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Статьи 2011-2012 (раздел)
09.12.11 06:07

UPGRADE YOUR EAP READING COMPREHENSION SKILLS

 Galina Tarasova, Svetlana Savintseva

 

 

 

 

Foreign Languages Department, Far-Eastern Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences

 Vladivostok, Russia

 Abstract

Reading Comprehension (RC) in an EAP class seems to be a daunting task to some adult learners. The need for developing such reading skills as skimming, scanning and detailed reading is stipulated by the professional   activities of our learners, the research workers taking a mandatory EAP course in order to prepare for obtaining their advanced degrees in Science.

 The paper focuses on the approaches used in our course to develop the above skills in an un-intimidating, step-by-step process, on the basis of authentic reading materials secured from SCIENCE NEWS, Magazine of the Society for Science and the Public, (http://www.sciencenews.org).

In the paper, we will touch upon the specific characteristics of the learners we have to deal with. We would also like to introduce the course needs and purposes. And we will consider the types of texts used for our purposes, both from the viewpoint of their content and structure. Plus we will dwell upon the approaches used in the course. 

Key words: reading comprehension, EAP, adult professionals, advanced degrees in Science, skimming, scanning, detailed reading, step-by-step process, authentic reading materials

It is common knowledge among ESP/EAP teachers that adult learners are basically different from young learners in their manner of using linguistic form for obtaining information. The affective filter (S.Krashen, 1982) of adults is too high due to a) their high professional level as users of their mother tongue and the natural fear of “loosing face” or self-esteem in case of inability to function equally efficiently in English; b) their pre-existing reading comprehension experience in the mother tongue which makes them expect to behave as mature readers in English as they do in Russian. The inability to equally easily grasp the contents of a scientific or a popular scientific publication in English frustrates the learners which raises their anxiety and thus, makes them less efficient in handling the English text. Besides, the learning environment in groups with mixed EL proficiency cannot always provide them with peers of equal levels of proficiency (active and passive vocabulary stock, word-building rules, knowledge of English structures, etc.), which becomes one more, though not so damaging, impeding factor, especially in the initial phases of the course.  Due to the fact that the groups of learners include various specialists, from, say, environmentalists to mathematical simulation experts and Earth scientists, biologists, physicists, to name just a few, we have to provide them with more or less popular reading materials of common interest. At the same time, materials selected for our students cover various fields of knowledge; for some students they may not be connected with their professional areas at all. In this case peer teaching proves fruitful because not only does it help “laymen” in a particular field to understand the subject matter; it also makes “experts” self-confident and raises motivation of both parties. The more fields are covered, the more chances for everybody to play the role of an expert.

The English course we teach to adult professionals is composed of a number of blocks to provide for certain applied goals. The main needs of our learners include attaining communicatively adequate levels of reading and speaking proficiency in their professional areas. Why do we have to pay so much attention to Reading? First, it is a synthetic skill providing the learners with essential instruments for their overall functioning as competent language users. Second, it includes not only  basic tools for enlarging the active and passive vocabulary and for mastering contextualized English structures but also it gives  rich opportunities for information recovery from an original scientific text and for eventual efficient handling of a huge body of scientific literature.

Now, we have to touch upon the properties of the reading materials available to our learners. Thru the years of experience we have arrived at the conclusion that the best materials for our purposes are un-adapted and unabridged authentic texts published in original journals. One more feature is the length of the texts: long enough to cover a meaningful body of information and short enough to provide for dynamic in-class information processing and language forms/discourse tools analysis. This choice also gives the teacher an opportunity to encompass a considerable number of texts within the framework of the course and, in this way, to provide for content variety to empower the learners as successful readers of original literature. All the above requirements arrived at on the basis of quite a few years of English language instruction have proved to be met by the short and medium size (usually 450 to 1,500 words) texts from SCIENCE NEWS, Magazine of the Society for Science and the Public (the U.S.A.). Besides the wide range of content areas covered,  the above-mentioned  texts provide a)  fine material with repetitive and clear composition and a limited number of main and supporting facts linked thru discourse instruments and organized in several paragraphs; b) a lot of terminological lexical units and international words stimulating the development of linguistic intuition; c) useful text redundancy to enable the learners to eventually come to the understanding of the subject matter with the help of paraphrases and secondary nominations; d) familiar word-building patterns also contributing to the eventual opening –up of some remaining gray zones; and, e) last but not least, peeling off some journalistic tricks, as we call them, that is, idioms, set phrases and metaphors, all of them serving the purposes of a popular science writer: catch and keep the readers’ interest through some mild irony or even sarcasm. For this reason, most of the headlines cannot be of much help in the pre-text work, unless the readers are advanced enough and the teacher is not afraid of misleading them and having the fun of comparing sometimes wild predictions with the actual subject matter. But, as a rule, when the group is a mixture of pre-intermediate to upper-intermediate learners, the headline, which is in most cases catchy, is the last thing for us to decode.

Now, we are going to focus on the approaches assisting the learners in developing the skill of reading comprehension, on the example of a text and of the in-class and out-of-class activities. For our practical purposes, it is worth while specifying our understanding of the terms skimming and scanning and detailed reading.  Together with Arthur Hughes (Hughes, 1995), we assume that skimming is reading to obtain the gist and scanning implies locating specific information ,  while detailed reading is reading for detailed comprehension. We will use these types of reading in the activities to follow.    

Let us look at the example of instructions the learners get and are given time to fulfill in the course of a Reading Comprehension development activity on the text Beverage Choice and Kidney Stones. ( SCIENCE NEWS, VOL. 153. MAY 16, 1998. – p. 317. (294 words)):

1.Pre-reading .  Look at the title of the text, speculate on possible subject matter (for the post-reading comparison of your predictions and actual findings ).

2. Scan the text and, upon the FIRST reading, be able to answer the Wh-questions (Who? Where? When? ). Focus on FAMILIAR words! Do NOT use the dictionary.

3. Do the SECOND reading and be ready to answer the What? question. Focus on FAMILIAR words! Do NOT use the dictionary.

4. Do the THIRD reading and be ready to answer the How? How much/many? Why? questions. Focus on FAMILIAR words! Do NOT use the dictionary.

5. In the FORTH reading concentrate on the international words. If they seem to be unfamiliar, try to find a Russian word close in reading.

6. Find the key terms and their paraphrases and secondary nominations in the whole story. Use the dictionary if needed.

7. Build noun and verb chains to show the coherence of the main/supporting ideas. See how the language (individual nouns, noun phrases, pronouns used instead of them) serves the author to convey a) the main facts; b) the supporting facts.

8. Find the lexical and grammatical/structural instruments providing the relations among facts.

9. Use your dictionary to make sure you understand the remaining “gray zones” (“funny” words: colloquial, strong verbs/adjectives, slang, literary words, phrasal verbs, metaphors). Think of stylistically neutral words to be used instead of the above.

10. Make the summary of the text.

Note 1: The overall principle for selecting the practical steps of the above activity was first borrowed from Zhang Zhenyu (Zhang Zhenyu, 1997).  

Note 2: The Reading Comprehension activities in instructions 1 - 3 are performed in the first approach to the text. Instructions 4 - 8 make the second approach. Instructions 9-10 conclude the work and are recommended to be done at home.

Thus, we practice a graded step-by-step approach, unfolding a) the factual information  including key information of tier1, additional facts,  illustrating information of tier 2; b) potentially familiar words and expressions that deepen the linguistic intuition and involve the prior knowledge of the learners; c) discourse organization and coherence language tools;  d) rare words, strong verbs/adjectives, phrasal verbs, professional jargon, metaphors and their stylistically neutral equivalents.

In conclusionit should be noted that upgrading the EAP Reading Comprehension skills at the level of tertiary education, using the stepwise approach,  facilitates gradual and meaningful penetration into an informationally multi-tiered and linguistically complicated, unabridged and un-adapted scientific text. The learners are provided with an efficient instrument to deal with a large body of professional information. And last but not least, our adult   learners  strengthen their self - esteem in the training process as they have a chance to involve their professional background  as experts in tackling the content areas distant to some of their peers which, in its turn, ensures higher motivation in learning.

With this in mind, the learners become as confident users of English as those of Russian which serves the purposes of the EAP course given in view of their preparation for obtaining the first advanced degree in Science.   

Sources and Literature

Sources

SCIENCE NEWS, Magazine of the Society for Science and the Public, (http://www.sciencenews.org)

 Literature

1. Krashen, S. D. (1982). Principles and practice in second language acquisition, p.9, Oxford: UK:   

     Pergamon Press. http://www.sdkrashen.com/.

2. Hughes, Arthur. Testing for Language Teachers. – Cambridge University Press, 1995. – 171 p.

3. Zhang Zhenyu. Intensive reading: getting your students to see the Forest as well as the trees. – English

    Teaching Forum, January 1997. – pp. 40-43

Appendix

Kidney stones and beverage choice

       1. Most people don't think much about kidney stones unless they've had оnе. Those people know that, оnсе а stone has passed, doctors routinely recommend drinking plenty of fluids. But which ones? А new study in women indicates that some flu­ids mау help а person avoid kidney stones and some mау not.

       2. Researchers tracking the diets of more than 80,000 female nurses nationwide between 1986 and 1994 documented 719 cases of kidney stones. Analysis of the nurses' diets in the years preceding the diagnosis of а stone showed that tea decreased the risk of stones bу 8 percent, coffee – regular or decaffeinated – lowered it bу about 9 percent, and moderate wine intake cut the risk bу at least 20 percent, says Gary С. Curhan, а nephrologist and epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. The researchers, who took into account factors such as age and other nutrient intake, reported the findings in the April 1 ANNALS OF INТERNAL MEDICINE.

     3. Strangely, аn 8-оunсе glass of grapefruit juice daily boosted the risk of stones bу 44 percent, the data showed. Of the 17 beverages studied, nо other drink had such а negative impact. The reason for grapefruit's effect, which had shown up in аn earlier study of men, remains unclear, Curhan said.

     4. Milk intake lessened slightly the chance that а woman would get kidney stones, the researchers found.

   5. The average mаn faces а 3 in 1,000 сhаnсе of getting а kidney stone in аnу given year. For women, the risk is 1 in 1,000, but it soars to 1 in 5 for those who have already had а stone. "Modifying beverage intake might make а difference," says Curhan, but only as part of а broad treatment strategy. – SCIENCE NEWS, VOL. 153. MAY 16, 1998. – p. 317. (294 words)

 Keys for the Instructor:

1.Pre-reading .  Look at the title of the text, speculate on possible subject matter (for the post-reading comparison of your predictions and actual findings ).

2. Scan the text and, upon the FIRST reading, be able to answer the Wh-questions (Who? Where? When?). Focus on FAMILIAR words! Do NOT use the dictionary.

   -  Who was under study?

   -  Who reported the findings?

   -  Where is the report available?

3. Do the SECOND reading and be ready to answer the What? question. Focus on   FAMILIAR words! Do NOT use the dictionary.

 -   What phenomenon was studied? / What kind of research was done?

 - What exactly was analyzed?

4. Do the THIRD reading and be ready to answer the How? How much/many? Why? questions. Focus on FAMILIAR words! Do NOT use the dictionary. 

- How many people were studied?

- How long was the period under study?

- How many cases were registered?

5. In the FORTH reading concentrate on the international words. If they seem to be unfamiliar, try to find a Russian word close in reading.

- routinely, fluids, diet, diagnosis, (coffee) decaffeinated, nephrologists and epidemiologist

6. Find the key terms and their paraphrases and secondary nominations in the whole story. Use the dictionary if needed.

Fluids – tea, coffee – regular or decaffeinated, wine, grapefruit juice, beverages, drink, milk

Diet – nutrient intake, beverage intake, part of а broad treatment strategy

  Women – female nurses

7. Build noun and verb chains to show the coherence of the main/supporting ideas. See how the language (individual nouns, noun phrases, pronouns used instead of them) serves the author to convey a) the main facts; b) the supporting facts.

- a)  Doctors recommend fluids, researchers documented, analysis showed, tea decreased the risk, moderate wine intake cut the risk, grapefruit juice daily boosted the risk, nо other drink had such а negative impact, the reason … remains unclear,     milk intake lessened… the chance

 - b) grapefruit's effect… had shown up in аn earlier study of men, the average mаn faces…; For women, the risk is…, but it soars … for those who have already had а stone

8. Find the lexical and grammatical/structural instruments providing the relations among facts.

Оnе, that, which ones, which

Most people don't think …unless they've had …Those people know that…

Most people don't think much about kidney stones unless they've had оnе.

…plenty of fluids. But which ones?

the researchers who…,  some flu­ids mау help … and some mау not.

9. Use your dictionary to make sure you understand the remaining “gray zones” (“funny” words: colloquial, strong verbs/adjectives, slang, literary words, phrasal verbs, metaphors). Think of stylistically neutral words to be used instead of the above. - took into account, boosted , had shown up,  (it) soars

10. Make a summary of the text.

 

Последнее обновление 11.01.12 07:08
 

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