Preparing Intermediate Students to Tackle Authentic Texts
by Alex Case - 1
Description of Article: The theory and practice of taking
the stress out of authentic reading texts
from the two terms used, it seems obviously preferable to
use something 'authentic' rather than 'inauthentic', but when
you are tackling an authentic piece of reading text in a foreign
language for the first time, or have possibly tried and failed
many times before, this is easier said than done. This article
plans to examine how the stress can be taken out of this experience
for intermediate students. To this end the article will examine
my own personal interest in this area
- a brief history of reading in EFL
- reading in general in both L1 and L2
- classroom activities to prepare these students for authentic
- how well current published materials deal with this skill.
interest in this area
This comes from two sources. The first is that in my feedback
forms from my classes last year the strongest demand by students
was for more 'reading newspaper and magazine articles', and
this was most true at intermediate level. In contrast, a recent
lesson based around graded readers failed to prompt any interest
in these amongst the students. This factor is also relevant,
I believe, in the issue of the 'intermediate plateau'. I should
state here that I think the problem of the 'intermediate plateau'
is sometimes overstated, and in my teaching experience students
are just as likely to suffer from a 'post-FCE' or a 'post-CAE
plateau', or even to get stuck in Elementary. However, in
my teaching and language learning experience I have found
it is possible to experience a surge in progress, sometimes
almost as dramatic as that of beginners, precisely at the
point when students begin to make sense of authentic listening
and reading texts. Hence my interest in preparing students
for exactly this.
brief history of reading in EFL
Reading in a foreign language goes back to the very beginnings
of the grammar- translation method, when the aim of language
learning was to read foreign literature, rather than visa-versa.
A pure audio-lingualism approach was very much a reaction
against this, and reading was reduced to that of dialogues.
More recently, the debate on reading has very much centred
around theories such as Krashen's that language acquisition
can occur only through input (reading and listening texts),
or whether examination and production of the language is also
necessary or desirable. An interesting side-current to debates
on reading has been the decreasing amount of reading aloud
used in the classroom, until more recent attempts to partially
revive it amongst teachers such as Alan Maley (1) and Andrew
in L1 and L2
In examining the more recent findings on reading in general
terms, in both L1 and L2, the questions are:
- Why do people read?
- What do people read?
- How do they read?
do people read?
reasons for reading can be split into 3 main categories; (3)
- reading for survival
- reading for learning
- reading for pleasure
might be expected that all but Proficiency students would
choose to read for pleasure exclusively in their own language,
although motivations for doing so in English might be the
impossibility of obtaining what they want to read in their
own language, an idea that books lose something in translation
or, in my own case, a feeling that reading in another language
'gives you a justification' to spend time 'just reading'.
Reading for survival can obviously be expected to be more
prevalent in an English speaking country, although an example
in other countries might be reading for work. I can assume,
then, that most of my students' reading in L2 in my present
teaching situation is likely to be reading for learning- more
specifically the learning of English. What exactly, though,
do they want to learn? An interesting survey on a mixed group
of international students (4) found that most students read
to improve their vocabulary, and put 'learning to read' as
a much lower priority. I instinctively feel that this is generally
the case amongst my own students, and since reading the paper
above I have certainly given more emphasis to the vocabulary
part of reading, something I had somewhat regarded as an 'add-on'.
Also, why do we as teachers want our students to read? The
chief answer must lie in the jump in learning it can produce,
but another lies in modern theories of language being slowly
understood rather than 'learnt', where the chance to see the
language in context combined with a developed ability to 'notice'
it seems the most natural way to gain real mastery.
Why, then, do our students not read more, and more specifically
more authentic texts? Listening in to a pairwork discussion
in a mid-intermediate class on reading in L1 and L2, I heard
several examples of what I believe would generally be the
answer- 'It is too difficult'. The question of how to tackle
this is examined in some detail throughout this article.
page 2 of 3
to the articles index