Approaches to Teaching Reading in a Second Language and the Benefits of Extensive Reading

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Approaches to teaching reading in a second language and the benefits of extensive reading

Written texts are indispensable parts of everyday life as sources of information or pleasure, therefore, developing reading skills is necessary not just in L1 but also in L2 learning and teaching. Reading is a complex psycholinguistic activity that incorporates combinations of determinants which differ in their level of importance depending on the reading context (Hudson 2007). Therefore, teaching reading should take into consideration factors like students cognitive development, the L1 and L2 proficiency level, learning styles, purpose of study, culture orientation and background knowledge. These could be different for each reader, therefore, as Coady (1979) notes “there is no one way to teach reading,” but rather it is the combination of various activities and approaches. The purpose of this paper is to describe the process of second language reading and the features and variables that affect it. Secondly, it points out how some current pedagogical approaches follow these theoretical facets. Finally, it evaluates some approaches used within the context of teaching English to students in non-English speaking country where the input sources are limited.

Process of second language reading
Reading in a second language is no longer seen by experts in reading research as passive but as an interactive process in which the reader actively attains the comprehension from the text using previous experience and knowledge (Brown 2007). This interactive approach integrates simultaneously both bottom-up and top-down processes depending on the kind of the text. Using bottom-up processes the reader decodes in detail all textual components and with top-down processes he employs the world knowledge and previous experience (Richards 1997; Hudson 2007).

The different variables affect reading such as grapheme recognition, syntactic structure, background knowledge, processing strategies, text structure understanding, vocabulary and context of the reading act (Hudson 2007). The role and combinations of these vary according to the nature of the text, desired comprehension, time and the development of a reader from “concrete process strategies such as phoneme-grapheme correspondences and word meaning, gradually to the more abstract process strategies such as context and syntax.” (Coady 1979:8) For reader to comprehend the L2 text, the fluent orthographic processing (word recognition) is essential (Jung 2009). Background knowledge also carries significant importance. The research realized by Recht and Leslie (1989 cited in Hudson, 2007:144) indicates that, regardless the reader´s reading ability, the prior knowledge can determine the quality of text interpretation and understanding. Reading in L2 is also influenced by factors like reader´s cognitive development, L1 and L2 language proficiency, metacognitive knowledge, degree of difference between L1 and L2 and cultural orientation (Aebersold 1997).

Prerequisite for any L2 reading with adequate comprehension is lexical knowledge. Several studies that examined the needed lexical threshold for successful comprehension present different findings. According to some Liu and Nation 1985, Laufer 1989, Hirsh and Nation 1992 cited in Prichard, 2011) a 95% lexical coverage is required to comprehend L2 text. However, this cannot be taken literally as for example, the research conducted by Prichard and Matsumo (2011) shows that even 90-95% coverage has not effectuated sufficient comprehension, while Hu and Nation´s (2000 in Hudson, 2007) study concluded satisfactory threshold level between 80% and 90%. One of the possible reasons of this disparity could be found in text difficulty. Efficient reading requires certain level of lexical knowledge; furthermore, it also instigates an incidental and/or intentional word acquisition and supports fluency development. While studies revealed only small but not...
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