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★ Encouraging students to read in L2

Reading plays a huge role in learning a second language. Can you remember when you first started learning a new language? Transport yourself back in time to when you didn’t understand signs and simple written instructions in a foreign language. How did you feel? What or who motivated you to face the challenge and figure out what was written down?

Factors that motivate learners to read

Reading in another language can be demanding for many learners and some may need massive incentive to overcome the obstacles they may encounter. Let’s firstly consider what is entailed when it comes to motivating learners to read in their mother tongue. After all, some of these factors inevitably apply to reading in the L2. Researchers1 have identified a number of factors important to motivation when it comes to reading including self-concept (the value learners give to reading), choice (allowing learners to select what they read), time spent talking about books (engaging in  small group discussions) and types of text available (variety of printed materials). According to Grabe2, there are some differences between L1 and L2 reading. L2 readers will inevitably have less experience to reading exposure in another language; their knowledge of vocabulary, grammar and discourse structure is more limited; L2 readers will experience transfer effects such as strategies, goals and expectations which may involve interference from the L1; L2 readers will encounter social and cultural assumptions in L2 texts that they may be unfamiliar with or even find hard to accept. Personally speaking, I can partially relate to Grabe’s findings. I have lived in Brazil for 24 years. My first language is English and second Portuguese. When I first arrived in Brazil I couldn’t even face reading a book in Portuguese. It seemed so overwhelming for me and it was much more convenient to pick up a book in English. The vocabulary was just too difficult and the subjects were often not familiar culturally speaking. I preferred to stay in my comfort zone! However, I had an amazing Portuguese teacher, who introduced me to some readers that were proper for my level at the time. We discussed the stories in my lessons and I suddenly became much more interested in choosing other reading material. The benefits of reading in L2 are enormous opening up new opportunities for people to experience the world in a different way understanding other cultures and ways of life other than their own. I certainly understand Brazilian culture much more than I used to simply by reading.

Exposure to different kinds of texts

In order to acquire more vocabulary and identify different registers, both teachers and learners should have access to a wide range of reading material in L2, such as books, newspapers, magazines, websites, comic books, children´s books, as well as other sources, for instance recipes, blogs, trivia, jokes and song lyrics. An obvious source for all this is the Internet as there is a wealth of information out there. Nevertheless, there is something to be said for having the physical material in a library (however big or small) inside a teaching establishment. Students can browse through books and magazines while waiting for their lesson. A colourful cover may catch their eye and consequently they may pick it out and read it. Physical material may also serve as a prop for social interaction, for example when starting up a conversation with a peer it is something to chat about.

The era of visual content

Nowadays, visual content is extremely important in this massive sea of information we find ourselves swimming in most of the time. Facebook is becoming out-of-date among the younger generation as Instagram and Snapchat are much more appealing due to their pictures and videos. In today’s world if a text does not come with some kind of image, it may not even be read by the vast majority, especially internauts who scroll through endless posts on social media. Considering this, on the one hand it is becoming more and more challenging to engage readers in texts with depth, meaning and detail due to the fact that visual content is taking over. On the other hand, due to social media, people around the world are exposed to much more reading content in different languages than they ever were before.

Using flash fiction for learning L2

Returning to the main point of this article which is encouraging students to read in L2, I believe that flash fiction can help in this important skill. Flash fiction can be considered anything from around a few words up to around 1,000 words. Short stories, fables, tales, minisagas and poetry are some examples of this kind of genre and can be stimulating for language learners who normally have busy lives. Below are a few activities that can be done with different levels focusing on flash fiction. The idea is to make reading enjoyable for them and eventually foster learner independence.

ACTIVITY 1

LEVEL: A1

AIM: to get young learners to understand a simple story and associate pictures with words.

INSTRUCTIONS: Ask students to sit in pairs. Give the following short story to them. Ask them to read it and write down the word of the picture.

Answers:

1. cat; fish; bird; fish; fish; cat; bird; fish; snake.

ACTIVITY 2

LEVEL: B1

AIM: To read two versions of a similar story to acquire more vocabulary.

INSTRUCTIONS: Ask the students to sit in pairs. Give a copy of the first text to Student A and a copy of the second text to Student B. Ask student A to read their version of the story slowly. Student B should follow what Student A is saying, but when there is a different word to their story, they should say “stop”. Instead of simply saying the word, Student B should mime the word in their version of the story so that Student A can guess what it is. Student A should then say out loud what they think the word is.

STUDENT A   One day I was walking on the beach and I found an object. It was round and heavy. I picked it up and looked at it more closely. It was beautiful. I put it in my pocket and took it home. I showed my sister who said it was valuable. I put it in my bedroom and soon forgot about it.   Some days later, I saw an old man on TV who said he had lost a coin. He was offering R$500,00 as a reward to the person who found it!
STUDENT B   One day I was walking on the street and I found an object. It was round and light. I picked it up and looked at it more closely. It was horrible. I put it in my bag and took it home. I showed my Mum who said it was rubbish. I put it in the dustbin and soon forgot about it.   Some days later, I saw an old man on TV who said he had lost a coin. He was offering R$1.500,00 as a reward to the person who found it!  

Answers:

Version A Version B
Beach Street
Heavy Light
Beautiful Horrible
Pocket Bag
Sister Mum
Valuable Rubbish
My bedroom The dustbin
R$500,00 R$1.500,00

ACTIVITY 3

LEVEL: B2

AIM: To read a short story and discuss the topic of prejudice and bullying.

INSTRUCTIONS: Give each student a copy of the picture of a village and the story below. Ask the students to look at the picture for 30 seconds, then turn the page over. In pairs, they should tell each other what they remember about the picture. Ask the students what they imagine happens in this village on a daily basis.

Picture hand drawn by Sara Gonzalez Moron

Ask each student to read the story below and do the exercise that follows in groups of three.

THE VILLAGE

Linda gave birth to Joan at home on a cold winter´s night in a little village called Spaspring. Joan never knew her father because he had disappeared before she was born. When she started primary school, Joan soon realised the hardships of life. She was bullied by the other children as she did not have a Dad, she was short for her age and as time went by she began to develop a skin disorder consisting of red patches and lumps all over her body. Her mother was not well off and could not afford medical care. In this village of just over 200 people, Joan and Linda were increasingly ostracized day by day.
Word got around that Joan had been bathing in the stream that ran through Spaspring and the villagers were scared to even put their toes in the water during the hot summer months. A young boy who was in the same class as Joan refused to pick up the cups provided at school saying that he could become ill if he drank out the same cup she had used. Things got so bad that people avoided walking on the same side of the street as Joan.
At 7.20am one morning, Linda and Joan’s tiny house caught fire. Luckily, they managed to escape into the woods. They went back to the village after some hours to find their house had been burnt to cinders. They asked for help, but everyone they met turned their backs on them. Having no options, they sought refuge in the forest and survived on berries and fruit.
Two years later, Joan and Linda were ecstatically happy in their new home. Linda made a living out of selling delicious cakes and Joan had many friends. She felt loved and they lived happily ever after!

Discuss the questions below in groups of three.

1. Try to retell the story together using these words: hardships – bullied – ostracized – scared – cup – street – fire – turned their backs on them – berries – cakes.

2. What do you think happened to Linda and Joan between the time their house caught fire and when they lived in their new home?

3. How do you think schools should deal with bullying?

4. How would you feel if someone who was very different to you moved next door to your house?

1 Gambrell, L. and Marinak, B. (2009), Reading Motivation: What the Research Says, http://www.readingrockets.org/article/reading-motivation-what-research-says

2 Grabe, W. (2014), Key Issues in L2 Reading Development, Proceedings of the 4th CELC (Center for English Language Communication) Symposium.

The author
Jane Godwin Coury is from the UK and has been working as a teacher, teacher trainer and English language copy editor in Brazil since 1994. She holds a Master’s in Applied Linguistics and TESOL. She is author of Exercícios para falar melhor em inglês – Disal Editora, Four Short Stories to use in the ELT Classroom and co-author of Help! Preciso de Atividades para meus alunos.
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