Adult English language learner

Contributed by:
The purpose of this paper is to give practitioners, graduate students, researchers, and policymakers information about what is known about how adult English language learners learn to read in English, what types of activities facilitate this process, and what research still needs to be done.
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3. Reading and
Adult English
Language Learners
A Review of the Research
5. Reading and
Adult English
Language Learners
A Review of the Research
Miriam Burt
Joy Kreeft Peyton
Rebecca Adams
6. C~C © 2003 by the Center for Applied Linguistics
All rights reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced, in any form or by
any means, without permission in writing from the publisher. All inquiries should
be addressed to Miriam Burt, National Center for ESL Literacy Education,
Center for Applied Linguistics, 4646 40th Street NkV, Washington, DC 20016-
1859. Telephone 202-362-0700.
Printed in the United States of Arnerica
Copyediting and proofreading: Donald Ranard and Amy Fitch
Design, illustration, and production: Pottman Design
Cover design: Pottman Design
The preparation of this paper was supported by funding from the U.S.
Department of Education (ED), Office of Vocational and Adult Education
(OVAL), under Contract No. ED-00-CO-0130. The opinions expressed in this
report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of ED.
Recommended citation: Burt, M., Peyton, J. K., & Adams, R. (2003). Reading
and adMt English language learl:ers: A revieu' of the research. Washington, DC:
Center for Applied Linguistics.
Aduh ESL Instruction in the 21st Centuu; by NCLE Staff
Preparing for Success: A Guide for Teaching Adult English Language Learners,
by Brigitte Marshall
Reading and Adult English Language Learners: A Review of the Research,
by Miriam Burt, Joy Kreeft Peyton, and Rebecca Adams
7. l Contents
Acknowledgments ..................................................... v
I n t r o d u c t i o n : English L a n g u a g e L e a r n e r s in t h e U n i t e d States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Background and Overview .............................................. 5
SECTION 1 : Factors Influencing Adult Literacy Development
in English . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
First L a n g u a g e L i t e r a c y . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Educational Background ........................................... 16
Second Language Proficiency ........................................ 17
Vocabulary Knowledge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Syntactic Proficiency . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
L e a r n e r Goals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
SECTION 2: The Process of Learning to Read in a
Second Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Theories and Research ............................................. 24
Models of Reading . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Bottom-up models . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Top-down models . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Interactive models . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Learners' internal models . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Reading Skills . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Phonological processing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Vocabulary recognition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
Syntactic processing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
S c h e m a activating . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
I m p l i c a t i o n s for P r a c t i c e . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Models of Reading . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Learners' Internal Reading Models . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
Phonological Processing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
Vocabulary Recognition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
8. Syntactic Processing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Schema Activating . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Conclusion ...................................................... 32
SECTION 3: Reading to Learn ................................... 33
Theory and Research .............................................. 33
I m p l i c a t i o n s for P r a c t i c e . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
SECTION 4: Summary of Findings and Implications for
Practice and Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
Personal Factors .................................................. 37
Educational Background and First Language Literacy .................. 37
Second Language Proficiency and Literacy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
Purposes for Literacy Learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
The Reading Process .............................................. 39
I m p l i c a t i o n s for P r a c t i c e . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
A r e a s for F u r t h e r R e s e a r c h . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
References ......................................................... 43
Further Reading ..................................................... 47
List of Figures
FIGURE 1 F a c t o r s I n f l u e n c i n g L2 L i t e r a c y D e v e l o p m e n t . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
FIGURE 2 T y p e s of L1 L i t e r a c y a n d E f f e c t s on L2 L i t e r a c y L e a r n i n g . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
FIGURE 3 C o n s i d e r L1 L i t e r a c y W h e n ................................... 15
FIGURE 4 C o m p o n e n t s o f V o c a b u l a r y K n o w l e d g e . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
FIGURE 5 U s e s for L i t e r a c y . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
FIGURE 6 P h o n o l o g y T e a c h i n g S u g g e s t i o n s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
FIGURE 7 V o c a b u l a r y T e a c h i n g S u g g e s t i o n s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
FIGURE 8 S y n t a x T e a c h i n g S u g g e s t i o n s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
FIGURE 9 T e a c h i n g S u g g e s t i o n s to Build S c h e m a . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
FIGURE 10 B e n e f i t s o f E x t e n s i v e R e a d i n g . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
9. r Acknowledgments
This paper is based on an annotated bibliography of research on reading development for
adults learning English (Adams & Burt, 2002). For information about the studies consulted,
We are grateful to Joyce Campbell, U.S Department of Education; JoAnn Crandall,
University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Joan Givens, U.S. Department of Education;
William Grabe, Northern Arizona University; Ursula Lord, U.S. Department of Education;
Mary Lovell, U.S. Department of Education; Judith Rance-Roney, Lehigh University; Lynn
Spencer, U.S. Department of Education; and John Strucker, Harvard University, for very
helpful contributions to the development of the bibliography and this paper.
We would also like to acknowledge the contributions of some 100 adult ESL practitioners,
researchers, program administrators, and U.S. Department of Education staff members who
read and responded to an earlier version of this paper at the National Symposium on Adult
ESL Research and Practice, September 6, 2001, at the Ripley Center Smithsonian Museum,
Washington, DC. Their comments and suggestions were very helpful.
Finally, thanks are also due to Donald Ranard and Amy Fitch for their editorial skills.
English Language Learners
in the United States
OWdo adult learners learn to read in English? What are the best ways
H to teach reading to this population? Over the past 20 years, a growing
number of adult ESL educators have sought the answers to these
questions as they grapple with the challenges posed by an increasingly large
and diverse population of adults in the United States learning English as a
second language (ESL).
According to the 2000 Census, more than 35 million adults are nonnative
speakers of English, and 9 million adults do not speak English well or at all
(U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). This population has become a significant part
of adult education programs. According to the U.S. Department of
Education, 42% of adults (or more than 1 million learners) enrolled in state-
administered, federally funded adult education programs are enrolled in ESL
classes (U.S. Department of Education, 2002).
This percentage does not include English language learners who are being
served within other segments of the public educational system, such as adult
basic education (ABE) and adult secondary education (ASE) classes. In addi-
tion, adult ESL services are provided through private language schools and
academic institutions and in programs sponsored by community-based organ-
izations and large national volunteer literacy organizations such as Laubach
Literacy and Literacy Volunteers of America (combined in October 2002 into
one organization, ProLiteracy). Laubach Literacy (2001) reported that in
1999-2000, approximately 77% of their member programs provided ESL
instruction to adult English language learners.
12. The increase in English language learners has been accompanied by an
increase in adults with limited literacy in English. The National Adult
Literacy Survey (NALS), conducted between 1989 and 1992 to study adults'
English literacy levels, found that 23% of the adult population studied meas-
ured at Level 1: "able to perform simple, routine tasks involving brief and
uncomplicated texts and documents" (Kirsch, Jungeblut, Jenkins, & Kolstad,
1993, p. xiv), while 27.3% measured at Level 2: "generally able to locate infor-
mation in text, make low-level inferences using printed materials, and inte-
grate easily identifiable pieces of information, and to perform quantitative
tasks that involve a single operation" (pp. xiv-xv). These findings indicate that
more than half of the population studied had low English literacy skills.
Furthermore, more than half of those scoring at Levels 1 and 2 were irnmi-
grant adults, and 64% of those with a native language other than English
scored at Level 1.' These results indicate that a much higher percentage of
nonnative English speakers than native English speakers read English at the
lowest levels of literacy.
The population of nonnative English speakers who also have limited literacy
skills in many ways reflects the nature of immigration into the United States.
Since the mid-1970s, many immigrants have come from countries where a
large portion of the population does not have access to literacy or where the
commonly spoken languages are not written (Huntley, 1992). These changes
in immigration patterns have increased the need for English language and lit-
eracy instruction for adults in the United States.
Because adult learners in ESL literacy programs come from diverse back-
grounds and have widely differing experiences with literacy in their first lan-
guages, they have different purposes for literacy learning. These diverse pur-
poses should be considered in program and instructional planning.
Recent reviews of the 1993 National Adult Literacy Survey (e.g., Mathews, 2001) point out that
the study did not t:ind that 74 million American adults could not read at all, as was initially report-
ed in the media. Iklany of that number have limited literacy skills that is, they are able to read at
a basic level, flo~ever, because their literacy level may not meet the levels required for effective
performance or pronlotion in jobs in the United States, they are considered functionally nonliterate.
13. Background and Overview
he purpose of this paper is to give practitioners, graduate students,
T researchers, and policy makers information about what is known about
how adult English language learners learn to read in English, what types
of activities facilitate this process, and what research still needs to be done.
This paper was developed from a search of the research literature on reading
development among adult English language learners in the United States in the
last 20 years (1980-2000). An annotated bibliography of this research (Adams
& Burt, 2002) includes research published in refereed (peer-reviewed) journals,
dissertations, the ERIC database, the Modern Language Association database,
the Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts database, and books. The
research in the bibliography focuses on the reading (and, where applicable, gen-
eral literacy) development of adults (aged 16 years and older) who are learning
English and are being served in adult education and college-based intensive
English programs (IEP) rather than in secondary school programs. Studies have
been included if they report outcomes related to reading (and, where applica-
ble, general literacy) development, descriptions of the adults participating, the
interventions or study situations, and the procedures and outcome measures.
The intention was to include studies that met the following criteria: use of
experimental or quasi-experimental methodologies based on valid comparisons
between groups (with statistical tests for significance); non-experimental meth-
ods that provide evidence when little or no experimental data exist; and quali-
tative methods (descriptive and practitioner research) based on a sound analyt-
ical framework or non-experimental group comparisons (e.g., comparing per-
formances of a single group or individual, before and after a specific teaching
intervention). The majority of studies fall in the last two categories.
14. The bibliography identifies the reading research on adult learners in non-
postsecondary education settings--adult education programs, community-
based programs, and workplace literacy programs. However, because only a
limited amount of research has been conducted in these settings and with
these learners, the bibliography (and this synthesis) also includes studies that
were conducted in Intensive English Programs (IEPs). (See Adams & Burr,
2002, for a discussion of the types of learners in these two types of programs.)
The first part of this paper describes factors that need to be taken into
account in literacy instruction for adults learning English--learners' levels of
literacy in the first language, levels of oral proficiency in English, education-
al backgrounds, and goals for learning English. Subsequent sections give an
overview of the reading process for second language learners; discuss the ben-
efits of reading for promoting second language development; and summarize
research findings, their implications for practice, and major areas in which
research is needed.
Additional research should be forthcoming. On October 2, 2002, The U.S.
Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE);
the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD);
and the National Institute for Literacy (NIFL) announced $18.5 million in
grant awards to six projects that will study the most effective methods and
approaches for teaching reading skills to low-literate adults (National
Institute for Literacy; 2002) Each of the projects will use experimental or
quasi-experimental research designs. These grants were awarded in response
to the national push for educational reform, accountability, and evidence-
based research to inform instructional practice for all learners. (For more
information about this initiative a how it affects adult learners, see National
Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2002). Although none of
the projects addresses English language learners specifically, it is assumed
that there will be non-native English speakers in the studies. This research
should help to move the field forward, and it is hoped that research studies
focused specifically on adult English language learners will follow. In the
meantime, we hope that this document, which discusses what is known now
about adult English language learners, will be of use to the field.
Factors Influencing Adult Literacy
1 Development in English
any factors influence the literacy development of adults learning
M English and should be considered in planning instruction for them.
These factors include learners':
• ages;
• motivations to read;
• instructional, living, and working environments;
• sociocultural backgrounds;
• socioeconomic status; and
• learning abilities or disabilities (National Center for ESL Literacy
Education, 1998; Wrigley & Guth, 1992).
This paper focuses on the factors that have received the most attention in the
literature on learning to read in English as a second language: learners' first
language (L1) literacy and transfer from L1 to L2 (second language) literacy,
educational background, second language proficiency, and goals for learning
4° L1 literacy
,I, Educational background
aa L2 language and literacy
•t. Learner goals
16. First Language Literacy
In many adult ESL programs, decisions about learner placement and instruc-
tional approaches are based on learners' oral proficiency in English, the sec-
ond (or additional) language. However, learners' first language may also influ-
ence the types of instruction that learners need and the rates of progress they
are likely to make (Robson, 1982; Strucker, 2002).
Huntley (1992) argues that the following types of L1 literacy background
should be considered in adult ESL education: preliterate, nonliterate, semilit-
erate, and non-Roman alphabet literate. Birch (2002) adds to these types non-
alpahabet literate (See Birch, 2002, pp. 27-38, and Huntley, 1992, for an
in-depth discussion of these categories.) Birch and others (Hilferty, 1996;
Strucker, 2002) add Roman alphabet literate.
Preliterate learners come from cultures where literacy is uncommon in every-
day life. This category includes learners whose native language is not written,
has only recently been written, or is being developed. For example, most
Bantu people of Somalia are preliterate in their native language, Af-Maay,
because it has only recently been codified. The Dinka people (a refugee group
from the Sudan) are also preliterate, as a written form for their language is in
the process of being developed. Preliterate English language learners often
have had little or no exposure to written text and may not be aware of the pur-
poses of literacy in everyday life. They need to be taught how written language
works. Traditionally, literacy instruction for preliterate learners builds on their
oral language knowledge and is supported by oral language activities (Carroll,
1999; Huntley, 1992). Preliterate learners should receive special ESL litera-
cy instruction, in addition to oral ESL. Because they generally progress slow-
ly in literacy and other language instruction and require reteaching of skills
and concepts (Robson, 1982; Strucker, 2002), they should be placed in sep-
arate classes from literate learners.
Nonliterate learners come from cultures where literacy is available, but they
have not had sufficient access to literacy instruction, often because of their
socioeconomic status. For example, many adult learners from Central
America may not know how to read or write in their native Spanish because
of disrupted schooling due to war and poverty. Although these learners have
17. not learned to read, they have probably had some exposure to written lan-
guage and thus may have a greater awareness of the value and uses of litera-
cy than preliterate learners (D. Red, personal communication, January' 28,
2002). Teachers who work with these learners have found that they may be
reluctant to disclose their limited literacy background in class, and instruction
with them may proceed slowly. However, they are often highly motivated to
learn. For preliterate and nonliterate learners, written materials used as teach-
ing aids may have limited value. Learners' retention of classroom material may
also be limited if they cannot use educational texts and take class notes for
later review.
Semiliterate learners usually have had access to literacy in their native culture,
but because of their socioeconomic status or educational situation, they have
not achieved a high level of literacy in their native language. These learners
may have left school at a young age for economic or political reasons, as was
the case with many Southeast Asian refugees and Central American immi-
grants in the 1970s and 1980s (Holt, 1995; Ranard
&: Pfleger, 1995). Robson (1982), in a small study of Learners' retention of classroom
Hmong learners of English at a refugee camp in material may also be limited if they
Thailand, found that even adults with minimal liter- cannot use educational texts and take
acy in Hmong acquired English reading skills more class notes for later review.
rapidly than those who had no Hmong literacy.
Similarly, a study of adult Haitians learning English in New York City
(Burtoff, 1985) found that those who received native language literacy
instruction while learning English developed greater literacy skills than did
the English only group, even though the total number of instructional hours
for the English only group and the native language literacy and English
instruction group was equal. Unfortunately, there were only 24 students in
Burtoff's study, accurate attendance records were not kept, there was no con-
trol on curriculum or teacher differences, the classes compared were of dif-
ferent sizes, and the 24-week study may have been too short to detect a last-
ing effect of instruction on learning. Although strong conclusions cannot be
drawn from these studies, they do point to the need to examine the value of
native language literacy instruction prior to or at the same time as the learn-
ing of English literac):
18. Researchers are now identifying students who have been educated primarily
in the United States but who have characteristics similar to those described
above. Referred to as "Generation 1.5" learners, they have immigrated to the
United States, where they have attended schools and developed oral fluency
in English. However, they are not literate in their native language, and they
struggle with reading and writing in English. They may remain in ESL class-
es throughout their public school education and enter ESL programs as
adults or need special attention in college programs (Harklau, Losey, &
Siegal, 1999).
As a result of previous failures, many semiliterate, including generation 1.5,
learners may approach English literacy learning with trepidation. They need
to be given opportunities to increase their serf-confidence in educational sit-
uations and to develop positive images of themselves as readers (Goldberg,
1997; Strucker, 1997).
It should be pointed out that preliterate, nonliterate, and semiliterate learn-
ers may ve~, well have high oral skills in English. In addition, these learners
may have had positive experiences with learning
Preliterate, nonliterate, and through oral ESL instruction. For example, they may be
semiliterate learners may have accustomed to learning through folktales, fables, and
high oral skills in English. other stories that contain morals and teaching points (J.
Crandall, personal communication, June 6, 2002). For
these reasons, placing adult English language learners
in classes according to both their L1 literacy skills and their oral English skills
can facilitate their learning.
Finally: some pre-, non-, and semiliterate learners may have learning disabili-
ties that have not been diagnosed or addressed (Davidson & Strucker, 2003;
Schwarz & Terrill, 2000). Teachers and program staff need to put in place
procedures to identify and meet the needs of these learners. (See Schwarz &
Terrill, 2000, for discussions of ways to identify and work with learners with
learning disabilities.)
Learners who are literate in some writing system have the advantage of expe-
rience with deciphering and assigning meaning to print and using print to
enhance their learning. Those who are nonalphabet literate read a language
19. that is written logographicall}; such as Chinese and Japanese. Other learners
may be literate in a language that uses a non-Roman alphabet, such as Cyrillic
or Thai. Both groups of learners have valuable reading skills in the first lan-
guage that they may be able to transfer to second language reading, but they
need practice processing the sound-to-symbol correspondences of written
English (Strucker, 2002).
Learners from logographic languages who have learned to rely on visual clues
may try to read in English by memorizing whole words. For example, a study
of 16 Russian and 11 Japanese learners of English in an intensive English pro-
gram (IEP) in a Canadian university and of 16 Russian learners of English in
a university in Israel (Wade-Woolley, 1999) found that the Japanese learners,
who use both a syllabary (kana) and a logographic (kanji) writing system,
relied more on English word recognition than did the Russian learners, who
use a phonologically-based alphabet. Because Japanese writing uses both a
phonologically based syllabary and a system of pictographs, it is more likely
that Japanese readers do not access words solely from phonology, but from
their knowledge of orthography as well. Therefore, these learners are not used
to focusing on phoneme-to-sound mapping in reading and are more likely to
depend on sight recognition of letter sequences (\Vade-~vVoolley, 1999).
However, learning to read by sight recognition is a slow process, and learners
who depend on it to the exclusion of phonological strategies will not become
proficient readers (Birch, 2002). To become good readers in English, they
need to develop an "alphabetic strategy"--that is, be able to process an alpha-
betic script (p. 33).
Learners who are literate in a language with a non-Roman alphabetic script
have the advantage of an alphabetic literacy background, but they may strug-
gle to find words in the dictionary and may need time to process written mate-
rials presented in class because the L1 orthography is different from that of
English. For example, Nepali students, whose Sanskrit-derived letters
descend below the lines of text, may at first attempt to direct their visual
attention below the lines of English text where only the "tails" of some
English letters (g, j, p, and y) are written (Strucker, 2002). In addition to
directionality issues (their alphabet reads right to left; the Roman alphabet,
left to right), Arabic students learning to read in English are likely to have
problems with vowels, which are usually not written out in everyday Arabic
20. writings (Ryan & Meara, 1991 ). Strategies that these learners may have devel-
oped to read Arabic (e.g., proficient Arabic and Hebrew readers rely on con-
text to determine which vowel sounds to assign to words) may not work as
well in English reading and spelling, where vowels must be attended to
(Birch, 2002).
Many adult ESL students are literate in a Roman alphabetic langltage (e.g.,
Spanish or Serbo Croatian). Like those literate in a non-Roman alphabetic
script or in a logographic script, these learners have already developed read-
ing skills and formed reading behaviors in their L1, and they know that writ-
ten language can represent speech. Their educational background and litera-
cy skills may be an important part of their self-image. They can study texts in
English, take notes in ESL classes to learn new vocabulary or structures, and
read outside of class. Yet, although the English alphabet will be more familiar
to them than to others whose native language does not use the Roman alpha-
bet, they still need to learn English sound-symbol correspondences before
they are able to read well (Hilferty, 1996; Strucker, 2002). English does not
have the same level of correspondence between sound and written form that
occurs in some other alphabets, and learners who are used to reading a lan-
guage such as Spanish in which there is a one-to-one correspondence
between sounds and symbols will find the irregular sound-symbol correspon-
dences in English troublesome. At the syllabic level, they will need to learn,
for example, that the combination ough can be pronounced as in tough and
rough or as in bought and sought. They also need to learn the many pronunci-
ations of vowels, including their sounds in stressed and unstressed syllables.
In fact, all English language learners, regardless of the type of L1 literacy in
their background, need direct teaching in the English symbol system and
English sound-symbol correspondences (Strucker, 2002).
While it is true that learners who are literate in another language are likely to
have had more previous education that those who are not, one should not
assume that preliterate, nonliterate, and semiliterate learners are incapable of
abstract thought or logical reasoning. Furthermore, mere instruction in read-
ing does not guarantee the development of those skills. As Scribner and Cole
(1978) concluded from their study of the Vai people of West Africa who
acquired literacy skills without education, literacy instruction does not auto-
matically foster analytic logical reasoning.
21. FIGURE 2
L1 Literacy and Effects on L2 Literacy Learninc
L1 Literacy Explanation Special Considerations
Preliterate L1 has no written form Learners need expo-
(e.g., many American sure to the purposes
indigenous, African, and uses of literacy.
Australian, and Pacific
Nonliterate Learners had no access Learners may feel
to literacy instruction. stigmatized.
Semiliterate Learners had limited Learners may have had
access to literacy negative experiences
instruction. with literacy learning.
Non alphabet literate Learners are fully Learners need instruc-
literate in a language tion in reading an
written in a nonalpha- alphabetic script and
betic script such as in the sound-syllable
Chinese. correspondences of
Non-Roman alphabet Learners are literate in Learners need instruc-
literate a language written in a tion in the Roman
non-Roman alphabet alphabet in order to
(e.g., Arabic, Greek, transfer their L1 literacy
Korean, Russian, Thai}. skills to English. Some
(e.g., readers of Arabic)
will need to learn to
read from left to right.
Roman alphabet Learners are fully Learners need
literate literate in a language instruction in the
written in a Roman specific letter-to-sound
alphabetic script (e.g., and sound-syllable
French, German, correspondences of
Croatian, Spanish}. English.
They know to read
from left to right and
recognize letter shapes
and fonts.
22. It is generally accepted that level of literacy in the L1 affects the literacy skills
that learners can transfer from L1 to L2 reading (Grabe & Stoller, 2002).
Teachers need to know learners' LI literacy levels in order to make informed
decisions about the reading skills that they can help learners transfer to
English and the reading strategies that they may need to teach in English.
Even in cases in which there is relatively high L1 literacy, including knowl-
edge about sound-symbol correspondence, certain skills may transfer and oth-
ers may not unless there is direct instruction (Grabe & Stoller, 2002; Hilferty,
1996; Strucker, 2002). Hilferty (1996), for example, looked at the relation-
ship of L2 decoding skills to other reading and language subskills in the read-
ing performance of 42 Latino adult English language learners. An analysis of
the Spanish and English language and reading subskills of the Spanish speak-
ers showed that the ability to decode texts in English accounted for 15% of
the subjects' reading comprehension. Yet these learners, all proficient readers
in their native Spanish, were not receiving direct instruction in sound-symbol
correspondence in English. From the results of this study, Hilferty posited
that the relationship between ESL decoding and reading comprehension may
well be reciprocal--that strengthening one promotes the development of the
other. For that reason, she recommended instruction in English decoding
even for proficient L1 readers.
Some research indicates that learners also need to reach a threshold (or level)
of knowledge in the second language ("language-specific knowledge," Grabe
& Stoller, 2002, p. 147) for positive language transfer to occur (Carrell, 1991 ;
Carson, Carrell, Silberstein, & Kuehn, 1990). Positive language transfer
occurs when learners are able to use in the second language the metacogni-
tive knowledge, or knowledge of how language works, that they learned in the
first language (Grabe & Stoller, 2002).
A study by Carrell (1991) seems to support this theory. Carrell looked at the
reading skills in English and Spanish of 75 native English speakers learning
Spanish at a university in the United States and 45 native Spanish speakers
learning English at an intensive English program. She found that for the stu-
dents learning English, first (Spanish) language reading ability was a more
important predictor of second language reading skill. For the Spanish learn-
ers, second language proficiency level was a more important predictor. Carrell
23. suggests that because the English skills of the ESL students were higher than
the Spanish skills of the native English speakers, the ESL students were bet-
ter able to use reading strategies from their native Spanish in reading English.
The study, however, was inconclusive because of its small size, differences in
difficulty levels of the readings in English and Spanish, and differences in L1
and L2 language proficiency levels of the two groups. Furthermore, as Carrell
admitted, part of the difference between the two groups could be attributed
to the nature of second language learning (in the case of the English-language
learners) and foreign language learning (in the case of the Spanish-language
learners). More research is needed in this area.
In summary, it seems that learners who are highly literate in their L 1 and who
also have high levels of L2 proficiency will be more likely to transfer their L1
reading strategies to L2 reading; learners with low levels of L2 proficiency will
need more help. When learners have reached the point that their metacogni-
tive knowledge (from their L1) can support their L2 reading, they should be
taught how to apply that knowledge to reading tasks. They can be asked to
consider their purposes for reading, the ways they deal with unfamiliar vocab-
ulary, and what they do when they don't understand a text, and they can be
taught to apply these strategies in their L2 reading. Teachers should not
assume that transfer of literacy skills will occur automatically. Direct instruc-
tion in effective reading strategies is needed at all literacy levels.
4* assigning learners to classes: Non-literate learners may have difficulty
using writing to reinforce what they learn orally. They may learn less
rapidly than other learners.
•¢o implementing lesson plans: Lessons that involve a lot of writing (e.g.,
on the chalkboard) will be less comprehensible for non-literate learners.
•**" teaching literacy skills: Learners can transfer the skills they have from
L1 reading to L2 reading. However, the transfer may not always be
automatic or positive. Some additional reading skills will have to be
24. Educational Background
Learners' first language literacy is often linked to their educational experi-
ences. Grabe and Stoller (2002) identify educational background as one of
the distinguishing factors between L 1 and L2 literacy learners, noting that L2
learners bring their expectations about literacy instruction from the L1 expe-
rience to the task of learning to read in the L2.
Learners with limited or no literacy in their first language have likely had little
or no experience with formal education. These learners may be unaccus-
tomed to sitting in desks for long periods of time, listening to a teacher, and
interacting with other adults as fellow learners. Most of their educational
experiences may have involved watching and learning from others. They often
have not learned study skills common to students with formal education.
Their learning will probably not, therefore, mirror that of learners who have
had more experience with formal education (Hardman, 1999; Huntley, 1992;
Klassen & Burnaby, 1993).
For these learners especially, literacy instruction is more likely to be success-
ful when it is perceived as relevant to their lives and when they feel comfort-
able in the instructional setting. Some descriptive studies seem to support
this (Hardman, 1999; Klassen & Burnaby, 1993; Mikulecky 1992). Hardman,
for example, found that his semiliterate Cambodian adult students felt more
comfortable in the classroom and had more positive attitudes about reading
when they were allowed to bring their English-speaking children to class to
work with them on reading tasks.
Learners who are highly literate in their first language are more likely to have
had formal education in that language. However, while they have vast
resources to draw on in learning to read in English, their prior educational
experiences may differ from those they have in the United States
(Constantino, 1995; Tse, 1996a, 1996b). They may expect a great deal of
direct teaching and traditional approaches to learning, such as memorizing
vocabulary lists and doing mechanical exercises, and they may tend to focus
more on reading accuracy than on reading fluency. They may benefit from
25. extensive or pleasure reading in English to improve their reading fluency and
to increase their exposure to English vocabulary (Coady, 1997; Tse, 1996a,
1996b). As with all adult learning, adults learning to read in English need to
know why they are engaged in specific activities and what they can expect to
learn from them (Florez & Burt, 2001).
lSecond Language,proficiency
Adult English language learners have varying levels of proficiency in English,
which may influence their reading speed and comprehension (Tan, Moore,
Dixon, & Nicholson, 1994). Several studies suggest that first language read-
ing ability is a less significant predictor of second language reading ability
than is second language proficiency, especially among lower proficiency learn-
ers (Alderson, 1984; Carrell, 1991; Tan et al., 1994). As a result, the positive
influence of first language literacy, as discussed above, may be limited by pro-
ficiency in the second language.
The following sections discuss two influential components of second lan-
guage proficiency--vocabulary knowledge and syntactic proficiency--and
their role in learning to read.
One of the components of language proficiency that has been shown to have
a strong effect on reading comprehension is vocabulary knowledge in the lan-
guage being read (Coady, 1997; Coady, Mgoto, Hubbard, Graney, &
Mokhtari, 1993). Other research suggests that vocabulary knowledge is
gained through extensive and frequent reading (Cho & Krasben, 1994;
Constantino, 1995; Joe, 1998). This dual interaction is the basis of the
"beginner's paradox" (Coady, 1997, p. 229): Learners need to read to gain
vocabulary knowledge, but they need vocabulary knowledge in order to read.
(Reading specialists, including Grabe and Stoller, 2002, and Laufer, 1997,
posit that a minimum of 3,000 words is needed to be able to read independ-
ently in the second language.)
26. FIGURE 4
o:o Breadth--The number of words a learner knows or the number of
content areas in which a learner is familiar with the vocabulary
o~ Depth--The amount of knowledge a learner has about individual words
• Phonology--Pronunciation
• Orthography--Spelling
• Morphology:
Parts of speech (e.g., nouns and verbs)
Prefixes (e.g., un-, re-) and suffixes (e.g., -able, -ing)
How prefixes and suffixes change a word's meaning and use
• Syntax--How the word is used in sentences
• Connotations--Associated meanings
• Polysemy--Multiple meanings
• Register What contexts the word is used in
Vocabulary knowledge is more than knowledge of the basic meanings of
words. Comprehension is affected by both the breadth--or size---of a learn-
er's vocabulary and the depth--or knowledge about the pronunciation and
spelling, morphological properties, syntactic properties, connotations, polyse-
my (a word's multiple meanings), and register (context and appropriateness)
(Qian, 1999). Similarly, intraword sensitivity, the reader's ability to use both
phonological and morphological information to process and comprehend
words, affects decoding at the word level (Koda, 1999). When investigating
the effects of vocabulary knowledge on reading development and helping stu-
dents augment their vocabulary, this detailed information about vocabulary
knowledge is useful.
There is no consensus among researchers and practitioners on the effective-
ness of word guessing and the use of bilingual dictionaries. Some advocate
that bilingual dictionaries not be used in ESL reading classes because learn-
ers need to be able to determine word meaning from context. Others argue
that in order to learn new words from a text, readers need to understand at
least 95%-98% of the other words, and that readers cannot use contextual
cues to guess a word's meaning unless they know the meanings of the cues
(Coady, 1997; Coady et al., 1993; Laufer, 1997). Furthermore, when readers
are asked to read texts that are too difficult, the result will be frustration
27. rather than comprehension. Simply guessing word meanings will not lead stu-
dents to comprehension in many cases (Haynes, 1993; Laufer, 1997).
Even if readers understand all of the words used in a text, they might not
understand them in a particular context. They also need to understand the
cultural context in which a word appears (Rance-Roney, 1997). For example,
the term tree house may have no meaning for a reader who knows what trees
and houses are but has no experience with children making playhouses in
trees, or of people treating trees as houses in some way. (How would one live
in a palm tree?) In this and other cases, a monolingual English dictionary or
even a bilingual dictionary could be useful. Learners should be encouraged
first to use English dictionaries with examples and contextual descriptions,
and then, if that fails, to look the word up in a bilingual dictionary. In some
instances, using both dictionaries may be helpful, with the learner getting a
sense of what the word literally and commonly means from the bilingual dic-
tionary and how it is used in the text from the English dictionary.
Whatever strategy is used to improve vocabulary knowledge, teacher guidance
throughout the reading process is important. In a small descriptive study, Cho
and Krashen (1994) found increased learner gains in vocabulary with exten-
sive reading. It is not clear, however, whether the gains would have been so
dramatic if the learners had not discussed the books in their native Korean
with the researcher/teacher. In another small descriptive study (Constantino,
1995), learners kept journals on what they read and responded to questions
about readings. Research is needed on the types of guidance, discussion, and
other help that are needed for reading-related learning to occur.
The need for increased vocabulary in the L2 can be addressed on several lev-
els. First, direct vocabulary instruction can be part of the ESL literacy cur-
riculum. It can improve reading comprehension, especially when it is given
before the text is read (Coad~; 1997). Computer-assisted vocabulary activities
may be particularly helpful, as they allow individualized vocabulary learning
(Brown, 1993; Coady et al., 1993; Thuy, 1992). Texts that repeat vocabulary
are more likely to be comprehensible, especially to learners with lower
English language proficiency (Cho 8: Krashen, 1994). A study of 85 learners
in an IEP setting (Brown, 1993) suggests that vocabulary items are more like-
ly to be learned when they are key to the comprehension of a text.
28. Syntactic Proficiency
While the relationship between syntactic proficiency and second language
reading comprehension is less well studied than that of vocabulary knowl-
edge, there is a definite relationship between understanding the structures of
a language and understanding a written text. Students with greater syntactic
knowledge are better able to process text at the sentence level and to use this
knowledge to make informed decisions about the meaning of a passage
(Goldberg, 1997). Students should be taught shown how to connect form
with meaning and to identify cues that signal that connection (for example,
use of-ed to form an adjective, as in "the enraged animal").
Grammar learning should be integrated with reading instruction to reinforce
grammar learning itself, to increase reading comprehension, and to provide a
context for the examination of grammatical structures. Grammar in written
text has the advantage of being frozen on the page so that it can be examined
and analyzed, unlike grammar occurring in conversation that flies by quickly
or is hard to hear in the flow of speech. For example, the past tense marker
-ed is hard to hear when a/t/sound follows it (e.g., I walked to school). To help
learners focus on grammatical structures in texts, teachers can point out spe-
cific structures in a reading passage, choose passages that highlight the gram-
matical structures that students are learning, and have students find and
mark specific grammatical structures.
l Learner Goals
Adults learning English have varying needs for literacy. Some of the most
common are to succeed at work, participate in their children's education, gain
U.S. citizenship, participate in community activities in English, and pursue
further education (Marshall, 2002). Learners' needs for literacy development
are referred to as literacy goals or literacy purposes.
Some learners may focus on improving their functional literacy in order to
advance in the workplace (Mikulecky, 1992). Many cannot advance in their jobs
or receive the job training they need until they have achieved a functional level
of English literacy: In many cases, a GED (General Educational Development)
certificate may be required for job promotion (Mikulecky, 1992; Strucker, 1997).
29. FIGURE 5
Other learners may want to
improve their literacy skills to
°:" Increased job success help their children in school
olo Involvement in children's education (Shanahan, Mulhern, &
4° Participation in the community Rodriguez-Brown, 1995). The
~. Continued education belief that parents' literacy is a
predictor of children's eventual
literacy attainment is one of the
reasons behind the support for family literacy in U.S. Department of
Education legislation (National Center for ESL Literacy Education, 2002).
Since much of school-related communication is conducted in written English,
limited English literacy may limit parents' involvement in their children's edu-
cation and their communication with teachers, administrators, and counselors.
Furthermore, adults who are not literate in English will be unable to share
English literacy with their children or help them learn English vocabulary.
Other common literacy goals for adult ESL students center around commu-
nity participation. These goals include achieving the skills to move success-
fully through the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, to handle financial
transactions, and to keep informed about developments in the community
(Klassen & Burnaby, 1993; Strucker, 1997). Adult ESL students who wish to
gain citizenship in the United States need to pass a written test on U.S. gov-
ernment and history. Likewise, at every step in the residency and citizenship
process, learners need to have the literacy skills to fill out forms.
Opportunities for involvement in community activities are usually announced
through written communication, most often in English. Adults learning
English need to be able to read in English to integrate into and take an active
role in shaping their communities.
In addition to integrating into the English-speaking community, adults who
are literate in English can serve as valuable advocates for their first language
community to the larger English-speaking community (Auerbach, 1992).
Most advocacy activities in the United States that reach decision makers are
conducted in English.
Finally, many learners want to improve their literacy skills to increase their
opportunities to continue their education (Rance-Roney, 1995). Some need
30. to obtain a high school equivalency degree; others are seeking certification in
English of degrees and skills they have in their native language. Still others
need English reading skills to pass standardized tests such as the Test of
English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and enroll in institutions of higher
It seems likely that using materials related to the specific goals of learners will
improve both the acquisition of literacy skills related to those goals and lan-
guage acquisition in general. Indeed, it has long been an assumption in adult
education in general and adult ESL education in particular that learners learn
better when the material they study is relevant to their real-life needs and
goals (Auerbach, 1992; Knowles, 1984). Unfortunatel>; there is little research
on this issue. In his study of English language learners in a workplace litera-
cy program, Mikulecky (1992) found that providing job-related literacy
instruction at the workplace improved both acquisition of literacy skills relat-
ed to specific jobs and transfer of the reading skills acquired to other situa-
tions. Generalizing from this study, materials used in instruction should
match the goals of the learner: School-related instruction and materials
should be used with parents in family literacy programs, workplace instruc-
tion and materials should be used with workers, and civics-focused instruc-
tion and materials should be used in citizenship classes. The challenge, of
course, is addressing learners' interests when a variety of goals for developing
literacy are represented in one class or program. Further research is needed
in this area.
Whatever the reading goals of learners, teachers should help them enjoy and
take responsibility for their own learning. This can be done by encouraging
learners to seek opportunities for literacy activities inside and outside of class,
and to take note of their uses for literacy in their daily lives, including pleas-
ure reading. Having learners identify their specific literacy goals maintains
their interest and motivation (Comings & Cuban, 2000; Comings, Parella, &
Soricone, 2000).
31. SE
The Process of Learning to Read
in a Second Language
he question of what is involved in the process of learning to read has
T intrigued cognitive scientists and psychologists over the years. Except
for functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) studies" (e.g., Lyon
& Krasnegor, 1996; Lyon & Rumsey, 1996), which are in their infancy, we do
not actually see evidence of the reading process as it occurs. Researchers have
used evidence from analyses of oral reading, from eye-movement studies, and
from learners' responses on post-reading activities to infer the process that
occurs in the mind as the reader takes in written information.
Teachers need to understand the reading process in order to help adult
English learners develop reading skills and strategies, to evaluate the effec-
tiveness of pedagogical techniques designed to build reading proficiency, to
implement those techniques in their instruction, and to understand and help
learners who have reading difficulties.
This section summarizes models (or frameworks) that have attempted to
describe the reading process. It is followed by a discussion of the internal
models that learners with prior literacy experiences may bring to the process.
It then describes the specific skills involved in reading. Theories and research
involving adult English learners in these areas are described first, followed by
implications for practice.
-' Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) uses magnetic resonance technology to visualize
the way that the brain functions. It shows changes in the chemical composition of areas of the brain
to find out what the brain is doing when individuals perform specific tasks such as reading a text.
(See, for example, Gregg, n.d., for discussion.)
32. Theories and Research
Models of Reading
Researchers have attempted to describe the reading process by using models.
This section discusses some of the more influential ones. These models
describe the reading process in general and are not specific to the process of
how adults learn to read in a second language. However, understanding the
fundamental nature of the reading process is necessary to understanding how
reading in English is learned.
Bottom-up models. Bottom-up models focus on how readers extract infor-
mation from texts--from the page to the mind (See, for example, Segalowitz,
Poulsen, & Komoda, 1991.) These models describe reading as a process of
gathering visual information from the text and synthesizing that information
through different systems in the brain that identify the letters, map them onto
words (word recognition), and analyze words in clauses and sentences (syn-
tactic parsing). Thus, the reader builds meaning by first focusing on the
smallest units of language, letters and sounds, and then moving to larger units
of language (syllables, words, phrases, and sentences). In short, as Stanovich
& Stanovich (1999) argue, the ability to decode text by knowing how sound
is represented in print is critical for success in learning to read.
Top-down models. Some researchers have argued that bottom-up models
do not account for observed reading phenomena. (See, for example, Coady,
1997; Eskey, 1997; Goodman, 1988; Haynes, 1993.) For example,
researchers conducting miscue analysis studies (analysis of the mistakes read-
ers make in oral reading) concluded that readers do not passively take in the
information from the text, but rather are actively involved in predicting mean-
ing based on both cues from the text (inferencing) and their background
Interactive models. Bottom-up models describe the reader as arriving at
meaning by moving from letters to words to phrases and sentences and arriv-
ing at meaning. Top-down models describe the reader as deriving meaning
primarily from predictions about the text and background knowledge.
Interactive models posit that both processes work together: Word recogni-
33. tion--the bottom-up ability to turn letters into sounds--is informed by the
top-down skills of applying background knowledge, inferencing, and predict-
ing (See Grabe & Stoller, 2002, pp. 31-34, for discussion.) Grabe and Stoller
argue that "modified interactive models" are necessary to understand reading
comprehension. These models will highlight the number of processes that
take place as the reader decodes and comprehends text. Many of the process-
es that fluent readers use are bottom up and automatic: Word recognition
involves getting information from the letters, from phonology, and from letter
shapes. Even using grammatical knowledge can be almost automatic.
However when automatic bottom up processes are not enough to compre-
hend what it being read, top down processes such as getting meaning from
context and using syntax cues can be activated. For L2 readers, who are sel-
dom fluent and frequently do need to activate top-down processes, the mod-
ified interactive model seems to be quite viable.
Learners' internal models. Adult English language learners who are liter-
ate or who have been exposed to literacy may approach literacy learning with
their own, often subconscious, models of the reading process, which may
affect their reading behaviors. Learners who have internalized bottom-up,
decoding-based processes may focus on perfecting their decoding skills, even
when this makes a focus on meaning difficult (Devine, 1988; Wilson, 1983).
Other readers, with a meaning-based model of the reading process, may focus
on constructing meaning from texts. Devine (1988) suggests that some read-
ers may rely so heavily on their background knowledge and their predictions
about a text that they ignore text cues and misinterpret the message of the text.
Reading Skills
Research has demonstrated the importance of the following skills in reading
development: phonological processing, vocabulary recognition, s3,ntactic pro-
cessing, and schema activating (See, for example, Coady et al., 1993; Jones,
1996; Koda, 1999; McLeod & McLaughlin, 1986; Strucker, 1997, 2002; Tan
et al., 1994.)
P h o n o l o g i c a l processing. Phonological processing is the act of interpret-
ing graphemes (letters) as sounds and combining letter strings correctly into
pronounceable syllables and words. It includes phonemic awareness (aware-
34. ness of individual speech sounds or phonemes and the ways they are repre-
sented in print), and phonological awareness (awareness of the way that lan-
guage is represented in print that includes phonemes, words, syllables, and
word breaks) (Adams, 1990; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). There is some
indication that learners with previous literacy in an alphabetic language trans-
fer phonological decoding skills from that language to English reading (Koda,
1999). Koda's study of 20 native Korean speakers, 20 native Chinese speak-
ers, and 6 native English speakers seems to support this claim. The Korean
students, whose native language is written in an alphabetic script, seemed to
be using within-word processing skills to read in English more frequently than
the Chinese students, whose language script is non-alphabetic. Koda suggests
that the Chinese students probably relied on L1 whole-word processing
strategies to read in English, while the Koreans were looking at syllabic seg-
ments as they do when they read Korean.
Proponents of top-down reading models have generally dismissed phonologi-
cal processing (mapping letters to sounds) as primary in reading instruction,
assuming that it develops naturally as students are exposed to large amounts
of written text. However, there is evidence indicating that even advanced
English learners whose native language is written with the Roman alphabet
can have difficulty with phonological processing in English and need to be
taught to d e c o d e - to match letters and sounds (Hilferty, 1996; Jones, 1996;
Strucker, 2002).
Vocabulary recognition. The importance of vocabulary in second language
reading development has been studied extensively (See, for example, Coady
et al., 1993; Haynes, 1993; Joe, 1998; Qian, 1999; Tan et al., 1994; Thuy,
1992). When readers are able to comprehend vocabulary words quickly, they
are better able to understand the meaning of a sentence or passage. When
readers struggle with the raeanings of individual vocabulary words, they will
have difficulties connecting the meanings of words in a sentence or passage
(McLeod & McLaughlin, 1986). Learners in this situation may decode rea-
sonably well, but they may do so with limited comprehension.
Some studies indicate that training second language readers on accurate and
rapid vocabulary recognition can increase their reading comprehension
35. (Coady et al., 1993; Tan et al., 1994). Results of these studies show (not sur-
prisingly) that vocabulary learning must be addressed in second language lit-
eracy instruction.
Adams (1990) states that the skill of word reading includes processing writ-
ten words, their meanings, and their pronunciations. "Perhaps the most
important tenet ... is that these three types of information are not processed
independently of one another. Skillful reading is the product of the coordi-
nated and highly interactive processing of all three" (p. 107).
Syntactic processing. In order to comprehend a written text, learners must
recognize the grammatical relationships between words. Syntactic processing
involves using word order (e.g., subject followed by verb) and morphological
cues (e.g., past tense and passive voice marking) to understand the meaning
of a phrase or sentence as a whole. As with vocabulary recognition, increased
ease with syntactic processing may increase comprehension of a passage,
because it frees up mental space for the processing of larger units in the pas-
sage (McLeod & McLaughlin, 1986). Faulty syntactic processing can derail
comprehension. For example, when reading the sentence The man was bit by
the dog, an English language learner who does not notice the passive voice
may misinterpret the sentence to mean that the man bit the dog. This mis-
take could interfere with comprehension of the passage.
Schema activating. Part of reading comprehension involves filling in what
is not stated explicitly in the text. This sort of reading between the lines often
involves using schema, background knowledge that the reader has of the
world (Adams & Collins, 1985). Textual features activate schema. For exam-
ple, if the reader encounters the words runners, numbers, water station, and
finish line in a text, the schema of race may be activated, even if the word race
is never used in the passage. Several small studies (e.g., Chervenick, 1992;
Coady, 1997; Goldberg, 1997; Hudson, 1982) suggest that activating the
correct schema can aid in reading comprehension.
Schema are related to cultural knowledge. English learners' understanding of
a text may be affected by their own culturally based schema. For example, a
text might describe children climbing a tree without further description of the
36. nature of the tree. While American readers are likely to interpret this as a tree
they are familiar with, such as a maple or an elm, Polynesian readers might
interpret it as a palm tree. They would then have difficulty processing
descriptions of children swinging from the branches, as this does not match
their "tree" schema.
Implications for pra ice
Models of Reading
The goal of reading instruction is to help learners use text decoding skills and
background knowledge to comprehend written language. With adults learn-
ing English, phonological processing and orthographic decoding skills should
be taught directly. Learners with limited literacy in their native language or
with non-Roman alphabetic literacy may need more practice with letter
recognition and phonological processing than those with well-developed
Roman alphabetic literacy. However, learners with Roman alphabetic literacy
also need direct instruction in and practice with English phonology and
orthography (Hilferty, 1996; Strucker, 2002), which might include phonics-
based activities (Jones, 1996).
At the same time, adult English language learners are helped in learning to
read when they have opportunities to apply their knowledge of the language
they are reading and of the world to understand different types of written
texts. Beginning-level learners should begin by reading texts that are relevant
to their experiences or similar to each other in topic (Goldberg, 1997). They
should preview texts by discussing vocabulary in the texts before reading,
reading the headings first, and looking at pictures and graphics related to the
texts (Goldberg, 1997; Pakenham, 1983).
English language learners' first language literacy should be considered when
they are assigned to classes, when ESL lesson plans are designed and imple-
mented, and when learners participate in literacy development activities. In
beginning-level classes, some programs separate literacy learners from those
who are literate in their first language because these two groups of learners
are likely to progress at very different rates.
37. Learners" Internal Reading Models
Adult English learners should become aware of strategies they can use to
decode English words, syntax, and text structures. Teachers who are aware of
the best strategies for individual learners can help learners apply them.
Readers who focus on accurate reading to the detriment of comprehension
can be given comprehension questions as part of pre-reading activities to help
them focus on understanding the important meanings in the texts they read.
Learners who do not pay sufficient attention to accuracy in reading can
engage in activities that encourage accurate letter and word discrimination,
such as pre-reading exercises in which they orally read lists of words taken
from the text and segment them into syllables and sounds. Mixing activities
that draw attention to accurate reading with those that focus on meaning in
texts (e.g., reading Dear Abby letters and asking learners to give their own
advice to the letter writers) can help learners strengthen their reading skills.
Phonological Processing
Phonological processing skills are among the primary reading skill compo-
nents that differentiate native and nonnative English speakers learning to
read (Koda, 1999). Especially when teaching non-literate and non-Roman
alphabet literate learners, phonological decoding skills are a necessary part of
instruction. Jones (1996), Koda (1999), and Strucker (2002) maintain that
teaching adult ESL literacy students the letter-sound correspondences in the
English writing system through phonics instruction should improve their
In this instruction, both the phone-
mic relationships and morpho-
phonemic relationships in the
oto Matching letters to sounds
English writing system should be
Matching morphemes, meanings, taught, as knowledge about them
and pronunciations
increases understanding of the reg-
o~ Oral reading
ularities in written English.
4~ Choral reading
(Phonemic relationships are the
connections between sounds and
the letters that represent them, while morphophonemic relationships are con-
nections between morphemes--units that signal meaning, such as past tense
38. marking--and letters.) For example, teachers can point out that while the reg-
ular past tense has different pronunciations depending on the phonological
structure of the verb, past tense morphology for regular English verbs has only
one written form, -ed (e.g., jumpe_d,d jamme_d,d landed).
Vocabulary Recognition
Vocabulary recognition can be aided by previewing text-specific vocabulary
before a text is read and learning high-frequency vocabulary (Coady et al.,
1993). While traditional vocabulary lists can be intimidating and boring, more
interactive vocabulary instruction, including the use of technology to provide
practice through CD-ROM software, can be helpful for vocabulary develop-
ment. The use of computer technology in this way can also serve to motivate
learners, as they may view the practice as a chance to gain both language and
computer skills (Thuy, 1992).
Second language learners may want to use bilingual dictionaries. Rather than
being adamant against their use, teachers can point out the advantages and
disadvantages of using them: On the one hand, they are quick and easy to
use; on the other hand, they do not always show the nuances of a word, and
the translation may not be as correct or as complete as learners need.
FIGURE 7 English--English dictionaries
are another option. Those
developed specifically for
o:o Preview key vocabulary in a reading learner use may be the most
useful. For example, Longman
Teach high-frequency vocabulary.
Basic Dictionary of American
•:, Help learners use English-to-English
English (1999) includes color
dictionaries effectively.
drawings of animals, articles
•~ Use glosses for vocabulary that is
beyond learners' level. of clothing, and verbs of
movement--items and con-
cepts that are most clearly
defined through direct translation or a picture. Other useful features of learn-
er dictionaries include the presentation of vocabulary items in sentences; lists
and conjugations of common irregular verbs in English; and notes on usage of
English articles and prepositions.
39. Another way to facilitate vocabulary recognition is through the use of glosses.
Vocabulary items are highlighted in the text, and synonyms for those words
are given elsewhere on the page or through a hyperlink in electronic texts.
Syntactic Processing
As with vocabulary recognition, instruction that draws a learner's attention to
syntactic forms that appear in a reading text may help to improve compre-
hension. Cloze exercises, in which specific words are left out of the text, can
help learners pa~, attention to the parts of speech in context. These exercises
can be done initially with the whole class to reduce learner frustration, then
in small groups, and then individually. When discussing unfamiliar words in
a text or words that play specific roles (e.g., transitional words such as how-
ever and nevertheless that
occur more often in writing
than in speech), the teacher
can ask learners to identify the
o**o Use cloze exercises.
parts of speech of the words
•t- Identify parts of speech and
and their grammatical roles.
their roles.
Learners might also write
•t. Generate sentences using specific
their own sentences using the words and grammatical forms.
words in question.
Schema Activating
Second language reading will be more successful when schema are familiar
to the readers. Background information on the topic, provided before reading
begins, will help learners build schema and increase the knowledge, cultural
and otherwise, needed to understand the text. Knowledge about different text
structures and about what to expect from different structures should also
facilitate comprehension (Carrell, 1992). With less proficient readers espe-
cially, readings about culturally familiar topics should be selected (Eskey,
1997). It is also helpful to preview the topics of the reading before reading
begins (Goldberg, 1997).
40. FIGURE 9
o:- Build on ideas and concepts from learners' cultures where possible.
¢~ For unfamiliar themes, use visual aids and realia (physical objects) to
help learners build new schema.
o:- Preview unfamiliar ideas, actions, and settings.
Preview titles, pictures, graphics, text structure, and discourse markers.
[Conclusio n
The purpose for reading influences which skills a reader uses. Good readers
use both information in the text and their own knowledge to interpret texts,
and they adjust their approach to the text according to their reasons for read-
ing it (Aebersold & Field, 1997; Anderson, 1999). Certain situations call for
careful, accurate reading (e.g., a textbook, directions for assembling a prod-
uct, a bus schedule, and a doctor's prescription), while others may call for
faster, meaning-centered reading (e.g., menus and magazines read for pleas-
ure). While skill practice helps students build specific reading skills, learners
must have opportunities to use the skills they have learned in reading actual
texts for different purposes.
41. SECTION3 Reading to Learn
econd language development facilitates reading in the second language,
S but reading in the second language can also facilitate second language
development. In other words, learners can both learn to read and read
to learn. Because of their family, workplace, and community responsibilities,
adults may need to read to acquire second language skills.
Reading is essentially the process of getting information from written lan-
guage. While the concept of reading to learn in content areas is familiar (e.g.,
if we want to learn about gardening, we may read books, articles, and Web
sites about gardening), we are less familiar with the concept of reading to gain
knowledge about language. However, the act of reading itself exposes us to
language that we process as we seek to gain information that is important and
meaningful (Goodman, 1988). Some second language acquisition theoreti-
cians have asserted that it is under these conditions that language learning
can occur (Krashen & Terrell, 1983). Therefore, at the same time that ESL
students learn about gardening, dinosaurs, or U.S. holidays from reading in
English, they are also learning English.
Theory and Research
The notion of reading to learn first received attention in the ESL field in the
late 1970s and early 1980s with the writings of Stephen Krashen. (See, for
example, Krashen, 1976, 1977; Krashen & Terrell, 1983.) Researchers focus-
ing on this issue with adult English language learners include, among others,
Brown (1993); Chervenick (1992); Joe (1998); Lantigne & Schwartzer
42. (1997); Mikulecky (1992); Perfetti, Britt, & Georgi (1995); Petrimoulx
(1988); and Tse (1996a, 1996b). Their hypothesis is that second language
learners need extensive access to language that they can understand but is
more difficult for them to produce. In other words, they need COmlarehensible
input (Krashen & Terrell, 1983). Reading texts can provide one source of
comprehensible input. Therefore, researchers have hypothesized that reading
texts that are comprehensible can have a positive impact on second language
acquisition. The available research is summarized below. (See also Grabe &
Stoller, 2002, pp. 115-117, for a discussion.) Work in this area is limited and
preliminary, however. Research needs to be conducted, especially with adult
learners reading English as a second language.
Some of the benefits for second language acquisition of reading in the second
language have been noted in studies that contrast the learning experiences of
literate and nonliterate second language learners. Learners who have literacy
skills are able to use both oral and written input to reinforce learning, which
increases their exposure to words and struc-
Learners who have literacy skills are able tures. Literate learners are able to take notes in
to use both oral and written input to class and review them later, which aids in the
reinforce learning, which increases their retention of what they have studied (Carroll,
exposure to words and structures. 1999), and they are able to use dictionaries for
learning new words that they encounter in writ-
ten form (Hardman, 1999). In addition, they often have prior school experi-
ences that help them to handle the culture of schooling. All of these factors
can lead to more rapid language learning by literate learners.
Small descriptive studies (Cho & Krashen, 1994; Constantino, 1995) con-
ducted among adult ESL students have investigated the effect of extensive or
sustained reading on vocabulary acquisition. Generally, these studies suggest
that when students are engaged in reading that is comprehensible and inter-
esting to them, they learn passive vocabulary (vocabulary that they can under-
stand but cannot necessarily produce). These studies highlight the impor-
tance of pleasure reading, because learners who read for pleasure are more
likely to read extensively. They also suggest that narrow (or intensive) reading
(in which learners read extensively on a specific topic or text type, for exam-
ple, in connection with their academic or employment training) promotes