having to speak a foreign language in front of other students resulted in the most anxiety. Other responses were making pronunciation errors or being laughed at by others. Price then mentions the role of the instructor. He says that those instructors who always criticize students’ pronunciation might make students anxious. He suggests that they could reduce students’ anxiety by encouraging them to make mistakes in the class. Price also advises that instructors should make it clear that the classroom is a place for learning and communication.

It is often the case with Japanese students that they do not speak in the class until they are called on.. This is partly because Japanese students are used to not speaking their opinion in the class but keeping silent. It is assumed that Japanese learners of foreign language tend to have this anxiety about speaking in front of other learners as well as the anxiety about learning a new language, which students might have regardless of culture.

A small survey was conducted to search for any distinctive characteristics of Japanese learners. The result shows that Japanese students are likely to feel more comfortable with taking tests and studying grammar than non-Japanese students. They are also likely to be afraid of taking risks. Non-Japanese students are less anxious about speaking and group work than Japanese. From this survey it seems true that everyone, regardless of native culture, may have some kind of anxiety about learning a foreign language.

Community Language Learning

Community Language Learning appears different from traditional language learning in many ways. One of the most significant issues is that it has many techniques to reduce anxiety. First, the form of the class, that is, the conversation circle itself, provides security. The desirable size of the conversation circle is less than ten. Second, understanding between the teacher and learners produces a sense of security, which reduces anxiety. Finally, a sense of security is woven into each activity of a typical CLL cycle.

The CLL approach for learning Japanese was demonstrated with twelve college students from different countries who had not studied Japanese before. Ten Japanese students played a counselor’s role.

According to subsequent reflection over their CLL experience, most of the students felt comfortable with the conversation circle, whereas a few students mentioned that facing other students provoked anxiety. However, their anxiety decreased or disappeared as the class proceeded. The circle helps to build community. It provides a non-competitive atmosphere, a sense of involvement and a sense of equality. When students are comfortable with their peers, they take more risks.

Though the teacher is not standing in front of the students, his role is even more important in CLL. There should be mutual trust between the teacher and the students. In a non-defensive relationship learners are able to engage with and personalize the material (Rardin, Tranel, Tirone and Green, 1988). If the teacher increases learners’ anxiety by, for example, always correcting learners’ pronunciation in the conversation circle activity, that will bring about disaster in learning. The teacher should not control the conversation in CLL, but let students talk whatever they want to talk (Rardin et al., 1988).

Understanding is another key issue in CLL. Active and empathetic listening is essential to understanding. The teacher has to be a good listener. When a teacher is an understanding person, learners feel secure, and then can be open and non-defensive in learning. Within such a relationship, anxiety may disappear and effective learning can take place (Rardin et al., 1988). Without communication, defensive learning prevents a learner from speaking a foreign language fluently although he knows the grammars and linguistic theory (Rardin et al., 1988). This is often the case with Japanese students. Therefore, the CLL approach can be effective in foreign language classes in Japan.

Finally, typical CLL activities or items: the conversation circle, transcription, the human computer, card games and the reflection session are examined in relation to security. As was mentioned earlier, in a conversation circle, the form of the circle itself provides security. It enhances the sense of community and also facilitates conversation. Learners in the first stage have only to listen to and repeat what the counselor says. They are free from their stress about not knowing what to say in the target language. This activity allows learners to talk about whatever they want to by saying it first in their own language and then repeating after the counselor in the target language. In other words, learners create their own materials. Therefore, this activity makes learners feel not only belonging but also responsibility. Thus, anxiety is reduced and motivation to speak the target language is stimulated.

Transcripts of conversations, which are usually provided in the CLL approach, give a lot of security especially to the learners whose learning style tends to rely on written forms. However, one has to be careful so as not to depend on written forms too much, which has the danger of ruining learners’ pronunciations since they are not relying on listening.

Samimy (1989) describes the “human computer” as “based on the best aspects from human and machine. . . an excellent combination of the depersonalized quality of a machine with the sensitivity of a human and a native speaker’s linguistic competence.” (p. 171) The human computer is controlled by the learners in practicing pronunciation. They choose whatever they want to practice: either syllable, word, phrase or sentence, and they start and stop the human computer by themselves. They can have a sense of security toward the human computer because it does not correct pronunciation errors, and thus learners need not feel humiliated.

Card games were reacted to both positively and negatively at the demonstration. Some students doubted whether games really helped them to learn a language. It seems that card games are helpful to internalize the material as well as enjoyable. When one is enjoying, he may be relaxed. This implies that games reduce learning anxiety. Moreover, if the members in the learning community get closer through games, that will bring them to a still better condition for learning.

Above all, the reflection session is essential in the CLL approach. Trust between the teacher and learners or among learners is established by sharing their feelings, anxieties, frustrations or demands. By sharing anxiety, learners may build a sense of unity to do one task together (Rardin et al., 1988).

Thus, the CLL approach can remarkably reduce the learners’ anxiety. On the other hand, it could increase the teacher’s anxiety. He should provide appropriate language, taking the learners’ stage into account.

Comparison of a Traditional Class and CLL

In order to see if there are differences between a traditional class and CLL, three Japanese college students who experienced these two kinds of instructions were interviewed (the foreign languages that they studied are not the same).

Student A had a high motivation when she decided to take a traditional foreign language class. However, her motivation decreased and she became more anxious as the class proceeded. She was rather passive in the class without volunteering answers. She felt the linear relation between the teacher and herself and no link to other students. In the CLL experience; however, she felt no anxiety but strongly felt that she belonged to the learning community. She also felt responsibility to the community because in CLL all the members are responsible for constructing their learning. She was willing to volunteer to speak.

In the case of student B, she was disappointed with a traditional class because they only practiced grammar, and the teacher spent more time speaking than the students did. Sitting always in the front row, she did not see the faces of other students at all. She felt isolated. She did not volunteer to answer questions. On the other hand, in her CLL experience she often found herself raising her hand without any hesitation. She says that she did this because she felt comfortable with other members of the conversation community.

The comments of student C shed light on this comparison from a different angle. For her the first activity of the CLL approach, just repeating the target language in a conversation circle, provoked anxiety. She felt uneasy among other students when she could not discriminate the sounds the counselor produced and could not produce unfamiliar sounds. For adult learners in particular, written forms might provide greater security.

Taking the comments from these interviews into account, the CLL approach seems preferable to the traditional method for language learning. Subsequently, a concern will arise as to how the CLL approach can be applied in a language classroom and how effective it is. Samimy (1980) conducted an experiment with an adaptation of Counseling-learning (CL) in a Japanese university language curriculum to see its effectiveness. She compared the CL approach with the Audio-Lingual Method (ALM). The result shows that the average score of the experimental group was slightly higher than that of the control groups. This result proves that at least the CL approach does not cause a negative effect to students’ grades. Also, in this study motivation correlated positively with communicative competence. This study; however, does not prove that the CL approach modifies learners’ affective variables positively. In spite of positive reactions from researchers, the application of a new approach in a traditional language class seems rather difficult. The study concludes that although traditional practice such as pattern practice is still necessary in a language class, a new approach is useful as well. In other words, “ALM and CL are not mutually exclusive.” (p. 176) Even though this study compared ALM and CL, not CLL, the findings are applicable to the comparison between ALM and CLL.

Application of CLL to a Language Class

In Japan, English is a required school subject, but only grammar and translation have been focused upon at school. Therefore, many people have been complaining that in spite of studying English for six years they cannot speak it. As more and more demands to acquire communicative competence arise, educators have recently turned their attention to listening and speaking. Nevertheless, in the same traditional classroom it may be impossible for students suddenly to learn to speak and listen to English. As mentioned earlier, it is often the case that Japanese students are not used to speaking in the classroom due to anxiety. Now the CLL approach seems to work well to fill the gap. La Forge (1979) wrote an article about using CLL for oral English at junior college in Japan for four years. Despite a six-year background of English study, the students had no experience of hearing English spoken by a native speaker. Therefore, their cognitive knowledge of English was quite high, but their effective use of English was almost at just the first stage of CLL. He found that “as the students continued to struggle to make themselves understood during reflection periods over two months, the quality of the English showed a remarkable improvement.” (p. 252) In CLL context, Japanese students could change their attitude in foreign language classrooms toward success in acquiring the target language. La Forge suggests that English teachers should not abandon all the traditional methods, but they should at least introduce a CLL reflection period into their classrooms.


This paper has explored how anxiety affects foreign language learning, and how the CLL approach copes with this anxiety. There are many differences between a traditional language class and the CLL approach. The CLL approach seems useful for listening and speaking and also useful for adult learners. It is found in this paper that the CLL approach is effective for Japanese students of English, whose anxiety is often high because English is far different from Japanese. Therefore, the CLL approach should be especially effective in cases where students’ native language is a non cognate language of the target language. The CLL approach seems worth trying.


  • Horwitz, E. K., M. B. Horwitz and J. A. Cope(1991). “Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety” in E. K. Horwitz and D. J. Young, Language Anxiety, 27-39. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • La Forge, P. G. (1979). “Reflection in the Context of Community Language Learning,”English Language Teaching Journal, 33 (4), 247-254
  • Price, M. L. (1991). “The Subjective Experience of Foreign Language Anxiety: Interviews with Highly Anxious Students” in E. K. Horwitz and D. J. Young, Language Anxiety, 101-108. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Scovel, T. (1991). “The Effect of Affect on Foreign Language Learning: A Review of the Anxiety Research” in E. K. Horwitz and D. J. Young, Language Anxiety, 101-108. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Samimy, K. K. (1989). “A Comparative Study of Teaching Japanese in the Audio-Lingual Method and the Counseling-learning Approach.” The Modern Language Journal, 73 (ii), 169-177.
  • Samimy, K. K. and J. P. Rardin(1994). “Adult Language Learners’ Affective Reactions to Community Language Learning: A Descriptive Study,” Foreign Language Annals27 (3), 379-390.
  • Rardin, J.P., Tranel, D. D., P. L. Tirone and Green, B. D. (1988). “Education in a New Dimension.” East Dubuque, IL: Counseling-Learning Publications.


The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VI, No. 11, November 2000


Add a comment Desember 15, 2010

Content Based Academic Writing by Birsen Tan Tütünis

Content Based Academic Writing

Birsen Tan Tütünis
tutunis [at]
Istanbul Kültür University (Turkey)

This paper presents the second part of the “Writing Course Project” designed and implemented at the Trakya University E.L.T. Department. The main aim of the project is to design a two-year (Preparatory and Freshman) writing course syllabus based on the students’ perceived academic needs. The theoretical assumption which emphasises a combination of product and process oriented approaches are taken into consideration for both courses.

The Background and the Objectives

The objectives are determined to be as follows:

  • to find out students’ linguistic and academic needs, their writing habits and learning strategies,
  • to produce materials applicable to the design of writing courses in ELT departments,
  • to suggest procedures for testing and evaluation.

In line with the first objective, the students’ linguistic and academic needs are determined; Firstly, when the preparatory year students’ needs are inquired, it is seen that they need to be trained according to the requirements of C.A.E. Writing Test. Because in the preparatory year they are trained in basic language skills and grammar, involving five hours of writing instruction per week. At the end of the year, they take a proficiency test at the level of C.A.E. Test. Therefore, for needs analysis, the task types of C.A.E. writing test are examined. It is decided that a Task-based approach to writing would facilitate the achievement of our goal for the first year. Because a task-based syllabus is assumed to enable our students to work in a learner centred environment where they can monitor their own learning and keep an eye on their progress in L 2 as a whole.

Therefore the issues to be stressed in the first year’s syllabus are agreed to be:

  • learner centeredness
  • development of lexis and syntax
  • development of writing skills

During the second year (freshman year), which is our main concern in this article, the students follow typical freshman courses in foreign language teaching departments, involving three hours of writing instruction per week. The freshman year’s writing course is based on the preparatory year’s course.

For needs analysis, when the requirements of the ELT Department are examined, it is seen that;

Exam questions require essay type writing which demand knowledge demonstration and, Academic courses require academic skills like; note-taking, recalling, sorting, synthesizing, organizing, interpreting and applying information .

Thus, it is decided that a content-based approach to writing would be beneficial for the students. In a content-based approach, writing is required as a mode of demonstrating knowledge and as a mode of prompting independent thinking, researching and learning. Students learn to gather and interpret data according to methods and standards accepted in their fields, to bring an increasing body of knowledge to bear on their interpreting, and to write in specialised formats. Shih describes the characteristics of content-based approaches to academic writing as follows:

Writing tasks which follow from, and are integrated with the listening and reading of academic material is the defining characteristic of content-based approaches to academic writing.

In a content-based approach; the emphasis is on writing from sources (readings, lectures, discussions), on synthesis and interpretation of information to be studied in depth. The focus is on what is said rather than how it is said. The skills are integrated as in a university course. Extended study of a topic precedes writing so that there is active control of ideas and extensive processing of new information.

Therefore, the following needed to be stressed in the syllabus:

  • raising awareness on the audience
  • raising awareness on coherence
  • raising awareness on the importance of reading
  • developing academic writing skills (outlining, summarising, reporting and arguing, paraphrasing and synthesizing)

The writing course is also seen as an opportunity to provide basic theoretical information related to writing. Therefore, reading input is deliberately chosen from the academic articles written by the professionals in the field.

Thus, the objectives of providing particular type of reading input can be listed as such:

  • supplying the necessary materials for the students to build up their schemata in order to write better essays
  • giving the students some theoretical knowledge about writing from which they will later on benefit
  • limiting the topics provided through the reading input to what is relevant to their interests, rather than presenting them to general topics found in every writing book in the market
  • facilitating their lexical and syntactic development providing typical and authentic samples of the genre they are dealing with as models
  • raising their awareness on the issues such as the differences between written and spoken language, importance of reading for efficient writing, audience-readership and coherence, etc.

The syllabus is designed to cover the following academic writing skills:

  • Reporting: Questionnaire
  • Organisation : Making outlines
  • Text Analysis
  • Reporting : Making diagrams, tables and charts
  • Reviewing: Genre analysis
  • Synthesising and arguing
  • Editing

Implementation and Evaluation

In the particular implementation of the course, certain beneficial strategies such as revision and multiple drafting, critical evaluation on the part of the students are encouraged. Both to encourage the students for these strategies and to test the objectives of the course, the students are given assignments before the instruction and before the reading input; and when the teaching, reading, discussion cycle is completed, the assignments are given back and they are asked to evaluate and revise their own work and sometimes their friends’ work, and the differences are noted. The students are frequently given individual feedback.

They also responded to a questionnaire on their conceptions of academic writing, their awareness of the importance of writing for the department, and their preferences and writing strategies. The same questionnaire is developed and given again at the end of the year to check upon the achievements of the objectives of the course. The students are also given a short written exam to measure their theoretical knowledge gains from the reading input.

Results and Discussion

Tests and Assignments

I. The first major evaluation was done on outlining. The mean was 57.14, sd:25. The mean was lower than expected despite the fact that the class reviewed the paragraph and essay structure on an additional session. Therefore, the students were given feedback in the class on the hierarchical order of their outlines.

II. The second group of data comes from the revisions of the essays written before and after the reading input. Significant increases were found on content scores by 24% and in vocabulary by 20%. However, the organisation scores were decreased by 15%, suggesting that the students were not capable of managing the integration of the incoming information into the existing text.

The findings suggest that the reading input effected the students’ essays positively, and the students adapted certain characteristics of the articles without any need for explicit instruction. The problem of informal language use in the students’ essays for example, was thus eliminated both by exposing the students to texts written on that particular topic and by exposing them to academic articles written in a formal style.

III. The third group of data comes from the several summary scores, such as summaries written before the instruction, under exam condition, as assignments and revision of the summaries written before the instruction. The scores improved in the assignments (73%) as compared to summaries written under exam condition (53%) and remained nearly same in the revisions (72%). However, when the initial summaries (38%) and the final scores are compared (73%), the increase is significant and satisfactory. The students as well, comparing their initial summaries with the later ones acknowledged the increase in their individual performances.

IV. The last group of scores comes from the final assignments in which the students used several different articles to write on a topic in an extended essay. The mean score (65%) was found lower than expected. The students reported that the articles were more difficult than the previous ones and they had not practiced writing such an extended essay before.

The Results from the Questionnaire

The students found four of the 14 texts difficult and hardly accessible. They found all the texts as relevant to the course, but only a few as interesting. However, they admitted that they were informative. 64% of the students thought that reading the materials improved their knowledge about writing, ELT, study skills and their English. They also accepted the idea that a selection of materials from different sources was good if they are not too difficult. However, they thought a text book would be beneficial for reference and revision.

There was a general satisfaction (85 % on the whole) with the lecturer’s method, knowledge, clarity and efficiency. They perceived the feedback sufficient but they commented that they benefited more from the individual appointments with the lecturer (74%).

In the third part in which the learning outcomes are considered, the students felt that they had eventually acquired all the skills and they perceived revision as a beneficial strategy to see how much they improved (74%). The students also reported that there was not much variety in the subjects studied, all materials were about similar topics; writing, language, and ELT. Therefore there was little room for creativity.

The third part of the questionnaire reveals certain learner characteristics and the changes in these since the beginning of the year. The majority of our students (84%) still prefer individual work, they learn better from the instructor, a few of them ask for a friend’s help, they do not like peer revision although they reported that they found it beneficial to criticise each other’s work when done appropriately.

The Last Check of the Objectives

The students were given a short exam at the end of the year in order to measure their theoretical gains from the readings done in the course. The students’ performances ranged from 89% to 63% on the readings that they perceived as accessible, on the others they performed between 58% to 42%. It seems that the students had understood some of the texts better than the others depending on their difficulty level.


Our findings from all the above mentioned sources suggest that there are certain aspects of our syllabus to be retained and some others to be reviewed.

We correctly suggested that reading input would facilitate the acquisition of certain aspects of academic genre leaving no need for explicit instruction. It facilitated their lexical and syntactic development, articles provided models for the students, the issues discussed in the raised their awareness. However, it is clear that the reading input although it should be selected from the relevant genre, it should not be too difficult for the students and require more background knowledge than the students have. The selected articles might be chosen from the field of ELT, but they should relate to the different aspects of the field so that the course would have variety and raise the students’ interest while preparing them for their future studies. Although it is quite difficult to make an academic writing course interesting for the students since its requirements are predetermined, the students should find opportunities for self expression and reflect their self interests at least at times. Therefore, the students can be engaged in voluntary project works and can be encouraged for occasional presentations on the topics they chose.

Students should be introduced to strategies such as revision, peer feedback, critical evaluation and group work gradually and the lecturers should show the students the beneficial sides, since our students seem culturally not inclined towards group work and critical evaluation.

It should also be taken into consideration that assignments and exams require different skills on the part of students. The students perform at different levels under two different conditions. Since answering to essay type of questions based on readings in a limited time is a fact of academic life, academic writing courses should involve practices and strategies to develop this skill as well. Mock-exam practices based on reading might be an idea.

Summarising and paraphrasing are difficult skills to acquire for our students since our secondary education does not emphasise them. These should be emphasised sufficiently and lecturers should make sure that their students are able to summarise and paraphrase yet, when the students work on the same skills for too long they loose their motivation. Therefore, a spiral rather than linear course syllabus might be designed to prevent this.

Our students seemed to have benefited from individual conferencing sessions they held with their lecturer. It seems that in such a cognitively and psychologically demanding course as academic writing, the lecturers should provide individual help to their students.


  • White, R. and Arndt, V. (1991) Process Writing , Longman UK
  • Byrne, D. (1988) Teaching Writing Skills, Longman UK
  • May Shih(1986 ), Content Based to Teaching Academic Writing, TESOL QUARTERLY, 20, 617-648

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VI, No. 7, July 2000


Add a comment Desember 15, 2010

Integrating CALL into the Writing Curriculum by Kevin Cunningham

Integrating CALL into the Writing Curriculum

Kevin Cunningham
arkcunn [at]
Osaka Seikei Women’s Junior College (Osaka, Japan)

In this article I will first, submit some background information in support of using computers for language-learning instruction. Next, I will briefly outline the work I have done to incorporate computers into my writing courses. Also included are results of a student-based attitude survey that is taken from current classes that will hopefully serve to further endorse my position. Lastly, I would like to present an overview for integrating CALL into the curriculum.

Background Information

Computers have been used for instructional purposes since the 1960’s. Applications have been implemented on different generations of computers since that time. With the development of personal computers in the 1980’s, a plethora of (CAL) Computer-Assisted Learning software was produced for stand-alone desktop computers of many types. Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) is the application of CAL to language learning and teaching. Methodologically it is a highly eclectic field, borrowing from CAL and Applied Linguistics. CALL program types may be classified in many different ways:


General Category Sub-category
Tools Text processors
Voice processing programs
Communications programs
Instructional Programs Drills and practice
Exploratory programs
Simulations games hypermedia
Databases Information sources
Text corpuses
Testing Programs Computer based language tests, including adaptive tests

Regardless of the specific methodology used, language teachers have generally found it desirable to present new items through meaningful content; in fact, ‘contextualizing’ lesson presentations have become a widely accepted rule of good language teaching. (Brinton et al., 1989) Language learning takes place most effectively in social settings through communication. An important part of teaching is to structure opportunities for communication for the learner – the learner must be communicating about something real and interesting. Through Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) a wide range of communication channels are possible.

Types of Computer Mediated Communication

Type Brief Description
Electronic mail Electronic communication (written or voice) between individuals.
List Servers Applications which will distribute messages to all subscribers on a list. Includes facilities for subscribing, un-subscribing and moderation of postings.
Computer Conferencing Software which manages conferencing on computer networks.
Bulletin Boards An electronic space for notices for particular interest groups.

Today, researchers are actively probing the effectiveness of computer assisted instruction (CAI) and computer-assisted language learning (CALL) in traditional and novel ways. These past and contemporary research investigations have implications for the CAI/CALL course designers (to help them construct effective software), the classroom teachers (to help them optimize content and language learning with the aid of computers), and the school administrators (to assist them with purchase and effective utilization of computers in the school environment). Some of the questions that have been posed are:

  • Can computer applications help improve student performance in basic skills and other key areas?
  • For what specific skill areas, grade levels, and content areas are computer applications most effective?
  • Which kinds and levels of students seem to profit most from using computers to learn?
  • Which kinds of computer applications are most effective for which skill and content areas?
  • Can computer applications improve students’ attitudes toward school, learning, and their abilities to learn?
  • Will improved attitudes translate into better performance in school?

In an attempt to answer some of these questions researchers, Neu and Scarcella note the following claims made in the literature:

  • writing quality of students can be improved by using word processing;
  • higher grades tend to be achieved for word processed assignments;
  • affective factors such as attitudes towards writing and motivation can be improved; and
  • willingness to write multiple drafts is higher when word processing is used.

As the use of word processing becomes generalized, the focus of research in this area is changing away from comparisons of achievement and attitudes between computing and non- computing environments, and towards description and analysis of the ways in which the technology can support writing development. There is more interest now also on educational and social role changes in response to new technology.

The Writing Process

The following, outlines the approaches I have used to enhance writing development with the aid of computers.

Guided Writing:

Text repair type exercises may require the student to modify or correct text to address redundancy, misspelling, grammatical error and errors of fact. ‘Cloze’ type exercises. The marking and moving functions of word processors can be used in exercises that require students to order jumbled text. Such exercises provide practice in the recognition and understanding of the use discourse markers.

Free Writing:

A number of positive effects are claimed for using word processing in a process approach. The most obvious point that drudgery in the revision and refinement of writing is significantly reduced. Students can develop a more positive approach to writing; that writing quality is improved by the increase in the number and complexity of revision operations; that the writer is freer to experiment and think without committing to paper.

Using the Computer as a Stimulus for Writing:

Students tend to be more motivated to write for real reasons – communicating with a friend about a mutual interest, writing to a magazine or for a magazine, preparing information for a bulletin board, taking part in an on-line discussion or debate. In these situations there is a real audience, or readership, and the student writer will take care to address this readership appropriately, attractively or persuasively as the need is perceived.

Classroom Implementation

To utilize the CALL programs that I have acquired, I have introduced a system of computer usage which I have designated the name ” Work Station.” At each of the stations, I have installed various programs, which aim to enable or enhance an aspect of language learning. Software has been integrated into the writing course in an attempt to improve the quality and quantity of the students’ output. The students are assembled into pairs, triads, quads or may even work alone depending upon the criteria of the particular program and its’ goals.

While the course has a writing focus, all four macro skills are employed with additional tasks provided to improve grammar and vocabulary. Enough comprehensible input is supplied by the software and by student peers in an attempt to augment second language acquisition. Each “Work Station” has accompanying it, a complete set of simple instructions with time parameters set for the students to follow. Working in their groups or individually, and within the time constraints, the students are free to explore and work through the various assignments supplied by the respective software. Some of the programs are authorable; allowing me the freedom to change and/or create any assignments as may be necessary.

The software seems to supply enough impetus that I can act as a facilitator, in the dual role of technical advisor, should problems arise, but more often as a guide, correspondent, motivator or challenger. I feel this is in keeping with current EFL pedagogy, which expounds that more responsibility for learning be placed upon the learner. The accompanying appendices will illustrate how the “Work Stations” are set up and how student accountability is supervised. Additionally, I have included a copy of a survey given to the students to measure their attitude toward using computers in the writing classroom.

The Study

A preliminary study was undertaken to assess students’ attitudes toward the word processing experience in the EFL writing class. A total of thirty-seven EFL learners enrolled in writing classes completed survey questionnaires eliciting their attitudes toward their experience in the computer-assisted classroom. The findings indicated the following:

  1. Fully 88% of the students believed the computer helped them to improve their writing skills;
  2. 53% found it was not difficult to learn to use the computer.

A questionnaire was constructed to elicit student perceptions about the advantages and disadvantages of using computers, to determine whether they experienced difficulty learning to use the computer and to do word processing, and to gather some information about their writing behaviors during word processing.


Thirty-seven Japanese female undergraduate students enrolled in EFL writing classes served as subjects in the study.


The questionnaire contained 37 statements with which the subjects had to agree or disagree. A 4-point scale was used (from 1 = Agree Strongly to 4 = Disagree Strongly). The questionnaires were administered during the second semester of the school year, when the students had been using the computers on a regular basis so that the halo effect for the new technological “toy” would be lessened to a degree.


Analysis of the data indicated that students, in general, found the word-processing class to be challenging and non threatening, and believed that word processing benefited their performance in writing. They also felt that using word processing helped concentrate their attention on certain aspects of their writing (e.g., grammar, word choice and organization). The results of this study suggest that students do perceive the value of word processing (e.g., they felt they receive better grades on word-processed papers). They also felt that word processing helps them pay attention to the mechanics of their writing; they reported paying more attention to various aspects of the mechanics of their writing during word processing, but the aspects to which they attended were perhaps not those that might have been expected; they did not pay more attention to spelling and punctuation, but to grammar, vocabulary, and the organization of their papers. Although students indicated that they paid more attention to mechanics when word processing than when writing by other means, they still expressed a preference for computer-based writing. These positive attitudes toward writing on the computer should contribute to improving their writing abilities by increasing their willingness to write and revise, and to write and share their writing with others.

It is important to highlight some of the limitations of this study. First, perhaps most important, baseline data need to be obtained from comparable groups of EFL students enrolled in writing classes held in traditional classrooms. Ideally, learners in a control group (taught in traditional classrooms) should be taught by the same teacher and with the same materials and curriculum as learners in the computer classroom. In addition, the learners in both groups should be matched for first and second language writing proficiency and first language background. Data obtained from a control group could provide valuable insights concerning the attitudes that are affected by the use of the computers and word processing rather than by other factors (e.g., the materials or teachers).

Integrating CALL into the Curriculum

The field of CALL is highly eclectic. In order to maximize our chances of using CALL effectively, we need to think carefully about how CALL will be integrated into the language learning curriculum. There are a number of factors to consider: the learners, the teacher, the curriculum and the learning environment. We should recognize that a particular culture of learning exists in an educational setting. Part of this culture is the physical, technological and organizational environment.

In an environment where there is limited access to media, computers and other technology, either by regulation or the situation of facilities, learners and teachers are less likely to engage with information technology and other media. However, where access to media and technology through libraries and resources and computing center is encouraged, there is a greater likelihood for success with an innovation like CALL.

Flexibility in school organization and timetables is also a necessary condition for an approach to learning, which includes self-access, independent research and practice. Excellent facilities are often wasted because the people for whom they are intended are not free to make use of them.

The learning environment includes the broad curriculum and the language curriculum. The use of computers in teaching and learning invariably leads to a greater degree of learner activity and, hopefully, control. Highly structured, content dominated, teacher centered approaches to curriculum and teaching practice are unlikely to be conducive to effective use of CALL.

It is most important that the level of preparedness of learners is assessed in CALL. There are many factors that influence this preparedness:

  • 1st, 2nd language: Are the available materials suitable or adaptable for the type of language learner? For instance, first and second language learners are likely to react in markedly different ways to the same activity or material.
  • Age: Are the available CALL materials suitable for the age and academic level of the learners?
  • Independence: As CALL generally requires a degree of independence and also a willingness to cooperate in the learner, we need to ask whether these qualities are sufficiently developed in the target learner or group.
  • Motivation: Are computer-based activities likely to be attractive to the target group? Will they be sufficiently motivated to work in this mode?
  • Computer Literacy: There is a school of thought that believes that computer literacy should be acquired ‘naturally’ through learning with computers. In contrast, there is strong support for specific computer literacy training – for example keyboard skills, word processing skills, the use of databases and communications programs. There is a danger that if initial training is not provided, the required skills are not developed thoroughly. There is also a danger that the learner’s attention is distracted by technical details and cannot concentrate on the language learning task at hand.

The Language Teacher

The role of the teacher in CALL is a crucial one. Computers have changed the role of the teacher (and of the learner). We rely increasingly on information technology as the source of data and information and less on the teacher as the source of information. The teacher’s role as facilitator of learning – as guide, correspondent, motivator, and challenger – has increased in importance.

When considering the use of CALL in the language curriculum, we should analyze the teacher’s preferred language teaching styles to see whether they can successfully accommodate the CALL programs and materials that are envisaged. A communicative language learning approach for example could be enhanced by the use of computer mediated communication. CALL programs that are based on graded practice in formal aspects of language would perhaps not be integrated as successfully into a ‘communicative’ classroom, but may be a useful supplement in a self-access mode for specific learners.

Does the teacher have the technical competence required to manage the installation and use of CALL programs and materials? Enthusiasm often wanes when technical difficulties crop up too frequently. Support from a member of the technical staff or the computing center is often necessary and problems can arise if this is not available. CALL interest groups, consisting of other teachers, can be a great support for the individual teacher, assisting in the identification of suitable material, teaching methods and technical trouble shooting. As an example of this, there exist numerous forums pertaining to CALL that can be readily accessed through e-mail.

Survey: Computers in Writing Classes (Results)

Please circle the number about how you feel.

1 = Strongly Agree, 2 = Agree, 3 = Disagree, 4 = Disagree Strongly

1 2 3 4
1. The computer helps me to write my papers better. 18% 70% 8% 2%
2. I spend more time working on my papers when I use the computer than when I write with a pen. 13% 67% 10% 8%
3. When I use word processing on the computer, I am more careful about grammar. 16% 66% 16% 0%
4. I can think of more ideas for my writing when I use the computer. 22% 44% 33% 0%
5. I like using word processing better than other ways to write. 30% 47% 22% 0%
6. Usually, I like to write in Japanese. 48% 35% 16% 0%
7. Usually, I like to write in English. 10% 56% 24% 8%
8. I think I am a good writer in Japanese. 18% 32% 43% 5%
9. When I use word processing on the computer, I pay more attention to what I’m writing about. 18% 64% 16% 0%
10. Using a computer has helped me to become better at writing in English. 16% 64% 18% 0%
11. I feel I’ve learned more about writing in English from this class than I have from other English classes I’ve taken in which the computer was not used. 8% 51% 37% 2%
12. I like using word processing on the computer to write my papers better than writing them by other ways. 18% 59% 21% 0%
13. I pay more attention to choosing the right word when I use the computer. 21% 59% 16% 0%
14. I would recommend that other students learn to use word processing for writing their papers in English. 17% 62% 20% 0%
15. I would like to take another writing course if I could use the computer. 21% 54% 24% 0%
16. I get better scores on papers I’ve written using the computer. 13% 56% 29% 0%
17. It was difficult to learn how to use the computer. 5% 40% 35% 18%
18. I can change my papers more easily and more often when I use word processing than when I write with other ways. 5% 56% 37% 0%
19. I plan to continue using the computer to write my papers after this class is finished. 16% 53% 29% 2%
20. I feel that I learn better when I get individual attention from the teacher. 2% 83% 10% 2%
21. I pay more attention to spelling when I use the computer. 40% 48% 10% 0%
22. The feeling in the class is friendly. 37% 57% 5% 0%
23. Using word processing makes me less worried about writing because I know I can make changes easily. 2% 59% 37% 0%
24. I use word processing more than any other way to write papers for my class. 13% 58% 27% 0%
25. I think I write longer papers using the computer. 14% 56% 25% 5%
26. I don’t like it when I can’t understand what to do when I’m trying to write my papers on the computer. 8% 51% 35% 5%
27 I can easily make changes when I use the computer. 10% 48% 37% 2%
28. I feel I get more individual attention from the teacher in the computer writing class than I do in other, non-computer writing classes. 5% 66% 27% 0%
29. I pay more attention to organization when I use the computer. 18% 59% 21% 0%
30. I am happier with my papers when I write using the computer. 16% 63% 19% 0%
31. I get nervous in the computer writing class. 2% 29% 56% 10%
32. The students in this class help each other. 52% 41% 5% 0%
33. When I write using the computer, I pay more attention to grammar. 11% 69% 19% 0%
34. I had trouble understanding how to use the computer. 2% 51% 32% 13%
35. I was worried that I might break the computer. 8% 27% 41% 22%
36. I was worried that it would take me longer to learn to use the computer than it would other students. 0% 59% 29% 10%
37. I think using the computer in writing class is interesting. 29% 64% 5% 0%




  • Dunkel, P. (1991). The Effectiveness Research on Computer-Assisted Instruction and Computer Assisted Language Learning. In P. Dunkel (ed.), Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Testing : Research Issues and Practice (pp. 5-27). Newbury House: Harper Collins, New York 1991.
  • Johnson, D.M. (1987). Second Language and Content Learning with Computers. In P. Dunkel (ed.), Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Testing : Research Issues and Practice (pp. 61-79). Newbury House: Harper Collins, New York 1991.
  • Mercer, N., and Scrimshaw, P. (1993). Researching the Electronic Classroom. In P. Scrimshaw (ed.), Language, Classrooms & Computers (pp. 185-191). Routledge, London 1993.
  • Neu, J., and Scarcella, R. (1987). Word Processing in the ESL Writing Classroom -A Survey of Student Attitudes. In P. Dunkel (ed.), Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Testing: Research Issues and Practice (pp. 169- 183). Newbury House: Harper Collins, New York 991.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VI, No. 5, May 2000


Add a comment Desember 15, 2010

Advanced Vocabulary Instruction in EFL

Advanced Vocabulary Instruction in EFL

Aly Anwar Amer
alyamer99 [at]
Sultan Qaboos University (Sultanate of Oman)

The prominent role of vocabulary knowledge in EFL learning has been increasingly recognized. Developments in ‘lexical semantics’ have prompted the development of the ‘semantic field theory’, ‘semantic networks’, or ‘semantic grid’ strategies, which organize words in terms of interrelated lexical meanings. The purpose of the present article is to discuss the pedagogic implications of ‘semantic field theory’ to EFL vocabulary instruction.

Vocabulary is central to language and of critical importance to the typical language learner (Zimmerman, 1997). The prominent role of vocabulary knowledge in foreign language learning has been increasingly recognized (Rodriguez & Sadoski, 2000). The last decade witnessed a growing interest in the ‘lexical approach’ to EFL teaching. Besides, developments in ‘lexical semantics’ and the ‘mental lexicon’ have prompted the development of the ‘semantic field theory’, ‘semantic networks’ or ‘semantic grid’ strategies, which present and organize words in terms of interrelated lexical meanings (Gu & Johnson, 1996, p. 645). The purpose of the present article is to discuss the pedagogic implications of ‘Semantic Field Theory’ for EFL vocabulary instruction.

The ‘semantic field’ theory suggests that the lexical content of a language is best treated not as a mere aggregation of independent words or an unstructured list of words but as a collection of interrelating networks of relations between words (Stubbs, 2001). The meaning of most words is governed, in part, by the presence in the language of other words whose semantic functions are related in one or more ways to the same area of situational environment or culture (Robins, 1980). A very simple example of a semantic field is the set of kinship terms: father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, etc. Clearly, all these words share some aspect of meaning that is not present in the word chair, for instance.

It is noteworthy that words may be grouped together (related to each other) according to different criteria. Animals, for example, may be grouped in terms of physical or perceptual features; they may be grouped in terms of nonphysical features, such as pet, wild, food, etc.

In a very practical situation, the grading of hotels, the word good has a very different meaning when it is used nontechnically (in the field of good, bad, indifferent, etc.) than when it used ‘technically’ by some travel agents, in a strictly limited system of comparative grading as the lowest in the field of first-class, luxurious, superior, good (Robin, 1980).

From a stylistic point of view, the verbs steal, pilfer, lift, pinch, swipe, and snitch may be subgrouped in terms of being formal (steal, pilfer), colloquial (lift, pinch), and slang (swipe, snitch).

Semantic Fields and the Psychological Relatedness of Words

To know the meaning of a set of words (like chair, table, apple) would seem to entail knowing that the first two are more closely related to each other than the third. That is, individual word meanings exist within systems of related meanings, and knowledge of the meaning relations among a set of words would seem to follow from knowledge of the constituent meanings. There is ample psychological evidence that supports this assumption (How, 1999). Adults are better at remembering words from lists that contain semantically related subsets than words from lists of unrelated words. In addition, if the semantically related words are separated in the list, adults tend to cluster them by meaning in output. On the other hand, speech errors made by native speakers (slip of the tongue) show that most wrong words used come from the same semantic field as the intended word (Fromkin, 1973).

Semantic Fields and Advanced Vocabulary Instruction

Besides learning the basic sense of each new word, the EFL/ ESL learner should recognize its relation to other words with similar meaning.
It has been shown above that the human mind takes account of such similarity of meaning in organizing words. Hence, it is plausible to assume that a method of teaching that takes account of the psychological processes underlying semantic relatedness must be more effective pedagogically than one that does not. It is therefore logical to explicitly teach some foreign language vocabulary in semantic fields. Semantic interrelationships among words can not be acquired incidentally through reading. They need direct systematic instruction

From the pedagogic point of view, ‘componential analysis’ (CA) offers a systematic and easy way of describing similarity and difference in meaning. It consists of breaking down the meaning of a word into what are known as semantic components or features (Lyons, 1995).

Using CA to teach semantic sets enables the learner to recognize: first, the semantic relatedness between words (words belong to the same semantic set when they share some semantic features); second, the fact that hardly ever share all features. In practice, very few words in any language are interchangeable in all contexts. Thus the term ‘synonym’ used in foreign language teaching is often confusing and inaccurate. CA shows the learner that words similar in meaning are not synonymous. Therefore, it is pedagogically desirable to provide the learner with vocabulary richness activities that incorporate various semantic sets. I used some of these activities with my EFL advanced students. Students found them motivating and interesting. Some students indicated that these activities made learning vocabulary a cognitively challenging experience. The following activities are examples:

  • 1. Using the information in the following table, fill in the blanks in the sentences below:
    a table

    • A) They were clearly ____________ at our sudden arrival.
    • B) I was ___________ at the three_year_old boy’s ability to swim.
    • C) The tropical islanders were ________ to see snow for the first time in Europe.
    • D) His parents were __________ to learn that their young son had robbed a bank.
    • E) I was ________ to receive so many presents on my birthday.
  • 2. Look at the following set of words: palace, villa, mansion, hut, bungalow. Which word means:
    • a) A house, small, of one story?
    • b) A house or cabin of the plainest or crudest kind?
    • c) A house in the country, for the hunting or shooting season?
    • d) A house, large and stately?
    • e) A house on its own grounds or garden, on the outskirts of a town?
    • f) A house, the official residence of a sovereign or an important figure?
  • 3. Insert the following words in the sentences below: murdered, executed, assassinated, killed.
    • a) The disease _________ the children.
    • b) He was _________ by a falling stoned.
    • c) President Kennedy was _________ in 1993.
    • d) He was ________ for murder.
    • e) Five people were _________ in the car accident.
    • f) The man who _________ his wife was sentenced to death.
    • g) The man who _________ the president was _________ after a fair trial.
  • 4. Insert the following words in the sentences below: accused, impeached, incidental, blamed, criticized.
    • a) The minister was _________ for taking bribes.
    • b) She ________ her servant of stealing her diamond ring.
    • c) The arrested people were ________ for the riot.
    • d) The committee _________ the factory.
    • e) Factories were ________ for polluting the river.
  • 5. Use the following information to fill in the blanks in the sentences below:
    • Crumb: a small piece of dry food.
    • Rag: a small piece of cloth.
    • Drop: a small amount of liquid.
    • Dab: a small amount of something soft.
    • Chip: a small piece broken off something hard.
    • Splash: a small amount of liquid added to something.
    • Dash: a small amount of something added, liquid or solid.
    • a) The mouse ran off with a _______ of cheese.
    • b) Stick it down with a _______ of glue.
    • c) Milk in your coffee? Yes, pleas. Just a ________.
    • d) I’ d like a ________ of pepper in my food.
    • e) I need a _________ to polish my shoes with.
    • f) There is a ________ of lipstick on your jacket.
    • g) A _______ of glass fell on the floor.

Learners should be encouraged to consult dictionaries to arrive at the correct answers. Group discussion is a fruitful technique through which the teacher can help the learners arrive at the correct answers. In activities 1, 2, and 5 the semantic features are given. In activity 3, the verbs are to be explained from a sociolinguistic point of view, i.e., we must understand the differences between the intentions underlying the actions in question and the social settings and roles of the persons involved. A person may be killed in an accident or by a falling stone or by a disease, but he can be murdered, executed, or assassinated only by another human being. Moreover, the difference between them lies in the character of the intension: murder, on purpose, and having the goal of revenge or personal gain; assassinate, having a political aim; and execute, being killed as a legal punishment for some criminal act.

As for the verbs in activity 4, learners should realize that indict applies to the ‘formal’ accusation of a person based on positive legal evidence; impeach is limited to the ‘formal’ accusation of a high political figure; accuse would have no effect at all if the judge were unable to prove the accused to be guilty; it also applies to the ‘ informal’ accusation of a person. Moreover, these three verbs involve ‘social morality,’ and we attribute morality only to people, not to inanimate objects. Therefore, they are used only with human beings. On the other hand, we blame inanimate objects as well as people, but we usually criticize only those objects that are somehow connected with man’s actions. We blame a factory and criticize a factory. While the accused, if he proves to be guilty, deserves punishment, the one who is criticized does not necessarily deserve punishment, and criticism is often understood as a sort of help (Markova, 1978).

At a more advanced level, learners should realize that semantic fields may differ from one culture to another (Allan, 2001). They may be asked to compare semantic sets in English with similar sets in their native language.

Learners should be encouraged to form semantic sets through their reading. They should recognize how the use of one word instead of another within the same semantic set may lead to misunderstanding. Therefore, it is important that they explicitly recognize the objective and rationale behind these vocabulary activities. An explicit understanding of the reason for an activity often improves motivation and facilitates learning. On the other hand, these activities may be considered awareness-raising activities. Conscious awareness of the interrelationships among words provides learners with a tool that enables them to process input more effectively (Lewis, 1997, p.260) as well as a tool for organizing mental lexicon (Singlleton, 1999, p.273).


  • Allan, K. (2001) Natural Language Semantics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
  • GU, Y and Johnson, R. (1996) Vocabulary Learning Strategies and Language Learning Outcomes. Language Learning, 64, 4, pp.643- 679.
  • How, M. (1999) A Teacher’s Guide to the Psychology of Learning. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Inc.
  • Fromkin, V. (1973) Speech Errors as Linguistic Evidence. The Hague: Mouton.
  • Lewis, M. (1997) Pedagogical Implications of the Lexical Approach. In. Coady, J. & Huckin, T. (Eds.) Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition: A Rationale for Pedagogy. New York: CUP.
  • Lyons, J. (1995) Linguistic Semantics: An Introduction. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Markova, I. (1978) Attributions, Meaning of Verbs, and Reasoning. In Markova, I. (Ed.) The Social Context of Language. London: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Robins, R. (1980) General Linguistics: An Introductory Survey. London: Longman.
  • Rodriguez, M. and Sadoski, M. (2000) Effects of Rote, Context, Keyword, and Context/ Keyword Methods on Retention of Vocabulary in EFL Classrooms. Language Learning, 50, 2, pp. 385- 412.
  • Rudska, B., Channell, J. Ostyn, P. and Putseys, T. (1982) The Words You Need. London: MacMillan.
  • Singlleton, D. (1999) Exploring the second Language Mental Lexicon. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Stubbs, M. (2001) Words and Phrases: Corpus Studies of Lexical Semantics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
  • Zimmerman, C. (1997) Do Reading and Interactive Vocabulary Instruction Make a Difference? An Empirical Study. TESOL Quarterly, 31,1, pp. 121- 140.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VIII, No. 11, November 2002

diposting sebagai bagian dari Tugas CALL

Add a comment Desember 15, 2010

Reading Theory as a Microcosm of the Four Skills by Ciarán P. McCarthy

Reading Theory as a Microcosm of the Four Skills

Ciarán P. McCarthy
ciaran [at]


In the first section of this paper we shall look at how helpful it is to treat, at a theoretical level, the four language skills separately from one another. In the second section, we shall imagine, and briefly describe, a small group of L2 learners in a specific classroom context giving a discursive commentary on how we could set about focusing on the development of the group’s proficiency in reading skills.

Treating the Four Language Skills Separately from One Another

There is a growing realisation among EFL teachers that the overt processes involved in language – the four skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking – which have been, in the past, “treated somewhat in isolation, in fact have so much in common with each other, that it makes much more sense to treat them holistically”, (Wray & Medwell 1991:3). It has been noted that the links between reading and writing, for example, have been emphasised to such an extent that it is now normal to see them referred to as “literacy” (ibid.:3). Similarly, the term “oracy” is commonly used to denote the skills of speaking and listening.

This is no doubt true, even unavoidable, in the practical classroom situation. However, I would argue that to look at the four skills individually, in order to look for parallels between the processes is in theoretical terms, far more useful for those who strive to learn from these theories and use them in a constructive way. Thus, the sum of the parts may be greater, and more practically helpful, than the whole.

Each of the “four skills” is itself composed of component sub-skills. Grabe (1992:50-3) notes six in particular in the case of reading. These are:

  1. the perceptual automatic recognition skill;
  2. linguistic skills;
  3. knowledge and skills of discourse structure and organisation;
  4. knowledge of the world;
  5. synthetic and critical evaluation skills;
  6. metalinguistic knowledge and skills.

It is arguable that these sub-skills are, to a greater or lesser extent, also sub-skills of writing, speaking and listening. This suggests that basic strategies used are similar, if not exactly the same, in each of the four skills. However, since the four modalities impose different constraints, at many different levels, on each occasion that they are called upon, they encourage a unique emphasis on particular combinations of strategies on each occasion.In reading, the notions of “bottom-up” and “top-down” processing, (also known as “outside-in” and “inside-out” processing), are not without their problems. Consider this sentence (Wray & Medwell 1991: 98) “iF yuo aer a fluet reodur yuo wll hve on pRblme reOdng ths sNtnce”. A purely bottom up strategy, which is essentially a code-cracking activity, simply cannot account for the comprehension of this sentence. Top-down strategies must come into play in order that the reader may find “meaning” in these symbols.

There is a clear parallel here with listening skills. An analogous situation for EFL students who have only ever heard standard R.P. English spoken, would be when they find themselves listening to a speaker from inner-city Dublin; indeed, this is a difficult task for many native English speakers; however, meaning may still be found by both groups. It is normal for language learners to report that they do not catch every word spoken, but that they, nonetheless, manage to understand the meaning of the sentence. Conversely, it is also common that the language learners report that they “understand” every word, but can not grasp the meaning of the sentence.

Stanovich (1980:36) “questioned the hypothesis-testing models” and rejected them “because they require[d] implausible assumptions about the relative speeds of the processes involved”. Oakhill & Garnham (1988) assert that while good readers, and, by extension good listeners, may indeed “have greater contextual awareness, they do not, in fact, need to use it” and Samuels and Kamil (1988: 32) sum this up by saying that “if a skilled reader can generate predictions, the amount of time necessary to generate a prediction may be greater than the amount of time the skilled reader needs to simply recognise the words”. So, a total reliance on top-down processing, while initially attractive, may later lead to some practical and theoretical conclusions that are less than satisfactory; for example, that the language learner does not need to develop much conscious knowledge of the features of written language, because the clause, or even the sentence, would be the most significant linguistic units, rather than the word. This is particularly problematic in reading theory, as L1 studies in phonological awareness, by Goswami (1994) and others, have clearly linked early ability to segment words into their constituent phonemes with later reading proficiency.

Stanovich’s (1980) interactive-compensatory model, while not universally accepted, seems to account for the major problems encountered by purely top-down or bottom-up approaches to comprehension, because “process[es] at any level can compensate for deficiencies at any other level” (ibid.:36). So, it seems that comprehension, of written and spoken discourse, relies on a symbiosis of top-down and bottom-up strategies. Thus, the perceptual-automatic recognition skill noted by Grabe (1992) above seems psychologically real and theoretically plausible, both in terms of Stanovich’s model, and of Underwood’s (1982) assertion that “attention can only be diverted to higher-level activities, such as comprehension, when lower-level activities have become skilled through practice”.

“Though recent findings… [by Danks & End (1985) and Lund (1991)] on language processing… are still tentative, they suggest that basic strategies focusing on the most important words in a text for example, and activating background schemata  are the same in listening and reading… However, since the two modalities impose different processing constraints, they encourage the emphasis of different strategies” (Strodt-Lopez: 1996:35-6). Thus, listeners tend to rely more on top-down processing, from “background knowledge to the particulars”, while readers tend more towards bottom-up strategies, from “the particulars of the text to background knowledge (ibid.:35-6).

I believe that in recent years teachers and materials designers have concentrated mainly on developing the top-down skills for both reading and listening (See Paran: 1996). This seems to be the case because, while justifiable in theories of L1 skills, they have failed, to some extent, to recognise that the situation is somewhat different for L2 learners, as they have to “compensate for the lack of good linguistic skills” and for “the lack of well-developed automatised skills” (ibid.:29). Similarly, it is also true, to some extent, that there has been a lack of bottom-up support for the production skills, writing and speaking, because in recent years, with the advent of communicative language teaching, there has been an unnecessarily strong, though perhaps not surprising, emphasis by teachers and materials designers on communication at the expense of accuracy, perhaps due to misconceptions about what is involved in the communicative approach (See Thompson: 1996).

By looking at any one of the skills, reading in this case, we can see a microcosm of all the skills. We have noted how some of the more important sub-skills of reading are present in each of the other three skills. We have seen how the only difference is in their emphasis. It is my belief that in giving the L2 student both as much input and practice as they can reasonably manage, and a strong metalinguistic awareness, we, as teachers give the student the tools to learn a language proficiently. It is in equipping the student with both declarative knowledge, as well as the procedural knowledge, that they not only listen to the music, but also appreciate its subtle intricacies.

A Small Group of L2 Learners in a Specific Classroom Context

In this section of the paper, we will consider some practical ways of aiding a particular group of students, in becoming more proficient readers. This imaginary group consists of about ten or so European students, of varied nationalities, in their early to mid-twenties. Let us say that they are of upper-intermediate standard. They are in Ireland on an intensive four week course; this course consists of four hours tuition daily, and two two-hour workshops each week. On the other days, there is an extensive, and carefully structured, social and cultural programme, which they are free to, and do, participate in. This group will be familiar to many EFL teachers as they are the backbone of many schools in Ireland and Britain.

One of the most important initial tasks for any teacher is the task of knowing his clients. The notion of needs analysis is absolutely central. Even with as few details as we have outlined above, there are certain things that we can assume about this group. First, given their age group, it is reasonable to assume that many of them will be students; their needs in English will most predominantly lie in the area of reading. University systems in Europe, unfortunately, are dominated by the grammar-translation method of language teaching, where, as often as not, English is only taught as a means to accessing literature, be it classical, technical or otherwise. Any of the group that actually work, will almost certainly be trying to improve their English, as a means of improving their job prospects or job performance; their needs will be much broader, but, nonetheless, the skills in written language are likely to be of most concern to them, as the written form is more formally bound than the spoken form.

Second, given the age group of our clients, they are almost certainly attending the course of their own accord. Had they not been so motivated, they could have spent two weeks lying on a beach somewhere sunny, drinking piña coladas, and not using their brains. It is also worth noting that the clients have opted for intensive courses, over and above the already taxing four hours a day tuition.

Third, the group is European. This means that they will all be literate; in Europe, so commonplace is literacy, in fact, that the students will probably have no thoughts on the subject beyond the idea that everybody is able to read and write. In terms of their English, being of upper-intermediate level, their skills in English language literacy are probably quite proficient in certain ways. This does not mean, however, that they are infallible. In other ways their L2 capabilities are severely restricted.

While the clients’ individual learning styles and preferences, their past experiences in learning language, their linguistic aptitudes, their personalities, perhaps even their views on life, are probably all quite different, they now find themselves on a (reasonably) level playing field, culturally, linguistically and in many other ways too. It is this that the teacher must take advantage of.

All of the group will experience problems with reading, though it is probably true that they will have had, in some cases, several years tuition, and practice, in reading English. It is for the teacher to facilitate the strategies necessary for each client to solve his or her own problems. In approaching a text on an unknown topic with a class, it is often extremely beneficial to make additions to the text: adding pictures, a title, or perhaps even a short summary at the beginning. This permits, and even forces, the individuals to build up some hypothesis or schema, of what the text is likely to consist of. This aids in top-down processing. On the other hand, we also need to encourage bottom-up processing, and on occasions, this is may be achieved by pre-reading exercises; for example, a short brainstorming session by the class, after reading the short summary suggested above, can often yield a whole whiteboard of material, without any intervention by the teacher. In this way the “collective consciousness” of the class may be tapped and focused.

Study aids are another useful aid to comprehension facilitation. Activities such as note-taking, underlining, summary writing and so on, can all help the student to reinforce what they have learned. However, they play a very helpful dual role: that of comprehension fostering and comprehension monitoring simultaneously.

Often, it can be helpful for the teacher to teach metacognitive strategies overtly, if not obviously. A common method of doing this in EFL is the “teacher think-aloud” method. A simple idea, where the teacher, or better still, the student, simply solves the problem at hand by going through it mentally, step by step, but voicing these steps all along.

An extension of this is the notion of reciprocal teaching and has been in the communicative classroom for many years, and has proven itself to be an extremely effective way of fostering the strategies of questioning, clarifying, summarising and predicting; this too is both comprehension fostering and monitoring, and is particularly good at fostering a “collective consciousness”. The hallmark of this form of instruction is the lack of passive inattention, that often accompanies reading. Here the students take turns being the “teacher”  being interactive with his or her students. For example, a number of students read some short passages aloud, and then the “teacher” asks questions, and leads a discussion, on the text. All the students are expected to “chip-in” whenever they can. At upper-intermediate level this can get quite noisy. The “teacher” asks for clarifications on any of the points raised and finally, the “teacher” summarises the section of the text, and makes predictions about what is likely to occur in the following sections. Reciprocal teaching is not only very effective, but it is also very popular with the students, too.


Why does it work so well? There are four main ideas behind it – scaffolding and then learner autonomy, which, surprisingly, are not actually at odds with each other, but rather complimentary; active involvement and not passive inattention, and feedback. It is in becoming acquainted with these ideas, consciously and sub-consciously, in declarative and procedural terms, that the learners in our imaginary group may flourish.

With these skills, they may recreate this experience, even when reading alone; it is only by doing this that they may develop their proficiency in the skill of reading. In this very simple classroom procedure we can see some of the theory outlined in Section One of this paper put into practice, though given the space constraints of such a short paper, it is hard to do any justice to the notion that the development of a group’s proficiency in any one skill is closely linked to the development of the strategies and sub-skills embodied in all of the four skills.


  • Carrell, P., Devine, J. & Eskey, D. (Eds.) [1988] Interactive Approaches to Second Language Reading. Cambridge: C.U.P.
  • Danks, J. & End, L. [1985] “Processing strategies for reading and listening.” In Horowitz and Samuels (Eds.) (1987).
  • Goswami, U. [1994] “The role of analogies in reading development.” In Support for learning Vol.9 No.1 (1994) 22-26.
  • Grabe, W. [1992] “What every ESL teacher should know about reading in English.” In Rodriguez, R.A., Ortega, R.L. & Macarthur, F. (Eds.)
  • Horowitz, R. & Samuels, J. (Eds.) [1987] Comprehending oral and written discourse. San Diego, Ca.: Academic Press.
  • Lund, R.J. (1991) “A comparison of second language listening and reading comprehension.” In The Modern Language Journal 75/2: 196-204.
  • Oakhill, J. & Garnham, A. [1988] Becoming a skilled reader. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
  • Paran, Amos [1996] “Reading in EFL: facts and fiction.” In ELT Journal Vol.50/1 Jan. 1996.
  • Rodriguez, R.A., Ortega, R.L. & Macarthur, F. (Eds.) New directions in foreign language teaching theory and practice. Salamanca: Universidad.
  • Samuels, S. J. & Kamil [1988] “Models of the reading process.” In Carrell et al. (1988).
  • Stanovich, K. E. [1980] “Towards an interactive-compensatory model of individual differences in the development of reading fluency.” In Reading Research Quarterly 16: 32-71.
  • Strodt-Lopez, B. [1996] “Using stories to develop interpretive processes.” In ELT Journal Vol. 50/1 Jan. 1996.
  • Thompson, G. [1996] “Some misconceptions about communicative language teaching.” In ELT Journal 50/1 Jan. 1996.
  • Underwood, G. [1982] “Attention and awareness in cognitive and motor skills.” In Underwood, G. (Ed.) Aspects of consciousness Vol.3 Academic Press.
  • Wray, D. & Medwell, J. [1991] Literacy and Language in the Primary Years. London: Routledge.


The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. V, No. 5, May 1999


Add a comment Desember 15, 2010

A Comparison of L1 and L2 Reading: Cultural Differences and Schema by Meena Singhal

A Comparison of L1 and L2 Reading: Cultural Differences and Schema

Meena Singhal
The University of Arizona, USA


eading in the L1 shares numerous important basic elements with reading in a second or foreign language, the processes also differ greatly. Intriguing questions involve whether there are two parallel cognitive processes at work, or whether there are processing strategies that accommodate both first and second languages. This paper will examine how reading in the L1 is different from and similar to reading in the L2. More specifically, factors of cultural differences: content (background knowledge) schema, formal (textual) schema, linguistic (language) schema, will be examined. Based on such a discussion, a profile of a biliterate reader is provided.


The ability to read is acknowledged to be the most stable and durable of the second language modalities (Bernhardt, 1991). In other words, learners may use their productive skills, yet still be able to comprehend texts with some degree of proficiency. Reading, whether in a first or second language context, involves the reader, the text, and the interaction between the reader and text (Rumelhart, 1977). Although reading in the L1 shares numerous important basic elements with reading in a second or foreign language, the processes also differ greatly. Intriguing questions involve whether there are two parallel cognitive processes at work, or whether there are processing strategies that accommodate both first and second languages. Despite these interests, second language research on reading, is frequently dismissed as being marginal and derivative from first language reading. Reading in a second language, for example, was often viewed as merely a slower version of doing the same task in the native language. Such comparisons, however, imply that second language tasks are mapping tasks – that is replacing one mode of behavior with another. While it is true that the L1 and L2 reading process have similarities, it is also important to recognize that many factors come into play, which in turn make second language reading a phenomenon unto itself. Despite the similarities between reading in an L1 and reading in an L2, a number of complex variables make the process of L1 different from L2. Because the reading process is essentially “unobservable” teachers need to make significant efforts in the classroom to understand their students’ reading behaviors and be able to help students understand those behaviors as well. It is therefore important that teachers know as much as possible about the cultural, linguistic, and educational backgrounds of their readers since many of these factors that influence reading in an L2 context.

This paper will examine how reading in the L1 is different from and similar to reading in the L2. More specifically, factors of cultural differences: content (background knowledge) schema, formal (textual) schema, linguistic (language) schema, will be examined. Based on such a discussion, a profile of a biliterate reader is provided. While the research in this domain encompasses a great deal of literature which cannot possibly be covered in its entirety here, it is hoped that this discussion will nonetheless provide readers with an overview in this area.


Types of Schema

Before proceeding any further, the notion of schema must be defined. Schemas, or schema as they are sometimes known, have been described as “cognitive constructs which allow for the organization of information in long-term memory (Widdowson, 1983). Cook (1989) states, “the mind, stimulated by key words or phrases in the text or by the context, activates a knowledge schema” (Cook, 1989, p. 69). Widdowson & Cook both empahsize the cognitive characteristics of schema which allow us to related incoming information to already known information. This covers the knowledge of the world, from everyday knowledge to very specialized knowledge, knowledge of language structures, and knowledge of texts and forms they take in terms of genre, and organization. In addition to allowing us to organize information and knowledge economically, schemas also allow us to predict the continuation of both spoken and written discourse. The first part of a text activates a schema, that is, calls up a schema which is either confirmed or disconfirmed by what follows.

Research on the theory of schema has had a great impact on understanding reading. Researchers have identified several types of schemata. Content schema, which refers to a reader’s background or world knowledge, provides readers with a foundation, a basis for comparison (Carrell & Eisterhold, 1983; Carrell, Pharis, & Liberto, 1989). Formal schema, often known as textual schema, refers to the organizational forms and rhetorical structures of written texts. It can include knowledge of different text types and genres, and also includes the understanding that different types of texts use text organization, language structures, vocabulary, grammar, level of formality/register differently. Schooling and culture play the largest role in providing one with a knowledge base of formal schemata.

While formal schemata cover discourse level items, linguistic or language schemata include the decoding features needed to recognize words and how they fit together in a sentence. First language readers, may through repeated examples, be able to generalize a pattern or guess the meaning of a word, which may not have initially been part of their linguistic schema. The building of linguistic schema in a second language can proceed in the much the same way.

From the above discussion it is evident that schema plays an important role in text comprehension, both in the L1 and L2 context. For example, whether reading in a first or second language, one can assume that both native and non-native readers will understand more of a text when they are familiar with content, formal, and linguistic schema. An L2 reader, however, who does not possess such knowledge can experience schema interference, or lack of comprehension- ideas which are examined further in the following discussion pertaining to relevant research in this area.


Content Schema, Cultural Orientation, and Background Knowledge

Content schema or cultural orientation in terms of background knowledge is also a factor that influences L2/FL reading and has been discussed by Barnett (1989), Carrell and Eisterhold (1983), and Johnson (1982). Most methodologies investigating the role of schemata or background/prior knowledge were variations on Carrell’s (1987) paradigm. This study involved 28 Muslim Arabs and 24 Catholic Hispanic ESL students of high-intermediate proficiency enrolled in an intensive English program at a midwestern university. Each student read two texts, one with Muslim-oriented content and the other with Catholic-oriented content. Each text was presented in either a well-organized rhetorical format or an unfamiliar, altered rhetorical format. After reading each text, the subjects answered a series of multiple-choice comprehension questions and were asked to recall the text in writing. Analysis of the recall protocols and scores on the comprehension questions suggested that schemata affected the ESL readers’ comprehension and recall. Participants better comprehended and remembered passages that were similar in some way to their native cultures, or that were deemed more familiar to them. Other studies have shown similar effects in that participants better comprehended and/or remembered passages that were more familiar to them (Ammon, 1987; Carrell, 1981; Johnson, 1981, 1982; Langer, Barolome, Vasquez, & Lucas, 1990; Shimoda, 1989). Further evidence from such studies also suggested that readers’ schemata for content affected comprehension and remembering more than did their formal schemata for text organization. For example in the Carrell’s (1987) study described above, subjects remembered the most when both the content and rhetorical form was familiar to them. However, when only content or only form was unfamiliar, unfamiliar content caused more difficulty for the readers than did unfamiliar form.

Steffensen and Joag-Dev (1984) conducted a study using two descriptions of weddings both written in English. One was a descritption of an American wedding, while the other was of and Indian (subcontinent) wedding. Both the Indian students, for whom English was an L2, and the American students, for whom English was the L1, read the descriptions and were asked to recall the descriptions. It was found that readers comprehended texts about their own cultures more accurately than the other. While the readers indicated that the words were easy to understand, the unfamiliar cultural protocol of an Indian wedding made the passage more difficult to remember.

Johnson’s (1981) study investigated the effects of the cultural origin of prose on the reading comprehension of 46 Iranian intermediate advanced ESL students at the university level. Half of the subjects read the unadapted English texts of two stories, one from Iranian folklore and one from American folklore, while the other half read the same stories in adapted English. The subjects’ reading comprehension was tested through the use of multiple-choice questions. The recall questions and the texts were also given to 19 American subjects for comparison purposes. Results revealed that the cultural origin of the story had a greater effect on comprehension than syntactic or semantic complexity of the text. In another study, Johnson (1982) compared ESL students’ recall on a reading passage on Halloween. Seventy-two ESL students at the university level read a passage on the topic of Halloween. The passage contained both unfamiliar and familiar information based on the subjects’ recent experience of the custom. Some subjects studied the meanings for unfamiliar words in the text. Results of recall protocols suggested that prior cultural experience prepared readers for comprehension of the familiar information about Halloween on the passage. However, exposure to the unfamiliar words did not seem to have a significant effect on their reading comprehension. An interesting study was carried out by Kang (1992). Kang’s study examined how second language readers filter information from second language texts through culture specific background knowledge. Korean graduate students with advanced English read stories and answered questions. A think-aloud protocol assessing their understanding and inferences indicated an effect of culture specific schemata and inferences upon text comprehension. Although all the variables and factors surrounding the issues of how culture shapes background knowledge and influences reading are not fully understood, there is agreement that background knowledge is important, and that content schema plays an integral role in reading comprehension. Overall, readers appeared to have a higher level of comprehension when the content was familiar to them. Given this, second language readers do not possess the same degree of content schema as first language readers, and hence, this can result in comprehension difficulties.

Formal and Linguistic Schema and Text Comprehension

Many studies have also examined the role of text schemata in relation to readers’ comprehension. Most of these studies employed similar methodologies in that participants read texts and then recalled information, for the most part in writing. The structures inherent in the texts (e.g., compare-contrast, problem-solving structures in expository text, and standard versus structurally interleaved versions of stories) were identified. Recalled information was analyzed for specific variables such as the number of propositions recalled, and temporal sequence of story components.

For the most part, these studies suggested that different types of text structure affected comprehension and recall (Bean, Potter, & Clark, 1980; Carrell, 1984). Some studies also showed that there may have differences among language groups as to which text structures facilitated recall better (Carrell, 1984). For example, Carrell’s (1984) study showed that Arabs remembered best from expository texts with comparison structures, next best from problem-solution structures and collections of descriptions, and least well from causation structures. Asians, however, recalled best from texts with either problem-solution or causation structures, and least well from either comparison structures or collections of descriptions. These results; however, must be taken as suggestive as further studies examining the interaction of language background with text structure are needed. Regardless of these findings, as previously stated, it is important to recognize that organizational structures in text will differ across cultures.

Stone’s (1985) study examined whether language patterns found in English, which differed from those in Spanish, would have a significant effect on ESL learners’ comprehension while reading English text. Average fifth grade readers were randomly assigned to either an initial Spanish-speaking group or an initial English speaking group. Nine stories were developed for the study, three for each of three different language patterns categories: similar, moderately similar, and dissimilar. Measures included a retelling and comprehension questions. Results showed that on the retelling measures, the lowest scores were found on stories that were most dissimilar from the students’ initial language, and oral reading errors increased as language pattern similarity decreased. The results support the contention that texts violating readers’ expectations about language patterns can have disruptive effects.

Over the last few years, the field of contrastive rhetoric has emerged initiated by the work of Kaplan (1966). Its areas of focus are the role of the first language conventions of discourse and rhetorical structure on L2 usage, as well as cognitive and cultural dimensions of transfer, particularly in relation to writing. For the most part, contrastive rhetoric identifies problems in composition encountered by L2 writers and by referring to rhetorical strategies of the first language, attempts to explain them. It is clear that such differences in text structure can lead to difficulties in reading.

Mauranen (1992) examined cohesion in both Finnish and English economic texts and found that Finnish writers employed relatively little metalanguage for organizing text and orienting the reader. In contrast, native English speakers used plenty of devices for orienting the reader in terms of what is to follow in the text and how the reader should understand the different sections of the text. This pattern was found in their writing as well. Finnish writers used less demonstrative references than native English writers. Lindeberg (1988), in her examination of text linguistic features, found differences between Finnish and English writers in terms of topic development and the functions of verbs. Numerous differences have also been found in terms of writing styles between American-English and other languages. American students for example will often comment on the more theoretical and abstract essays of French writers whose essays lack the details and rhetorical patterns found in the American essay tradition. Chinese writing is often described as being verbose, ornamental, and lacking in coherence from a Western point of view, while Japanese writing has been noted for differences in text organization. It appears that they prefer a specific-to-general pattern placing the general statement at the end of paragraphs (Connor, 1996). Lastly, it is important to point out that The differences between the writing systems and rhetorical structures of the native language and the target language may be another factor that influence reading. Orthographic systems vary widely and while some languages may contain many numbers of symbols, other languages contain a limited number. For example, Chinese calligraphy is a writing system with numerous symbols and one that has strong aesthetic elements thereby differing from Engish. Arabic also has a unique writing system in that it is written and read from right to left. These kinds of differences in writing systems can pose difficulties for second language readers. Undoubtedly, students reading in a second language will encounter such difficulties not faced by first language readers. In summary, teachers must therefore be explicit about the structures of the materials the students are reading in the L2 class through which students can become aware of culturally shaped expectations about text and language. Connor (1996) provides an extensive survey on this issue and considers the types of differences between the native and target language that can interfere with text comprehensibility.


In summary, it can be said that the reading in an L1 is similar to and different from reading in an L2. Reading in both contexts requires knowledge of content, formal, and linguistic schema. Reading is also a meaning-making process involving an interaction between the reader and the text. Readers use mental activities in order to construct meaning from text. These activities are generally referred to as reading strategies or reading skills. Successful L1 and L2 readers will consciously or unconsciously engage in specific behaviors to enhance their comprehension of texts. Both top-down and bottom-up strategies are used by effective readers as they read. Goodman (1996) and Smith (1986) suggest that readers go through an ongoing process while reading which involves the continuous process of sampling from the input text, predicting what will come next, testing and confirming predictions, and so on. Readers do not read word for word, but rather use their background knowledge, and various strategies such as predicting and confirming to comprehend text. To this extent then one can say in general terms that reading in the L1 and L2 can be similar. However, as seen from the studies above reading in the L2 is also very different from reading in the L1.

Second language refers to “the chronology of language learning; a second language being any language acquired after the native” (Stern, 1983, p. 12). This definition implies a firmly developed native language. In addition, the term second language implies that the language is probably not spoken in the home. Furthermore, the second language may contain a linguistic base that is syntactically, phonetically, semantically, and rhetorically distinct from the target language. As previously discussed, schema plays an important role in reading comprehension. An L2 reader who is not familiar with culturally based knowledge or content schema, or a reader who does not possess the same linguistic base as the L1 reader will encounter difficulties. Such difficulties may be greater when there is a greater difference between the L1 and the L2. If for example, syntactic structure in a second language student’s native language is very different from that of the target language, a greater degree of cognitive restructuring is required (Segalowitz, 1986). Grabe (1991) also notes that students begin reading in an L2 with a different knowledge base than they had when starting to read in their L1. For example, L1 readers already have a sufficient vocabulary base and know thousands of words before they actually start to read. They also have some grammatical knowledge of their own language. L2 readers on the other hand, do not share these advantages. Furthermore, while the second language reader may have linguistic skills, they often do not have finely honed sociocultural skills, which often means that a second language reader is not equipped with the knowledge to perceive texts in a culturally authentic, culturally specific way, an idea related to lack of content schema. The end result, comprehension, is based on linguistic data.

Given the above discussion, a profile of a biliterate reader can be offered. Biliteracy means that one can read in two more languages. The ability to read and read successfully implies text comprehension and the knowledge of which reading strategies and skills to use, and under what conditions in the languages in question. A biliterate reader in Spanish and English, for example, would mean that the reader is able to read successfully in both languages and would engage in some of the following reading behaviors to enhance reading comprehension and to read effectively. Such a reader would overview text before reading, employ context clues such as titles, subheading, and diagrams, look for important information while reading and pay greater attention to it than other information, attempt to relate important points in text to one another in order to understand the text as a whole, activate and use prior knowledge to interpret text, (which includes content, formal, and linguistic schema), reconsider and revise hypotheses about the meaning of text based on text content, attempt to infer information from the text, attempt to determine the meaning of words not understood or recognized, monitor text comprehension, identify or infer main ideas, use strategies to remember text (paraphrasing, repetition, making notes, summarizing, self-questioning, etc), understand relationships between parts of text, recognize text structure, change reading strategies when comprehension is perceived not be proceeding smoothly; evaluate the qualities of text, reflect on and process additionally after a part has been read, and anticipate or plan for the use of knowledge gained from the reading. While this list is not prioritized or complete, it does provide one with a description of the characteristics of successful biliterate readers. Such a reader would employ these strategies and reading behaviors when reading in all languages. Furthermore, the biliterate reader, regardless of text type, language, or orthography would develop strategies and schemas for dealing with different languages and texts. The biliterate reader therefore is a flexible reader and one who possesses the knowledge, skills and strategies to accommodate to each language situation, and hence the process of reading in either language will not be seen as different by the reader.

In summary, this paper has attempted to discuss some of the differences and similarities between reading in a first language and reading in a second language. Factors of cultural differences were considered with special attention directed to the role of schema and how this relates to text comprehension in an L1 and L2. There are certainly a number of other factors which would contribute to the difference in L1 and L2 reading, but it hoped that this discussion shed some light on how cultural factors, namely differences in types of schema can contribute to this difference. While the two processes are also similar in some ways, it must be noted that students’ perception of their reading difficulties are also similar in many ways across languages. Readers, especially L2 readers, can better understand some of those similarities. Teachers must therefore question students about their reading and reading behaviors, as students themselves can offer tremendous insights into both their L1 and L2 reading experiences.


  • Ammon, M.S. (1987). Patterns of performance among bilingual children who score low in reading. In S.R. Goldman & H.T. Trueba (Eds.). Becoming literate in English as a second language, pp. 71-105. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
  • Barnett, M.A. (1989). More than meets the eye: Foreign language reading theory and Practice. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: CAL & Prentice Hall.
  • Bean, T.W., Potter, T.C., & Clark, C. (1980). Selected semantic features of ESL materials and their effect on bilingual students’ comprehension. In M. Kamil & A. Moe (Eds.) Perspectives on reading research and instruction. Twenty-ninth yearbook of the National Reading Conference, pp. 1-5. Washington, DC: National Reading Conference.
  • Bernhardt, E.B. (1991). Reading development in a second language. Norwood, NJ: Ablex
  • Carrell, P.L. (1981). Culture-specific schemata in L2 comprehension. In R. Orem & J. Haskell (Eds.). Selected papers from the Ninth Illinois TESOL/BE Annual Convention, First Midwest TESOL Conference, pp 123-132. Chicago: Illinois TESOL/BE.
  • Carrell, P.L. (1984). The effects of rhetorical organization on ESL readers. TESOL Quarterly, 18, 441-469.
  • Carrell, P.L. (1987). Content and formal schemata in ESL reading. TESOL Quarterly, 21, 461-481.
  • Carrell, P. & Eisterhold. J.C. (1983). Schema theory and ESL reading pedagogy. TESOL Quarterly, 17(4), 553-573.
  • Carrell, P.L, B. Pharis, & J. Liberto. (1989). Metacognitive strategy training for ESL reading. TESOL Quarterly, 23(4), 647-678.
  • Connor, U. (1996). Contrastive Rhetoric: Cross-Cultural Aspects of Second Language Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Cook, G. (1989). Discourse in language teaching: A scheme for teacher education. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Goodman, K. (1996). On Reading: A common-sense look at the nature lLanguage and the science of reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Grabe, W. (1991). Current developments in second language reading research. TESOL Quarterly, 25(3), 375-406.
  • Johnson, P. (1981). Effects on reading comprehension of language complexity and cultural background of a text. TESOL Quarterly, 15(2), 169-181.
  • Johnson, P. (1982). Effects on reading comprehension of building background knowledge. TESOL Quarterly, 16(4), 503-516.
  • Kang, H. (1992). The effects of culture-specific knowledge upon ESL reading comprehension. School of Education Review, 4, 93-105.
  • Kaplan, R.B. (1966). Cultural thought patterns in inter-cultural education. Language Learning, 16, 1-20.
  • Langer, J.A., Bartolome, L., Vasquez, O, & Lucas T. (1990). Meaning construction in school literacy tasks: A study of bilingual students. American Educational Research Journal, 27 (4), 427-471.
  • Lindeberg, A.C. (1988). Cohension, coherence, and coherence patterns in expository and Argumentative student essays in EFL: An Exploratory Study. Licenciate thesis, Department of English, Abo Akademi University, Turku, Finland.
  • Mauranen, A. (1993). Contrastive ESP rhetoric: Metatext in Finnish-English economic texts. English for Specific Purposes, 12, 3-22.
  • Rumelhart, D.E. (1977). Toward an interactive model of reading. In S. Dornic (Ed.), Attention and Performance VI (pp. 575-603). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Segalowitz, N. (1986). Skilled reading in the second language. In J. Vaid (Ed.), Language Processing in Bilinguals: Psycholinguistic and Neuropsychological Perspectives (pp.3-19). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Shimoda, T. (1989). The Effects of interesting examples and topic familiarity on text comprehension, attention, and reading speed. Journal of Experimental Education, 61(2), 93-103.
  • Smith, F. (1986). Understanding Reading: A Psycholinguistic Analysis of Reading and Learning Read. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Steffensen M.S., & Joag-Dev, C.(1984). Cultural knowledge and reading. In J.C. Alderson & A. H. Urquhart (Eds.), Reading in a Foreign Language (pp. 48-61). New York: Longman.
  • Stern, H.H. (1983). Fundamental concepts of language teaching. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Stone, R. (1985). Effects of English/Spanish language pattern differences on ESL learners’ Comprehension of English text. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 266434).
  • Widdowson, H.G. (1983). Learning purpose and language use. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IV, No. 10, October 1998


Add a comment Desember 15, 2010

Evaluating Sustained Silent Reading in Reading Classes by Chow, Ping-Ha

Evaluating Sustained Silent Reading in Reading Classes

Chow, Ping-Ha
lsp-phch [at]
Po Leung Kuk Lee Shing Pik College (Hong-Kong, China)

Chou, Chi-Ting
ct899 [at]
Deh-Yu College of Nursing and Management (Taiwan)

A literature review on the effects of incorporating sustained silent reading (SSR) in class was given and the key features of successful SSR were examined. A general assumption about reading is that students improve their reading ability by reading a lot. Research on native speakers of English and students of English as a second language has shown that the amount of time spent reading is related to students’ reading comprehension and vobabulary growth. Students also develop more positive attitudes towards reading after the SSR programs. The effects are more prominent when the students are allowed to select their own reading materials and the SSR programs are run for 6 months or more.


A Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) program has been implemented in schools through the Hong Kong Extensive Reading Scheme in English, which has been initiated and developed by the Education Department for 10 years. The aim of the SSR is to help students develop a good habit of reading and improve their English proficiency in the long run. In sustained silent reading, students read silently in a designated time period every day in school. They select their own reading material and are not asked to answer comprehension questions or write book reports. SSR is nothing new. The term Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading was introduced as early as 1960. McCracken (1971) set forth some basic rules for initiating SSR. Since then, it has been implemented in reading classes at all grade levels. According to several research studies, effects of SSR on students’ reading include improvement in reading skills and vocabulary acquisition, as measured by reading test scores, developing a positive attitude towards reading and cultivating a better reading habit.

Gains in Achievment

The study of Nagy, Herman & Anderson (1985) investigated whether students acquire measurable knowledge about unfamiliar words while reading natural text. Subjects were 57 eighth grade students of average and above average reading ability. They were given individual interview and a multiple choice test. The results suggest that a moderate amount of reading will lead to substantial vocabulary gains. Since SSR involves substantial amounts of natural reading, it is probable that this practice fosters vocabulary growth. The researchers state that the findings indicate that reading is a most effective way to produce large-scale vocabulary growth. This study supports the hypothesis that incidental learning from context during free reading is the major mode of vocabulary acquisition during the school years.

A study (Ozburn, 1995) of 60 ninth grade students in remedial classes produces similar findings. Students read a self-selected book for the first 10-15 minutes of each daily 55-minute class. They also checked the books out and were encouraged to read at home. The Gates MacGinite Reading Test was administered before the study and 9 months later. Results show that all students have improved in their reading level. In the Project READ, which includes the use of SSR, conducted in the Washington D.C. public schools, Coley (1983) reported that over the 6 month period of the project, gains in reading achievement occurred in both 7th and 8th grades. The effect of non-stop reading on improved comprehension is evident in achievement score gains(4). Compared with the control groups, students participating in the project demonstrated better reading strategies when having trouble reading a book. Coley thinks that the result of Project READ lends strong support for the inclusion of a period of non-stop reading daily.

Shifts in Attitudes

Attitude changes towards reading have also been observed. Attitude shifts occurred in both attitude towards reading and attitude towards paperback books for students in Project READ(5). Ozburn (1995) reported that the students checked out over 2000 books during SSR program. Wiesendanger and Birlem (1984) noted that nine of the eleven research studies they analyzed presented evidence that students develop more positive attitudes towards reading in schools with SSR. Valeri-Gold (1995) incorporated SSR in her reading classes and found that the majority of students felt that SSR had a positive influence on their attitudes about reading. They had read a lot more since SSR was implemented into their reading classes.

A survey by Wiesendanger & Bader (1989) investigated what happened after the termination of SSR. They monitored the summer reading habits of both students who had, and those who has not been exposed to SSR during the previous school year. Results of the survey show students who had participated during the academic year in a reading program that incorporated SSR read considerably more during the following summer than did those who had not been part of the SSR program. This survey indicates that SSR can affect the reading habits of students even after they have completed the program. It has also been found that SSR has the greatest positive effect on students of average reading ability.

Providing a Better Knwoledge Base

In addition to gains in achievement and shift in attitude, Grubaugh points out that the kind of wide reading that students engage in during SSR should broaden their background of information, thus providing them with a better knowledge base with which to relate to their subject area textbooks and lectures. SSR readers may solve some of their own problems by reading books about kids their own age who are faced with the problems of growing up. Grubaugh stresses that student will learn that reading is more than completing worksheets or memorizing sight words. They learn that reading is laughing, crying, adventuring, exploring, or finding out how to do things. Students will discover reading as a worthwhile pastime and begin to develop an appreciation of the magic of books (170). Fielding et al. agree that reading the wide range of topics in trade books can provide insights into different kind of people, interpersonal relationships, and moral dilemmas that can be difficult to learn from real life.

Does SSR Really Work?

Thousands of students after six or more months of SSR were asked about their reaction to it (McCracken):

Students say they like SSR because it is quiet, with many indicating it is the only quite time in their entire day. All kinds of students have responded that they learned to like to readcPoor readers responded that since no one watches them they can make mistakes without worrying. Able readers say that they are relieved because they don’t have to prove that they are bright every time they read something. All respond that they like SSR because they can read what they want to read (582).

Despite a number of advocates who affirm that SSR works, there are studies which show that SSR makes no significant difference on reading comprehension or it has a negative effect. Dwyer & Reed (1989) conducted a study to investigate the attitudes towards reading of students engaging in SSR. There were 19 fourth and fifth graders in the experimental group and 21 fifth graders in the control group. The experimental group engaged in 15 minutes SSR and the control group had 20 minutes more instructional time in regular reading program. The findings reveal that the experimental group demonstrated an overall drop of nearly 2 points on the attitude scale. The experimental girls gained slightly. There have been no substantial differences in any of the control group pre and post attitude scores. The results seem consistent with findings of a survey by Herbert, (1987) who distributed an attitude survey to 636 students from 7th to 9th grades in a suburban junior high school. Students’ responses were largely negative towards SSR. Students did not like it and did not feel it improved their reading skills (651).

It seems that more studies in this area are needed. However, it has to be noted that in Dwyer & Reed’s study, both experimental and control groups were using the same basal reading series. Even though students were engaged in SSR, they were not reading books of their own choice, and the sample in the study was small. In Herbert’s survey, not much background information is given. It is known that students spent 12 minutes a day 4 or 5 days a week in SSR and they responded anonymously to the survey. In their overview of the research on the effectiveness of SSR, Wiesendanger & Birlem conclude that while effect of SSR on word recognition and reading comprehension appears inconclusive, the relationship between SSR and positive reading attitudes seems clearly established in most studies. They add that “when analyzing the results of long term studies, it is evident that the findings are skewed in favor of SSR” (197). It would prove worthwhile to look into factors that can be attributed to the failure or success of SSR.

Key Elements of Successful SSR

Teacher as a Role Model

Campbell argues that what the teacher does during and after the reading time is crucial. Teachers have the opportunity to demonstrate their interest in and enjoyment of reading by providing a role model of silent reading (179). In order for SSR to be a success, the teacher has to read and modeling does not finish at the end of the silent reading period. Campbell suggests that teachers should comment upon, talk about books they read. Students in class will become eager to do the same. When Valeri-Gold implemented SSR, she brought in several books that she had read over the summer and the latest book she was reading. She told the students why she had selected these books and why she loved to read. She believes that it will help motivate students to select books to read, promote a love for reading and assess who she is as a reader.

A Long Term Project

In reviewing the studies on SSR, Wiesendanger & Birlem observe that four of the five studies conducted for 5 months or less reported that SSR did not improve reading comprehension or word recognition. However, the studies engaging in SSR had achieved significantly better results in reading achievement (199). This observation prompts them to query whether it is possible that the effects of SSR on reading comprehension and word recognition are more likely to be evident only after a period of at least 6 months. From her experience of implementing a successful high school SSR program, Ozburn agrees with Krashen that it will take over 4 months for an SSR program to show results (5). She points out that the time may be longer. It takes many students 4 or 5 months to become hooked on books.

Availability of Materials on a Wide Range of Topics and Readability

The limitation of basal readers leads to the support for using trade books as reading materials for students (Fielding et al. ; Redding). According to Redding, the advantage of using trade books is the wide variety of books available to teachers. The importance of wide variety is to ensure that each student will find a book that will interest him/her. Moreover, trade books use real language, not writing designed to fit a specified vocabulary list. Fielding et al. agree that basal readers and textbooks do not offer the same richness of vocabulary, sentence structure, or literary form as do trade books. Students who spend time reading trade books have more opportunity to unravel the intricacies of written language than students whose reading is restricted to textbooks (153). Ready access to these books is also important. Fielding et al. Remark that although good school and community libraries are a valuable resource, they cannot match the ready availability of books in classroom collections. A classroom library should become a springboard into wider reading. A teacher can build on the students’ experience with the classroom library by actively encouraging them to seek books from school and public libraries (157). If possible, there should be a continuous influx of new books.

Ownership and Communities of Readers

“If we want our adolescent students to grow to appreciate literature, another first step is allowing them to exert ownership and choose the literature they will read” (Atwell 161). Allowing students to select their own reading materials will enhance students’ motivation to read. McCracken states that no student, able or remedial, should be chided for reading an easy book. A student in Valeri-Gold’s SSR class wrote in his journal that in the past, the only time he read was when it was required and he knew that he would be tested on the material. After participating in SSR in class, he feels differently about reading because he chooses his own book to read (336) . Allowing students to create their own ecurriculum’ for reading is an important factor to promote lifelong interest in reading and for students to enjoy reading. By building a community of readers within the class, students can be provided with opportunities after SSR to share their reflections aloud with their peers for discussion and feedback (Valeri-Gold 386). Readers discuss books and what they mean to them, talk about the process of reading and see themselves as readers and interpreters of writing (Redding 6). Siblings, parents and teachers may join the community of readers. The group will talk about books they have read and get recommendation for future reading. Sharing and conferencing of reading experience will help to create a classroom environment where reading is valued.

Other Factors

There are other factors that may be instrumental in determining whether or not SSR is successful. Success of SSR may depend on the support of the principal, teachers, and other staff members in the school. Wiesendanger & Birlem support the view that the attitude of the teacher toward SSR may be very significant. Teachers’ enthusiasm or lack of interest in reading is easily communicated to students. Creating a quiet, relaxing and nonevaluative classroom environment is also a key element for successful SSR.

Studies Done with ESL Students

The discussion of the effects of SSR above is based on the SSR research on native speakers of English. There are a few studies that show SSR can be useful for English as a Second Language students. In Pilgreen & Krashen’s study (1993), 125 high school ESL students in grades 10 through 12 participated in SSR for 12 to 15 minutes per day and were encouraged to continue their reading at home. Results indicate that students clearly enjoyed SSR. They reported that they engaged in outside reading more and liked leisure reading better after the 16-week SSR program. Students also showed gains in the Stanford Diagnostic Reading Comprehension Test. However, there is a lack of a control group in this study. It may affect the reliability of the findings, but the results are suggestive. Another study (Petrimoulx) involved 16 foreign students from 10 countries in the International Language Institute of the University of South Florida. Students were divided into 3 groups. Two groups received no SSR, while the third group did SSR 10 minutes a day for 15 weeks. Pre and Post reading comprehension tests and vocabulary tests were administered. The target group showed reading comprehension and vocabulary gains greater than the two control groups, but the gains are too small to be considered significant from a statistical point of view. A survey in this study does reveal a high degree of acceptance of the SSR activity and an increase of at-home reading.

A study that shows significant results was conducted in India (Aranha), a school in the suburbs of Bombay that uses English as its medium of instruction. SSR was introduced twice a week in one fourth grade class. Attitudes towards reading and reading achievement of the children in the experimental class were compared to those children in a control class that used the same language program without SSR. The results of the study show a high gain in reading attitudes in the SSR group and a loss in attitude scores in the control group. Girls of the experimental SSR group showed significant improvement in achievement scores compared with girls in the control group. Aranha concludes that SSR is a suitable classroom procedure for schools in Asia and Africa since it attempts to improve students’ attitudes towards reading and their achievement in reading (217).

Elley & Mangubhai emphasize the important role of high-interest story reading in second language learning. They claim that exposure of the second language is normally planned, restricted, gradual and largely artificial. The amount of exposure is also limited (54, 55). Second language learners will benefit from total immersion in the target language. To test the “Book Flood Hypothesis”: exposure to large numbers of story books will have an effect on general language competence, Elley & Mangubhai conducted a study in Fiji. The findings of this study and a follow-up study a year later demonstrate that there has been great progress in English language growth in the Book Flood groups.


  • Aranha, M. (1985) “Sustained silent reading goes East.” Reading Teacher, 39(2), 14-217.
  • Atwell, N. (1987) In the Middle. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook.
  • Campbell, R. (1989) “The Teacher as a Role Model during Sustained Silent Reading (SSR).” Reading, 23(3), 179-183.
  • Coley, J.D. (1983) “Project READ: Observations from the Past and Implications for the Future.” ERIC ED 243 363.
  • Dwyer, E.J. & Reed, V. (1989) “Effects of Sustained Silent Reading on Attitudes Toward Reading.” Reading Horizons, 29(4), 283-293.
  • Elley, W. B. & Mangubhai, F. (1983) “The Impact of Reading on Second Language Learning.” Reading Research Quarterly, 19, 53-67.
  • Fielding, L.G., Wilson, P. T. & Anderson, R. C. (1986) “A new focus on free reading: The role of trade books in reading instruction.” The Contexts of School-Based Literacy. Ed. Raphael, T. New York: Random House.
  • Grubaugh, S. (1986) “Initiating Sustained Silent Reading in Your School.” Clearing House, 60(4), 169-174.
  • Herbert, S. (1987) “SSR-What do students think?” Journal of Reading, 30, 651.
  • Hillerich, R. C. (1983) The Principal’s Guide to Improving Reading Instruction. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  • McCracken, R.A. (1971) “Initiating Sustained Silent Reading.” Journal of Reading, 14(8), 521-524, 582-583.
  • Nagy, W.E., Herman, P.A. & Anderson, R.C. (1985) “Learning words from context.”Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 233-253.
  • Ozburn, M.S. (1995) “A Successful High School Sustained Silent Reading Program.”English in Texas, 26(3), 4-5.
  • Petrimoulx, J. (1988) “Sustained Silent Reading in an ESL Class: A Study.” ERIC ED 301 068.
  • Pilgreen, J. & Krashen, S. (1993) “Sustained Silent Reading with English as a Second Language High School Students: Impact on Reading Comprehension, Reading Frequency, and Reading Enjoyment.” School Library Media Quarterly, 22(1), 21-23.
  • Redding, D. W. (1993) “Computer Assisted Book Selection in the Reading Workshop.” ERIC ED 358 417.
  • Valeri-Gold, M. (1995) “Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading is an Effective Authentic Method for College Developmental Learners.” Journal of Reading, 38(5), 385-386.
  • Wiesendanger, K.D. & Bader, L. (1989) “SSR: Its Effects on Students’ Reading Habits after They Complete the Program.” Reading Horizons, 29(3), 162-166.
  • Wiesendanger, K.D. & Birlem, E.D. (1984) “The Effectiveness of SSR: An Overview of the Research.” Reading Horizons, 24(3), 197-201.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VI, No. 11, November 2000

diposting sebagai bagian dari Tugas CALL

Add a comment Desember 15, 2010

Extensive Reading: Why? and How? by Timothy Bell

Extensive Reading: Why? and How?

Timothy Bell
timothy [at]
Kuwait University



An extensive reading program was established for elementary level language learners at the British Council Language Center in Sanaa, Yemen. Research evidence for the use of such programs in EFL/ESL contexts is presented, emphasizing the benefits of this type of input for students’ English language learning and skills development. Practical advice is then offered to teachers worldwide on ways to encourage learners to engage in a focused and motivating reading program with the potential to lead students along a path to independence and resourcefulness in their reading and language learning.

Introduction: The Reading Program

An extensive reading program was established at the British Council Language Center in Sanaa, Yemen. An elementary level class of government employees (age range 17-42) was exposed to a regime of graded readers, which was integrated into normal classroom teaching. Students followed a class reader, had access to a class library of graded readers, and had classes in the British Council library, which gave them access to a collection of 2000 titles. Questionnaires were used to examine students’ reading interests, habits and attitudes, both prior to, and following the program. The class library contained 141 titles in the published readers of some major publishers (see inventory of titles in Bell, 1994). Familiar titles (e.g. popular Arab folk tales) were selected for both the class readers and the class library, so as to motivate the students to read. These titles proved very popular, as did the practice of reading aloud to the class.

Students’ reading was carefully monitored; formal and informal records being kept both by the researcher, and by the students themselves. Reading diaries and book reports were used, together with a card file system to document the program and record both the titles read and students’ written comments on the books. A wall chart acted as a focal point for in-class reading, discussion and exchange of titles. Reader interviews were conducted throughout the program, which ran for a period of six months over the course of two semesters. Students became actively involved in running the class library; tables were arranged and titles displayed attractively during the periods set aside for the reading program. Students were taken into the main British Council library for one lesson a week, during which they participated in controlled twenty-minute sessions of USSR 1 (cf. Davis, 1995).

With reference to research evidence, we now turn to the role of extensive reading programs in fostering learners’ progress in reading development and improvement.

The Role of Extensive Reading in Language Learning


1. It can provide ‘comprehensible input’
In his 1982 book, Krashen argues that extensive reading will lead to language acquisition, provided that certain preconditions are met. These include adequate exposure to the language, interesting material, and a relaxed, tension-free learning environment. Elley and Manghubai (1983:55) warn that exposure to the second language is normally “planned, restricted, gradual and largely artificial.” The reading program provided in Yemen, and the choice of graded readers in particular, was intended to offer conditions in keeping with Krashen’s model. 

2. It can enhance learners’ general language competence
Grabe (1991:391) and Paran (1996:30) have emphasized the importance of extensive reading in providing learners with practice in automaticity of word recognition and decoding the symbols on the printed page (often called bottom-up processing). The book flood project in Fiji (Elley & Manghubai: op cit.), in which Fijian school children were provided with high-interest storybooks, revealed significant post treatment gains in word recognition and reading comprehension after the first year, and wider gains in oral and written skills after two years. 

3. It increases the students’ exposure to the language
The quality of exposure to language that learners receive is seen as important to their potential to acquire new forms from the input. Elley views provision of large quantities of reading material to children as fundamental to reducing the ‘exposure gap’ between L1 learners and L2 learners. He reviews a number of studies with children between six and twelve years of age, in which subjects showed rapid growth in language development compared with learners in regular language programs . There was a “spread of effect from reading competence to other language skills – writing, speaking and control over syntax,” (Elley 1991:404). 

4. It can increase knowledge of vocabulary
Nagy & Herman (1987) claimed that children between grades three and twelve (US grade levels) learn up to 3000 words a year. It is thought that only a small percentage of such learning is due to direct vocabulary instruction, the remainder being due to acquisition of words from reading. This suggests that traditional approaches to the teaching of vocabulary, in which the number of new words taught in each class was carefully controlled (words often being presented in related sets), is much less effective in promoting vocabulary growth than simply getting students to spend time on silent reading of interesting books. 

5. It can lead to improvement in writing
Stotsky (1983) and Krashen (1984) reviewed a number of L1 studies that appear to show the positive effect of reading on subjects’ writing skills, indicating that students who are prolific readers in their pre-college years become better writers when they enter college. L2 studies by Hafiz & Tudor (1989) in the UK and Pakistan, and Robb & Susser (1989) in Japan, revealed more significant improvement in subjects’ written work than in other language skills. These results again support the case for an input-based, acquisition-oriented reading program based on extensive reading as an effective means of fostering improvements in students writing. 

6. It can motivate learners to read
Reading material selected for extensive reading programs should address students’ needs, tastes and interests, so as to energize and motivate them to read the books. In the Yemen, this was achieved through the use of familiar material and popular titles reflecting the local culture (e.g.. Aladdin and His Lamp). Bell & Campbell (1996, 1997) explore the issue in a South East Asian context, presenting various ways to motivate learners to read and explaining the role of extensive reading and regular use of libraries in advancing the reading habit . 

7. It can consolidate previously learned language
Extensive reading of high-interest material for both children and adults offers the potential for reinforcing and recombining language learned in the classroom. Graded readers have a controlled grammatical and lexical load, and provide regular and sufficient repetition of new language forms (Wodinsky & Nation 1988).Therefore, students automatically receive the necessary reinforcement and recycling of language required to ensure that new input is retained and made available for spoken and written production. 

8. It helps to build confidence with extended texts
Much classroom reading work has traditionally focused on the exploitation of shorts texts, either for presenting lexical and grammatical points or for providing students with limited practice in various reading skills and strategies. However, a large number of students in the EFL/ESL world require reading for academic purposes, and therefore need training in study skills and strategies for reading longer texts and books. Kembo (1993) points to the value of extensive reading in developing students confidence and ability in facing these longer texts. 

9. It encourages the exploitation of textual redundancy
Insights from cognitive psychology have informed our understanding of the way the brain functions in reading. It is now generally understood that slow, word-by-word reading, which is common in classrooms, impedes comprehension by transferring an excess of visual signals to the brain. This leads to overload because only a fraction of these signals need to be processed for the reader to successfully interpret the message. Kalb (1986) refers to redundancy as an important means of processing, and to extensive reading as the means of recognizing and dealing with redundant elements in texts. 

10. It facilitates the development of prediction skills
One of the currently accepted perspectives on the reading process is that it involves the exploitation of background knowledge. Such knowledge is seen as providing a platform for readers to predict the content of a text on the basis of a pre-existing schema. When students read, these schema are activated and help the reader to decode and interpret the message beyond the printed words. These processes presuppose that readers predict, sample, hypothesize and reorganize their understanding of the message as it unfolds while reading (Nunan 1991: 65-66).

Practical Advice on Running Extensive Reading Programs


1. Maximize Learner Involvement
A number of logistical hurdles have to be overcome in order to make an extensive reading program effective. Books need to be transported, displayed and collected at the end of each reading session. Considerable paperwork is required to document the card file system, reading records, inventories, book reports and in maintaining and updating lists of titles. Students should therefore be encouraged to take an active role in the management and administration of the reading program. In the Yemen program, students gained a strong sense of ownership through running the reading resources in an efficient, coordinated and organized manner. 

2. The Reader Interview
Regular conferencing between teacher and student played a key role in motivating students in the Yemen to read the books. This enabled effective monitoring of individual progress and provided opportunities for the teacher to encourage students to read widely, show interest in the books being read, and to guide students in their choice of titles. By demonstrating commitment in their own reading, teachers can foster positive attitudes to reading, in which it is no longer viewed as tedious, demanding, hard work, but as a pleasurable part of their learning. 

3. Read Aloud to the Class
In the Yemen study, reader interviews conducted with students revealed the popularity of occasions when the teacher read aloud to the class. The model of pronunciation provided acted as a great motivator, encouraging many students to participate in classroom reading. Students gained confidence in silent reading because they were able to verbalize sounds they previously could could not recognize. This resulted in wider reading by some of the weaker readers in the class. Often thought of as bad practice, reading aloud should play a full part in motivating the emerging reader to overcome the fear of decoding words in an unfamiliar script. 

4. Student Presentations
Short presentations on books read played an absolutely crucial role in the program and students frequently commented on the value of oral work in class for exchanging information about the books. The reader interviews revealed that most of the book choices made by students resulted from recommendations made by friends and not by the teacher. This demonstrates that given the right preparation, encouragement, sense of ownership and belonging, an extensive reading program will achieve a direction and momentum governed by the learners themselves; a large step in the promotion of student independence and autonomy. 

5. Written Work Based on the Reading
Effective reading will lead to the shaping of the reader’s thoughts, which naturally leads many learners to respond in writing with varying degrees of fluency. Elementary level students can be asked simply to write short phrases expressing what they most enjoyed about a book they read, or to record questions they wish to ask the teacher or other students in class. With intermediate students, book reports may be used, with sections for questions, new vocabulary, and for recording the main characters and events. At this level, summary writing is also a valuable practice because it allows learners to assert full control, both of the main factual or fictional content of a book, and of the grammar and vocabulary used to express it. Advanced students can be asked to write compositions, which, by definition, are linguistically more demanding written responses to the reading material. 

6. Use Audio Material in the Reading Program
The use of audio recordings of books read aloud and of graded readers on cassette proved very popular with the students in Yemen, and is advocated for wide application. Listening material provided the learners with a model of correct pronunciation which aided word recognition, and exposed students to different accents, speech rhythms and cadences. Student confidence in their ability to produce natural speech patterns and to read along with the voice of a recorded speaker is central to maintaining their motivation to master the language as a medium for talking about their reading. 

7. Avoid the Use of Tests
Extensive reading programs should be “without the pressures of testing or marks” (Davis 1995:329). The use of tests runs contrary to the objective of creating stress-free conditions for pleasure reading because it invokes images of rote learning, vocabulary lists, memorization and homework. Extensive reading done at home should be under the learner’s control and not an obligation imposed by the teacher. By their very nature, tests impose a rigor on the learning process, which the average student will never equate with pleasure. 

8. Discourage the Over-Use of Dictionaries
While dictionaries certainly have a place in the teaching of reading, it is probably best located in intensive reading lessons, where detailed study of the lexical content of texts is appropriate. If learners turn to the dictionary every time they come across an unfamiliar word, they will focus only on the language itself, and not on the message conveyed. This habit will result in slow, inefficient reading and destroy the pleasure that reading novels and other literature are intended to provide. Summarizing comments on the extensive reading done by his subjects, Pickard (1996:155) notes that “Use of the dictionary was sparing, with the main focus on meaning”. 

9. Monitor the Students’ Reading
In order to run an extensive reading program successfully, effective monitoring is required, both to administer the resources efficiently, and to trace students’ developing reading habits and interests. In the Yemen program, a card file system was used to record titles and the dates the books were borrowed and returned. Input from the monitoring process helps us to record students’ progress, maintain and update an inventory of titles, and locate and select new titles for the class library. It therefore serves both the individual needs of the reader and the logistical task of managing the reading resources. 

10. Maintain the Entertainment
This is perhaps the most important aspect of the program to emphasize. Teachers need to invest time and energy in entertaining the participants by making use of multimedia sources to promote the books (e.g. video, audio, CD ROM, film, etc.). They should also exploit the power of anecdote by telling the students about interesting titles, taking them out to see plays based on books, exploiting posters, leaflets, library resources, and even inviting visiting speakers to give a talk in class on a book they have read recently. In these ways, teachers can maintain student motivation to read and secure their full engagement in the enjoyment the program provides.


Tsang’s (1996) study, carried out in Hong Kong secondary schools, provided further persuasive evidence of the effectiveness of extensive reading in fostering learners’ language development. He found that “the reading program was significantly more effective than the writing program” (1996:225) . Extensive reading programs can provide very effective platforms for promoting reading improvement and development from elementary levels upwards. Although they do require a significant investment in time, energy and resources on the part of those charged with managing the materials, the benefits in terms of language and skills development for the participating learners far outweigh the modest sacrifices required. If such programs receive institutional support and can be integrated into the curriculum so that they become agreed school policy, as suggested in Davis (1995), they will likely be more readily and widely adopted, particularly in countries where material and financial resources are adequate.


1. USSR is uninterrupted sustained silent reading.


  • Bell, T. (1994). ‘”Intensive” versus “Extensive” Reading: A Study of the Use of Graded Readers as Supplementary Input Material to Traditional “Intensive” Reading Techniques.’ Unpublished MA TEFL Dissertation. University of Reading.
  • Bell, T., & Campbell, J. (1996). ‘Promoting Good Reading Habits: The Debate.’ Network 2/3 (pp 22-30).
  • Bell, T., & Campbell, J. (1997). ‘Promoting Good Reading Habits Part 2: The Role of Libraries.’ Network 2/4 (pp 26-35).
  • Davis, C. (1995). ‘Extensive reading: an expensive extravagance?’ English Language Teaching Journal 49/4 (pp 329-336).
  • Elley, W. B. (1991). ‘Acquiring literacy in a second language: The effect of book-based programs.’ Language Learning 41/3: 375-411.
  • Elley, W. B., & Manghubai, F. (1983). ‘The effect of reading on second language learning.’ Reading Research Quarterly, 19/1, (pp 53-67).
  • Grabe, W. (1991). ‘Current developments in second language reading research.’ TESOL Quarterly 25/3: 375-406.
  • Hafiz, F. M., & Tudor, I. (1989). ‘Extensive reading and the development of language skills.’ English Language Teaching Journal, 43, (pp 4-13).
  • Kalb, G. (1986). ‘Teaching of extensive reading in English instruction at the senior gymnasium level.’ Die Neueren Sprachen, 85, (pp 420-430).
  • Kembo, J. (1993). ‘Reading:Encouraging and Maintaining Individual Extensive Reading.’ English Teaching Forum, 31/2, (pp 36-38).
  • Krashen, S. D. (1982). ‘Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition.’ New York: Prentice Hall.
  • Krashen, S. D. (1984). ‘Writing: Research, Theory and Applications.’ New York: Prentice Hall.
  • Nagy, W., & Herman, P. (1987). ‘Breadth and depth of vocabulary knowledge: Implications for acquisition and instruction.’ In Mckeown, M., & Curtis, M. (eds), The nature of vocabulary acquisition. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. (pp 19-35).
  • Nunan, D. (1991). ‘Language Teaching Methodology: A Textbook For Teachers.’ London: Prentice Hall.
  • Paran, A. (1996). ‘Reading in EFL: facts and fictions.’ English Language Teaching Journal, 50/1, (pp 25-34).
  • Pickard, N. (1996). ‘Out-of-class language learning strategies.’ English Language Teaching Journal, 50/2, (pp 151-159).
  • Robb, T. N., & Susser, B. (1989). ‘Extensive Reading vs Skills Building in an EFL context.’ Reading in a Foreign Language, 5/2, (pp 239-249).
  • Stotsky, S. (1983). ‘Research on reading/writing relationships: A synthesis and suggested directions.’ Language Arts, 60, (pp 627-642).
  • Tsang, Wai-King. (1996). ‘Comparing the Effects of Reading and Writing on Writing Performance.’ Applied Linguistics 17/2, (pp 210-223).
  • Wodinsky, M., & Nation, P. (1988). ‘Learning from graded readers.’ Reading in a Foreign Language 5: (pp 155-161).


The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IV, No. 12, December 1998

diposting sebagai bagian dari Tugas CALL

Add a comment Desember 15, 2010

Motivation as a Contributing Factor in Second Language Acquisition by Jacqueline Norris-Holt by

Motivation as a Contributing Factor in Second Language Acquisition

Jacqueline Norris-Holt
jacquijapan [at]
Aichi Shukutoku High School (Nagoya, Japan)

This paper explores Gardner’s socio-educational model and the significance of motivation as a contributing factor in second language (L2) acquisition. Motivation is defined as the learner’s orientation with regard to the goal of learning a second language. Motivation is divided into two basic types: integrative and instrumental. Integrative motivation is characterised by the learner’s positive attitudes towards the target language group and the desire to integrate into the target language community. Instrumental motivation underlies the goal to gain some social or economic reward through L2 achievement, thus referring to a more functional reason for language learning. Both forms of motivation are examined in light of research which has been undertaken to establish the correlation between the form of motivation and successful second language acquisition. Motivation in the Japanese EFL context is then discussed and studies which have been conducted in the field investigated.

Gardner’s Socio-Educational Model

The work conducted by Gardner in the area of motivation was largely influenced by Mowrer (1950, cited in Larson-Freeman and Long 1994), whose focus was on first language acquisition. Mowrer proposed that a child’s success when learning a first language could be attributed to the desire to gain identity within the family unit and then the wider language community. Using this as the basis for his own research Gardner went on to investigate motivation as an influencing factor in L2 acquisition.

Before examining the effect of motivation on second language learning it is first important to realise that it is one variable, which, combined with other factors, influences a learner’s success. Gardner (1982), in his socio-educational model, identified a number of factors which are interrelated when learning a second language. Unlike other research carried out in the area, Gardner’s model looks specifically at second language acquisition in a structured classroom setting rather than a natural environment. His work focuses on the foreign language classroom. The model attempts to interrelate four features of second language acquisition. These include the social and cultural milieu, individual learner differences, the setting or context in which learning takes place and linguistic outcomes (Gardner 1982).

The social or cultural milieu refers to the environment in which an individual is situated, thus determining their beliefs about other cultures and language. It is these beliefs which have a significant impact on second language acquisition. An example of this can be seen in the monocultural setting of Britain, where many believe it is not necessary to learn another language and that minority groups should assimilate and become proficient in the dominant language of the country. The same can be said of many other predominantly monocultural communities throughout the world. However, in other countries such as Canada, bilingualism and biculturalism, are often encouraged within society (Ellis 1997). Gardner (1979, cited in Skehan 1993) suggests that expectations regarding bilingualism, combined with attitudes towards the target language and its culture, form the basis of an individual’s attitude towards language learning.

The second phase of Gardner’s model introduces the four individual differences which are believed to be the most influential in second language acquisition. These include the variables of intelligence, language aptitude, motivation and situational anxiety (Giles and Coupland 1991). Closely interrelated with these variables is the next phase of the model, referred to as the setting or context in which learning takes place. Two contexts are identified, namely formal instruction within the classroom and unstructured language acquisition in a natural setting. Depending upon the context, the impact of the individual difference variables alters. For example, in a formal setting intelligence and aptitude play a dominant role in learning, while exerting a weaker influence in an informal setting. The variables of situational anxiety and motivation are thought to influence both settings equally.

The final phase of the model identifies linguistic and non-linguistic outcomes of the learning experience. Linguistic outcomes refers to actual language knowledge and language skills. It includes test indices such as course grades or general proficiency tests. Non-linguistic outcomes reflect an individual’s attitudes concerning cultural values and beliefs, usually towards the target language community. Ellis (1997) reasons that individuals who are motivated to integrate both linguistic and non-linguistic outcomes of the learning experience will attain a higher degree of L2 proficiency and more desirable attitudes.

Within the model, motivation is perceived to be composed of three elements. These include effort, desire and affect. Effort refers to the time spent studying the language and the drive of the learner. Desire indicates how much the learner wants to become proficient in the language, and affect illustrates the learner’s emotional reactions with regard to language study (Gardner 1982).

Integrative Motivation

Motivation has been identified as the learner’s orientation with regard to the goal of learning a second language (Crookes and Schmidt 1991). It is thought that students who are most successful when learning a target language are those who like the people that speak the language, admire the culture and have a desire to become familiar with or even integrate into the society in which the language is used (Falk 1978). This form of motivation is known as integrative motivation. When someone becomes a resident in a new community that uses the target language in its social interactions, integrative motivation is a key component in assisting the learner to develop some level of proficiency in the language. It becomes a necessity, in order to operate socially in the community and become one of its members. It is also theorised that “integrative motivation typically underlies successful acquisition of a wide range of registers and a nativelike pronunciation” (Finegan 1999:568).

In an EFL setting such as Japan it is important to consider the actual meaning of the term “integrative.” As Benson (1991) suggests, a more appropriate approach to the concept of integrative motivation in the EFL context would be the idea that it represents the desire of the individual to become bilingual, while at the same time becoming bicultural. This occurs through the addition of another language and culture to the learner’s own cultural identity. As Japan is predominantly a monocultural society, opportunities to use the target (L2) language in daily verbal exchanges are relatively restricted. There is also limited potential for integrating into the target language community.

Instrumental Motivation

In contrast to integrative motivation is the form of motivation referred to as instrumental motivation. This is generally characterised by the desire to obtain something practical or concrete from the study of a second language (Hudson 2000). With instrumental motivation the purpose of language acquisition is more utilitarian, such as meeting the requirements for school or university graduation, applying for a job, requesting higher pay based on language ability, reading technical material, translation work or achieving higher social status. Instrumental motivation is often characteristic of second language acquisition, where little or no social integration of the learner into a community using the target language takes place, or in some instances is even desired.

Integrative vs Instrumental Motivation

While both integrative and instrumental motivation are essential elements of success, it is integrative motivation which has been found to sustain long-term success when learning a second language (Taylor, Meynard and Rheault 1977; Ellis 1997; Crookes et al 1991). In some of the early research conducted by Gardner and Lambert integrative motivation was viewed as being of more importance in a formal learning environment than instrumental motivation (Ellis 1997). In later studies, integrative motivation has continued to be emphasised, although now the importance of instrumental motivation is also stressed. However, it is important to note that instrumental motivation has only been acknowledged as a significant factor in some research, whereas integrative motivation is continually linked to successful second language acquisition. It has been found that generally students select instrumental reasons more frequently than integrative reasons for the study of language. Those who do support an integrative approach to language study are usually more highly motivated and overall more successful in language learning.

One area where instrumental motivation can prove to be successful is in the situation where the learner is provided with no opportunity to use the target language and therefore, no chance to interact with members of the target group. Lukmani (1972) found that an instrumental orientation was more important than an integrative orientation in non-westernized female learners of L2 English in Bombay. The social situation helps to determine both what kind of orientation learners have and what kind is most important for language learning. Braj Kachru (1977, cited in Brown 2000) also points out that in India, where English has become an international language, it is not uncommon for second language learners to be successful with instrumental purposes being the underlying reason for study.

Brown (2000) makes the point that both integrative and instrumental motivation are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Learners rarely select one form of motivation when learning a second language, but rather a combination of both orientations. He cites the example of international students residing in the United States, learning English for academic purposes while at the same time wishing to become integrated with the people and culture of the country.

Motivation is an important factor in L2 achievement. For this reason it is important to identify both the type and combination of motivation that assists in the successful acquisition of a second language. At the same time it is necessary to view motivation as one of a number of variables in an intricate model of interrelated individual and situational factors which are unique to each language learner.

Motivation in the Japanese Context

The issue of motivation and the successful acquisition of English in Japan is complex. One cannot simply observe input, in terms of the amount of time spent studying the language and then output, expressed as linguistic performance when investigating language learning. In order to examine language learning in the Japanese context it is necessary to explore a number of factors which contribute to the way in which English education is conducted in Japan. One of the most influential factors is that of the structure of university entrance exams which ultimately determine the institution to which a student gains acceptance. Due to the way these exams are structured, schools and instructors are forced to educate students in a manner which will prove most useful to them. Therefore, the focus of what is taught in secondary school is geared toward sitting such entrance examinations. These exams are a rigorous test of grammatical understanding of the English language, with students being required to translate complex passages and have knowledge of extensive vocabulary and grammatical structures (Morrow 1987). The focus of the exams is not directed toward the speaking and listening skills of students. For this reason schools see no need to prepare students for something which will not be examined. It has been suggested that having to undertake such university exams is the main reason or source of motivation for students studying English (LoCastro 1996). Certainly, a high percentage of both junior and senior high school students identify the major reason for English study as a necessity for achievement in examinations.

Research in Japan

In a study conducted by Berwick and Ross (1989), a group of 90 first-year Japanese university students enrolled in an international commerce and a compulsory English course were examined to determine their degree and form of motivation. The students were found to possess instrumental motivation, with the underlying reason for studying English being the entrance exam requirements for university. Typically, upon entrance to the desired establishment the student’s interest to continue study declined. Prior to beginning the English class the students were tested for motivation, which was found to be low. However, on completion of 150 hours of class time the motivation level of students had improved. Some suggestions for this alteration in motivation included the use of a variety of instructional techniques and the recent adoption of an exchange program with an American sister university. This may have affected student perceptions and thus, their motivation to study the language.

In the same study (Berwick et al. 1989) it was proposed that motivation for studying English peaks in the final year of high school when students channel all their energy into studying for university entrance. Once students gain entrance to a university, motivation to continue English study is sometimes diminished . Many first-year students appear to have no academic purpose. In direct contrast to this, however, is the strong desire of many adults to once again resume study. This often takes place in the many private foreign language schools which provide classes at all hours of the day, catering for the busy employee who is often occupied until late in the evening. Some of the many reasons for the renewed interest of adults in studying include acquiring new skills necessary for the workplace and preparation for an overseas work transfer.

Benson (1991) noted that educators in Japan are often surprised by university student’s lack of ability using spoken English, compared with that of their grammatical understanding of the language. He reported that university student’s motivation to study English was often mixed. Some students appeared to be generally enthusiastic, but lacked application. Benson also found that some of the reasons suggested by students for English study could not be grouped as either integrative or instrumental forms of motivation. For this reason he constructed a third group labelled as “personal”. This category included motivational reasons such as, “pleasure at being able to read English, and enjoyment of entertainment in English” (Benson 1991:36). The results from his study showed a preference for integrative and personal forms of motivation, even though this was restricted. Benson suggests that the student’s rejection of instrumental motivation illustrates the view that students do not perceive English as having a vital role to play in their lives. He also makes the point that the rejection of instrumental reasons for the study of English may indicate that the Japanese language is considered adequate for normal daily verbal exchange.


From information brought to light by Morrow (1987) on English in the Japanese education system it would appear that little has changed in the past 13 years. The teaching of English in junior and senior high school is still directed toward preparing students for university entrance examinations. Therefore, the underlying motivation to study the language is largely instrumental. Morrow claims that many English teachers have poor listening and speaking skills, thus relying on their vocabulary and grammatical understanding of the English language. Although this may be true for many older professionals still engaged in the teaching of English, many younger teachers now entering the system appear to place greater emphasis on developing competency in all areas of the language. Some of these same teachers also work hard to incorporate greater use of oral English within the classroom. This can only work to motivate learners as they are exposed to English speaking Japanese teachers in the education system. Nakamura (1982, cited in Berwick et al. 1989) suggests that the Anglo-American instructors with whom students are presented can often instil psycho-social barriers to learning the English language. Perhaps in the past this may have been true, however with increasing numbers of communicatively competent Japanese teachers this is, perhaps, no longer valid.

Suggestions for Teachers

In order to make the language learning process a more motivating experience instructors need to put a great deal of thought into developing programs which maintain student interest and have obtainable short term goals. At university level this may include, as suggested by Berwick et al. (1989), any number of foreign exchange programs with other universities, overseas “homestay” programs, or any other activities which may help to motivate students to improve their target language proficiency. At the secondary school level, and especially in the senior years, this task may prove more difficult. With the focus of study being directed toward university entrance students may have little desire or indeed motivation to improve language proficiency. For the foreign language teacher this may result in a certain level of frustration due to the general lack of interest and commitment by some students. Teachers need to create interesting lessons in which the students attention is gained. This can sometimes be accomplished by the use of teaching strategies which are not often called upon by other teachers in mainstream subject areas. Encouraging students to become more active participants in a lesson can sometimes assist them to see a purpose for improving their communication skills in the target language. Successful communication using the target language should result in students feeling some sense of accomplishment. Research in the area suggests L2 achievement strongly affects learner motivation (Strong 1983, cited in Ellis 1997).

The use of an interesting text can also help to increase the motivation level of students in the classroom. Many Japanese texts often contain material which fails to capture the interest of students due to the heavy emphasis on vocabulary and grammar. Many foreign texts, however, which have been designed for EFL, and specifically the Japanese market, often contain topics which can create a great deal of classroom interaction and help to motivate students to develop their language skills. It is important for the instructor to take advantage of such discussion topics and help students to realise that, even though they may see no need to become proficient in a second language, the study of another language and culture can only enhance their perception and understanding of other cultures.

No matter what the underlying motivation to study a second language, what cannot be disputed is the fact that motivation is an important variable when examining successful second language acquisition. Japan is perhaps, a unique environment in which to learn English, especially when taking into consideration the many factors which influence the manner in which the language is taught. Although change may be slow to the education system, the introduction of the English language as a subject in elementary school, in the year 2002, can only help to further motivate students to achieve higher levels of proficiency in the future.


  • Benson, M.J. (1991). Attitudes and motivation towards English : A survey of Japanese freshmen. RELC Journal, 22(1), 34-48.
  • Berwick, R., & Ross, S. (1989). Motivation after matriculation : Are Japanese learners of English still alive after exam hell? JALT Journal, 11(2), 193-210.
  • Brown, H.D. (2000). Principles of language learning and teaching (4th ed.). Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Crookes, G., & Schmidt R.W. (1991). Motivation : Reopening the research agenda.Language Learning, 41(4), 469-512.
  • Ellis, R. (1997). The study of second language acquisition. Oxford University Press.
  • Falk, J. (1978). Linguistics and language : A survey of basic concepts and implications (2nd ed.). John Wiley and Sons.
  • Finegan, E. (1999). Language : Its structure and use (3rd ed.). Harcourt Brace.
  • Gardner, R.C. (1982). Language attitudes and language learning. In E. Bouchard Ryan & H. Giles, Attitudes towards language variation (pp. 132-147). Edward Arnold.
  • Gardner, R.C., & Lambert, W.E. (1972). Attitudes and motivation : Second language learning. Newbury House.
  • Giles, H., & Coupland, N. (1991). Language : Contexts and consequences. Open University Press.
  • Hudson, G. (2000). Essential introductory linguistics. Blackwell Publishers.
  • Larson-Freeman, D., & Long, M.H. (1994). An introduction to second language acquisition research. Longman.
  • LoCastro, V. (1996). English language education in Japan. In H. Coleman, Society and the language classroom (pp. 40-58). Cambridge University Press.
  • Lukmani, Y.M. (1972). Motivation to learn and language proficiency. Language Learning, 22, 261-273.
  • Morrow, P.R. (1987). The users and uses of English in Japan. World Englishes, 6(1), 49-62.
  • Skehan, P. (1993). Individual differences in second-language learning. Edward Arnold.
  • Taylor, D.M., Meynard, R., & Rheault, E. (1977). Threat to ethnic identity and second-language learning. In H. Giles, Language, ethnicity and intergroup relations (pp. 99-118). Academic Press.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VII, No. 6, June 2001

diposting sebagai bagian dari Tugas CALL

Add a comment Desember 15, 2010

Latest Posts



Tugas CALL Uncategorized

Tag Here

Find Here

Chitorey’s Calendar

Juni 2018
« Des    


Latest Comment

murcha di How to Use Skype in the ESL/EF…
Mr WordPress di Hello world!

Log In Here

Blog Stats



Kesalahan: Twitter tidak merespons. Tunggulah beberapa menit dan perbarui halaman.