Reading skills and language learning [Archives:2004/772/Education]

September 13 2004

By Mohammed Al-Fattah

Reading means understanding and interpreting the pieces of the language. It is one of the most important of learning skills. God created the man and provided him with the ability to gain knowledge and get information from different sources. Reading is the first command from Allah the Almighty to our Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). His first meeting with the Angel was about reading. He ordered our Prophet by saying 'recite”. It was the responsibility of the Angel Gabriel to guide our Prophet and teach him to be the first great teacher and preacher to his nation. But before doing so, the Angel wanted to teach him and before teaching him, he should learn to read and he should read to learn.
To improve yourself, you must read a lot of materials. The great thinkers and the proficient writers mostly depended on self learning, self improvement and home reading which opened all the fields of knowledge and accessed the entries of information for them. Home reading is a kind of self teaching.
Readers read for various goals. Reading for pleasure is the easiest way to become a better reader in English. Pleasure reading is very important for learning English according to many experts. Dr. Stephen Krashen, a famous expert on learning a language, says, “pleasure reading helps you learn many important things about English.” Learners learn more grammar and vocabularies when reading for pleasure. They also learn about writing. Each reader learns from reading in a different way because the needs and purposes for reading vary from one person to another. It is worth mentioning here that when readers red for pleasure, they select their own books and don't have to remember everything.
Pleasure reading is different from academic reading. Reading for pleasure helps you to learn how the native speakers se the language. It gives a train or practice to read faster. It gives a chance to be in touch with different cultures. When you read a story in English, read it from the beginning to the end and don't stop if you meet new or difficult words or foreign expressions. Read the story against and don't waste your time in translation or looking up for some words. You must understand the main ideas of the story. You just need to know where the story takes place, who are the people in the story, and what happens in the story. You don't need to know the meaning of all the words.

Ways to make effective and exciting reading classes
First we should ask a questions, “how can the teacher make his reading class effective and exciting?” To answer this question, the teacher can follow the following steps:
1. He/she should motivate his/her learners and warm them up to make the class enjoyable to develop their habits of reading regularly.
2. He/she can prepare the learners' minds by giving a short introduction about the text, or asking questions to promote discussion or showing pictures to attract his/her learners' attention.
3. He/she shouldn't let the learners turn to busy work in the class.
4. He/she should involve his/her learners and tell them about the purpose of the reading task to increase their awareness.
5. He/she should ask the learners to read, think and to increase their awareness and ability about critical reading. The should think, criticize and comment.
6. He/she should encourage the learners for pair work and group work, especially in the reading comprehension classes because this may facilitate their acquisition of the language.
7. He/she should encourage the learners more to guess the meaning of the words from the context than to use a dictionary during the class or while doing their homework.
8. He/she should encourage the learners to read silently and ask them some guiding questions which can be short answer questions, yes/no question or true/false questions.
9. At the primary levels, the teacher can make glossary. But what can be glossed? Not all the words can be glossed, but he/she should give the learners a chance to guess the meaning of the words from the context before making the glossary. The difficult and new words can be glossed. The technical terms can be glossed. The strange expressions can be glossed. The foreign names can be explained if necessary.
To develop the learners' reading skills and all avenues of language, it is essential for them to pay attention to the quantity of reading. They should know the differences between extensive reading and intensive reading. The goal of each type should be clear. In intensive reading, the learners are always led by the teacher. He/she pays an important role in these kinds of reading classes. Intensive reading serves for academic goals whereas extensive reading aims at leisure reading and develop the learners' ability of silent reading. Extensive reading promotes reading out of class. Intensive reading is obviously slow and careful.

Motivating learners to read
Here are some suggestions for the teacher to encourage his/her learners to develop their reading skills:
1. The teacher can tell the learners about the benefits and the advantages of self learning and self improvement by reading which is essential to develop their reading skills.
2. He/she can ask them to bring reports to the class mentioning what they have read, how many pages they have read and add their comments and impressions about the text. This may promote arguments and develop their reading skills. He/she can do this by asking them to work in pairs and in chorus discussing their reports.
3. He/she can ask them questions about their reading to encourage fluency in the language.
4. He/she can ask them questions about their reading to encourage fluency in the language.
5. Learners always complain that they read and yet don't understand the text and so the teacher can encourage them to follow their work to understand the main idea of the text. He/she can remove their problems step by step by telling them to start from simple to difficult and to the most difficult to build mastery through reading in gradual steps.

Developing the learners' comprehension skills
Reading comprehension means getting the main idea of the text or understanding the writer's intention. Reading comprehension exposes many problems of the learners in the classrooms. Some learners complain they don't understand the text. The amount of the information picked up from a text varies from one reader to another, as we said earlier. This depends on the information presented in the text and the reader's ability and readiness to understand. To help the learners improve their reading skills, there are some principles the teacher can bear in mind:
1. He/she can encourage the learner to think.
2. He/she should give them a good model of answering the difficult questions and the complexity of the tasks.
3. He/she can clarify the difficult parts of the text if possible.
4. He/she should concentrate on the classroom techniques such as: pair work, group work, individual work and give enough practice to raise their awareness of the language.
5. He/she can encourage classroom discussions and the learners' participations to elicit the best answers from the learners themselves.
6. He/she can assign some activities to be done individually because this may build the learners' confidence.
7. Identify the discourse makers and distinguish the conjuncture words to enable them to understand the text properly.
8. Give the learners a chance to recognize the language functions that may enable them to develop their reading skills.
9. Synonyms exercises can help to raise the learners' alertness to connect ideas.
10. Recognize the development of the ideas throughout the paragraph to help the learners to achieve efficiency in reading comprehension.

Reading skills and strategies
The strategies of reading comprehension vary according to the purposes of the reading the teacher expect to be established in the classroom. In primary levels, reading aloud, model reading by the teacher and the repetition by the learners may prevail the classroom activities because the focus will be on pronunciation. In the secondary levels, silent reading by the learners, explaining the difficult words of the text and the difficult parts, and asking comprehension questions by the teacher are important steps to be done because the focus here will be on comprehension.
1. Scanning is a very fast reading to look for information as to look for advertisements in a newspaper or a magazine.
2. Skimming means starting rapidly through a text to determine its gist as to read the beginning and the end of a paragraph to get the main idea. To get the main idea of a long text, the reader should first look at the title and subtitles, read the first sentence which introduces the subject or the topic of the paragraph, and it is called “the topic sentence”. The reader can also look at the illustration or pictures such as drawings, diagrams and photographs. He/she should know how many paragraphs the text is composed of.

Reading for specific information (extensive reading)
This is when the reader sometimes reads medical or scientific for his/her university studies, he/she reads for specific purposes or reasons. In this kind of reading the reader doesn't need to understand the details of the text.

Reading for details (intensive reading)
This kind of reading demands a high degree of understanding the text. The reader needs to understand the details of each paragraph, to understand each sentence and word likewise. Even he/she needs to understand the writer's attitude, purposes, cultural relevance, settings and the reader's reaction.

To conclude
Readers can enjoy reading better than conversing with a close friend. When you sit alone in your home, you can travel around the entire world, and you can understand the reasons for thousands of things. Living in this age, you can talk with those who lived thousands of years ago and become a close friend of them.
1. Reading helps us to develop our thinking skills in such a way.
2. The strategies of reading vary according to the objectives of reading and the classroom situations.
3. The goals of reading influence the methods of reading.
4. The background and the willingness of the readers affect their understanding of the text.

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2. Nuttal Christine, Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language.
3. Dr. Bose A text book of English Language teaching for Yemeni students