Developing China Students’ English Reading Ability through Extensive Reading

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Reading shouldn’t be just a source of learning, but also a source of enjoyment. In ESL learning, a good reading competence is a necessity and many curricula in China devote a lot of time to reading lessons. Yet many EFL students in China have difficulty in understanding the true meaning of texts they read. The textbooks used in the primary school English classes are mainly designed for intensive reading courses. They include short texts followed by a numerous exercises in order to memorize vocabulary and grammar. Students know that in the end, they will be given quizzes and/or questions which will demand a detailed knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, and structures.

on-postibLibraryAs a result, even young ESL students in China manage to learn large amounts of words and grammatical rules by heart, yet they cannot read well enough to grasp the meaning and enjoy reading. Nuttall says, “An extensive reading program is the single most effective way of improving both vocabulary and reading skill in general” (1982:65). This is Smith’s (1985:88), “Learn to read by reading”. The belief exposure to large quantities of written texts combined with effort made in reading helps to develop reading ability.

Many researchers have emphasized on the effectiveness of extensive reading in contexts of English as a second language. Remember, students should be interested in what they are reading and pay attention to the meaning of the text rather than on the language structure. Extensive reading develops good reading habits, building up knowledge of vocabulary and structure at the same time. Normally, students might be free to choose their own reading material. But in terms of primary school setting, you can suggest several children books to choose from.

It is advised to choose children books that have colorful illustrations, are easy to read, and are related to China in some way. You need to ensure that your students can easily associate themselves with the book characters or the setting. That’s why I would suggest to use books like Wicky Wacky Farm Stories: Peppi Goes to China as it has comfortable settings, and famous Chinese characters in it. Such book will be liked by majority of Chinese children.

Watch the review made by Chinese teacher here:

Extensive reading can result in an enhanced language proficiency and comprehension. In a “book flood” studies (Elly & Mangubhai, 1981, 1983), Fijian school children received a large number of high-interest books in English. As a result, there was the remarkable increase on measures of language use, language knowledge, gains in vocabulary, and other language skills.

Extensive reading texts should have no more than 1% of unfamiliar words as the comprehension may not be satisfactory. That is why graded readers are an obvious choice that can match students’ proficiency levels. According to Nation (2005), learning from extensive reading should meet the following conditions: focusing on the meaning of the English text, understanding the type of learning that can occur through such reading, having interesting and engaging books, getting learners to do large quantities of reading at an appropriate level, and making sure that learning from reading is supported by other kinds of learning. In order to meet the conditions needed for learning from extensive reading at the students’ proficiency levels, it is essential to make use of simplified texts (Nation, 2005). Obviously, interesting and well-written graded readers are such simplified texts and are likely to represent the most favorable conditions for reading.

How can teachers monitor student reading?

– Ask students to start a book diary and write down the name of the book, main characters, how long it took to read, and even draw some pictures.

– Ask students to make an oral presentation of the book they read to the class.

– If you have a number of pupils reading the same book, make sure to arrange discussion groups. These activities will also improve the students’ speaking skills.

The intensive reading dominates the EFL classes in China. Yet, according to the researches presented above, the extensive reading program is an effective and pleasurable way for children to learn English as an alternative to intensive reading courses.

Sources and Suggested Reading:

  1. Nuttall, C.TEACHING READING SKILLS IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE: NEW EDITION
  2. Smith, F.Reading Without Nonsense
  3. Elley, W. B. & Mangubhai, F. The long-term effects of a book flood on children’s language growth. Directions
  4. Elley, W. B. & Mangubhai, F. (1983). The impact of reading on second language learning. Reading Research Quarterly
  5. Nation, K. (2005). Children’s reading comprehension difficulties. In M. J. Snowling and C. Hulme (Eds.), The Science of Reading: A Handbook (pp 248-265).
  6. Doreen Anne Slinkard. Wicky Wacky Farm Stories: Peppi Goes to China
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