According to Encarta on line, the English language is the chief medium of communication of people in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Since the middle of the 20th century, English language has become widespread around the world. It is often considered the world language. English in South Africa is mainly learned as a means to gain access to knowledge in various fields.
THEORETICAL CONSIDERATION AND THE PROBLEMS OF READING SKILL
Theoretical considerations in this research, comprises problems of reading skills in first additional language. Lado (1996:159) states that: “consider learning to read in foreign language as grasping meaning in the language through its written symbols”.
Similar views were echoed by Gritter (1977:245) when he equated reading to direct communication from the printed page to the reader’s mind.
The central theme of this study was that reading skills seemed to lose its value due to numerous problems and lack of motivation in reading at schools.
Different challenges, such as educators being not well trained in facilitating reading skills; lack of support systems; illiteracy; poor socio-economic; interference of L1 and first additional language; learners’ environment; and technological systems, seem to hinder the progress and development of reading skill.
In the economic sector, employers found that many African job applicants were unable to read and to fill in English application forms. Since there are few native speakers of English in Limpopo Province, Lebowakgomo Circuit in particular, English literacy is limited.
Insufficient training in reading skills on the part of teachers.
Blame for poor reading result was laid on lack of effective reading instruction on the part of educators. Carlson (1972:32) supports this thus; “public schools have been blamed for not having strong programme of organized phonics and lack of instruction in the decoding of sounds the letters represent”.
The researcher agrees that educators are the cornerstones of reading skill activities. As such, they needed intensive in-service training in order to practise their duties effectively and improve on poor reading results.
Devine et al.; (1987:254) confirmed that “there is a general agreement among teachers and students that the reading sections are responsible for the high failure rate”. The researcher agrees that lack of instruction in the decoding of the sounds is the main explanation why many disadvantaged learners are retarded in reading. It is also the reason for high illiteracy rate among both the young and adults in South Africa, and Limpopo Province in particular.
Owen (1992:97) noted that teachers were aware of the limitations of their children’s reading performance in global terms. However, decisions, about the most effective remediation strategies to deploy in particular cases have been hampered by the lack of training.
The socio-economic status of the subjects
According to Johnson (1992:158), Low Socio-Economic Status in a previous cultural setting was not necessarily associated with low achievement.
That is, according to the records, some learners from Low Socio Economic Status perform well in reading L2. They sometimes out shines learners from High Socio Economic Status.
The problems in assessment of reading skills in secondary schools
Assessment is an important aspect which is viewed as a tool to measure strength and weakness of the learners. It is used as an extrinsic and intrinsic motivation to learners, so that they read more during their spare time. Educators give learners a sense of recognition through reading skill assessment.
Assessment helps educators to assess a learner’s reading skill to make informed decisions about what or where to stress when teaching the learner to read.
According to Farr (1970:1), “most evaluation programs in reading education are too limited.” In assessing the abilities of students, teachers to place more emphasis on the results of standardized reading tests and fail to consider such learners, behaviour as what learners read, attitude toward reading and use of reading to search for answers to personal problem.
The research questions include reading attitude. They refer to feelings that results in learner’s particular approach to reading. Attitude influences the desire to read. Conley (1992:89) states that “positive reading attitudes are essential for success in any content area, negative attitudes accompany reading failure”. Alexander & Filler (1976) add that, “when students have favourable attitudes towards reading, they tend to increase in achievement and they read more”. The word assessment should mean more than obtaining test scores from learners, it should be seen as a value to what it assesses, and that is challenges in reading first additional language.
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Reading skill against technology.
The other goals of this study are to find if there is a predictable relationship between technological systems and time spent on voluntary reading. The researcher believes that technological system challenges the development of reading skill in a positive and negative way. He enjoys the support of other scholars, such as, Mangieri et al., (1982:172), who maintain that “many children today do not enjoy reading in their spare time and seldom choose to read when other activities are available to them”. Moreover, Sunday Times (21 May 2006:8) agrees with this statement by stating that, “Television viewing has become the predominant leisure of youngsters. Some 77, 4% of them watch TV three or more times a week”. The researcher will investigate if this picture portrays is what is happening in the Lebowakgomo Circuit.
May (1986:262) also add that, “at home, reading frequently competes with the omnipresence of television and its titbits of instant culture and its instant action”.
May (1986:262) continue to say that,” numerous studies have shown that the average elementary child watches television more than we would like him/she to”. He continues to say that, “one of the reasons why pupils do not do much reading outside the school is that television provides tough competition for books”.
The researcher also observed that most children are watching television until late in the evening. This tendency was observed during the fifteen years of democracy.
It is because after the 1994 elections, having electricity at home was a right not a privilege. This includes rural, semi-rural and urban area in Limpopo Province.
As such, some rural learners had the opportunity of having television at their homes.
Most of urban area learners move from television viewing to computer games, which is equally a waste of their time. All this leisure happens at the cost of reading their books. Beard (1988:7) supports the statement when he notes that “competing activities such as television viewing and home computers are edging out the habit of reading”.
The problems of relationship between L1 and first additional language reading
The cultural aspect or context of reading infers that the educator and learner understand the basic knowledge of their mother tongue: that is, the histories, literature, current world position and changes involving their native languages.
These aspects show the importance of the learner’s background knowledge.
This view is supported by Lado (1996:5) who argues that: theoretically, in reading a language, it would mean sharing of a culture in order to be able to appreciate fully the works in the target language. The extent to which reading a language entails reading of a culture would be determined by the purpose for which language was being studied.
In South African, there is a national agreement that it is better to learn first in one’s native language, in order to build on what has been learned naturally about reading in L1. The advantages of using a child’s native language as a bridge in transitional situations are self-evident. It builds on what children know, that is, their home language.
Their own language is learned naturally using their own cognitive framework.
This will promote their self-esteem, because it accepts what is an integral part of them. It makes them comfortable during the difficult transition of learning to read in first additional language.
Mitchell & Myles (1998:13) support the above view by saying that “everyday observation tells us that learners’ performance in a second language is influenced by the language that they already know. Pronunciation bears traces of their first language”.
SPECIALISTS/SCHOLARS’ OPINIONS ON THE CONCEPT OF READING.
The researcher wanted to find out what other researchers and theorist say about reading. What is reading? According to the editor, Horton, and writer,
Good Acre (1990:120), “this is the most difficult and complex question to answer, and, to some extent, it depends on who is asking the question.”
There are different kinds of reading. They are, namely, Skimming, Search Reading, Browsing, Careful Reading and Independent Reading. The researcher was interested in doing research on of Careful Reading and Independent
Reading. It is because careful reading is associated with reading text, story books and other instructions. Independent Reading helped learners to develop
Our lives and environments are surrounded by different kinds of information.
Some information is read from the books, newspapers, magazines, instructions from the medications and road signs. Robert (1996:1) points out that “reading can make us more aware of our world and more aware of ourselves. It can stretch our imagination and deepen and enliven our experience. It can provoke us to think by challenging our assumptions”.
Bearne (1998:48) argues that “reading is a social and cultural process where not only homes and classrooms play their part, but larger institutions and cultural influence such as governments and the media contribute to what being a reader involves”. Bearne views reading as an interactive process that brings meaning to the text that you read.
Shelly (1986:50) says that “experts agree that reading is not simply a hierarchically arranged set of sub-skills easily taught and tested, but that it is a complex skill requiring the coordination of a number of interrelated sources of information”. Shelly (1986:50) further says “reading is viewed as the foundation of learning and the key to success in school”. The researcher wants to agree with Shelly because if the learner’s reading skill is well polished, he or she will have minimal problems in coping with content subjects as far as reading is concerned.
Grolier (1979:28) argues that “reading has to do with the process of attaching meaning to certain written symbols. As the word meets the eye, the reader is stimulated to make a mental picture of the action meaning”. The symbols awaken meaning that is already in the mind of the reader.
Neil (1988:28) adds that “reading is creative, what any reader derives from the printed page is not exactly what some other readers would get or even what the author had in mind”. It means that the interpretation of text will always differ from other readers’ perspective, due to different context, home language and other factors.
Carlson (1972:6) found that men of perception and ambition quickly realized that, the art of reading was the lever to free themselves from the bonds of ignorance and gain status in the society. Reading was the basic skill that ought to be mastered by all as the key to sustain an economically self sufficient and effective citizenship.
Encyclopaedia (Q-R Vol.16:10) notes that “the main goal of education is to teach people to read. Reading is one of the principal ways of transmitting a culture of learning from one generation to another”. The failure to read can keep people away from full participation in their society.
Devine et al., (1987:2) state that reading is a multifaceted, complex and interactive process that involves many sub-skills and types of readers as well as text variables. Everything about the reader’s background, especially culture specific knowledge and experiences, are relevant to successful reading and comprehension.
Wepner et al., (1988:160) assert that “reading is a constructive process, reading must be fluent, strategic, it requires motivation. Reading is a continuous developing skill”.
A truly top-down approach to L2 reading has been advanced in 1979. The following: Steffensen, Joag-dev & Anderson, (1979); Carrell (1981, 1982);
Carrel and Eisterhold (1983); Johnson (1981, 1982); and Hudson (1982) agree that top-down L2 reading not only views the reader as an active participant in the reading process; making predictions and processing information, but everything in the reader’s prior experience or background knowledge plays a potential role in the process.
Robert (1996:1) says reading can make us more aware of our world and ourselves. It can stretch our imagination and deepen and enliven our experience.
It can provoke us to think by challenging our assumptions. It can help us make sense of our lives and our world by providing us with explanations that relate what we see, hear, think, and learn. It can enrich our understanding of issues that affect our world and lives.
The ability to read in first additional language with understanding is an important skill in our modern society. We need to bring together the relevant challenges of reading to build a comprehensive theory of reading.
THEORIES OF READING
The researcher discusses theories and theoretical frame work of reading skill.
The reading theories, their principles and functions will be discussed in details.
Larsen (1991:222) states that “a theory is more or less formal, more or less explicit, synthesis of what is known at a given point in time about some natural phenomenon, such as factors involved in L2 reading”.
Theories of reading view reading as cognitive activity which largely takes place in mind. Three types of reading theories are, namely, bottom-up, top down and interactive. The brief explanation of theories is as follows.
Top-down theory of reading
Goodman (1982) says it is the level at which the reader starts with a general idea or schema derived from previously acquired knowledge and uses this schema in perceiving and interpreting graphic cues. Everything in the readers’ prior experience or background knowledge plays a potential role in the process of reading L2. The reading text; genre, socio-cultural, general world and linguistic knowledge code of the learner, are included in the background knowledge.
Interactive theory of reading
True reading involves perception of meaning at different levels. Interaction process is the interaction between bottom-up and top-down levels. When the reader starts with the perception of graphics, but as soon as these are recognized as familiar, schemata derived from both linguistic knowledge of the world in general are brought into play.
According to Conley (1992:54), good readers combine knowledge they already possess with information in texts and with feature of the context in order to construct meaning. This is interacting among reader, the text and the context.
Patricia (1987:24) confirms that reading is an interactive process between the reader and the text. It has been recognized by Goodman (1967, 1971)
Kolers (1969) & Smith (1971). It is only recently that the interactive view of reading has been acknowledged in L2 reading. L2 reading was viewed as a decoding process, a reconstruction of the author’s intended meaning via recognizing the letters and words, and building up a semantic representation of the text’s meaning from the smallest textual units at the bottom to the largest at the top. Bottom-up theory of reading
Bottom-up is processes were graphemes are forming words, words forming sentence, sentences forming paragraphs. Devine et al., (1987:24) explain that, early work on L2 reading, by Rivers (1964, 1968); Plaister (1968), &Yorio (1971), assumed a rather passive, bottom-up view of L2 reading.
Reading was viewed primarily as a decoding process, a reconstructing of the author’s intended meaning via recognizing the letters and words, and building up a semantic representation of the text’s meaning, from the smallest textual units at the bottom to the largest at the top.
Devine (1987:177) states that linguistic schema is the knowledge of the letters and the corresponding sounds; both alone and in cluster, and the ability to predict through the knowledge of syntax, the word or words that will follow, example, phonics, grammar, and letter recognition.
Ralenala (2003:54) believes that “because of poor language proficiency, learners tend to use bottom-up processing strategies that, in turn, cause them to disregard the context relevant to a coherent interpretation of text”.
In conclusion, the above- mentioned theoretical framework of challenges of reading and assessment skills ranges from different concepts. It looked into different writer’s views on reading, discussed why reading assessment in first additional language is important, covers L1 and first additional language interference. It touched on theories, interdependent systems and strategies that play an important role in reading.
In order to promote positive and realistic expectations of first additional language reading, educators should know as about their learners’ existing knowledge and capabilities of reading in English. Everything in the reader’s prior experience or background knowledge plays a critical role in the process of reading first additional language.
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