The Influence of Intercultural Awareness on Senior Students’ English Reading Competence
Abstract: With the amazingly rapid development of science and technology, it naturally follows
that intercultural contact has become more and more frequent. People receive various information they need through reading. Therefore, reading has become more significant than ever before. The main purpose of English teaching is cultivating students? better reading ability, moreover, intercultural knowledge is the key points to the reading comprehension. Nowadays, the importance of intercultural awareness cultivating in senior English teaching has been gradually recognized by teachers. However, it?s difficult to put it into practice. This thesis is based on relative theory and questionnaire to demonstrate the close relationship between the students? intercultural awareness and their English reading competence and also gives some suggestions to promote reading efficiency through imparting them with sufficient intercultural knowledge in English learning.
Key Words: intercultural awareness; English reading ability; senior students
各种所需信息显得越来越重要。英语教学的主要目的是培养学生较强的阅读能力，而跨文化 知识是影响阅读理解的关键。目前看来，跨文化意识培养的重要性在英语教育中已逐步得到 认可，但跨文化意识的培养很难理论实践相结合。本文是在相关理论和问卷调查的基础上， 阐述了学生跨文化意识和英语阅读能力的紧密关系，并提出一些在英语学习中通过增加学生 充分的跨文化知识来提高阅读能力的建议。
Introduction………………………………………………………………1 1. The Necessity of Developing the Senior Students’ Intercultural Awareness in English Reading Teaching………………………………..1
1.1 The Relationship Between Intercultural Awareness and English Reading………..1 1.2 The Requirement of Syllabus……………………………………………………..2
2. Survey of Intercultural Awareness in Senior English Reading Teaching…………………………………………………………………..3
2.1 Design of the Survey………………………………………………………………1 2.1.1 Aims of the Survey…………………………………………….......................3 2.1.2 Participants of the Survey…………………………………………………….3 2.1.3 Design of the Questionnaires…………………………………………………3 2.1.4 Design of the Reading Tests………………………………………………….4 2.1.5 Design of the Interview……………………………………………………....4 2.2 Results and Discussion……………………………………………………………4 2.2.1 Analysis of the Questionnaires……………………………………………….4 2.2.2 Analysis of the Reading Test…………………………………………………7 2.2.3 Analysis of the Interview……………………………………………..............8
3. Suggestions According to the Survey……………………………....9
3.1 Pre-reading, While-reading and Post-reading……………………………………..9 3.2 Teacher?s Role………………………………………………………………….....9 .
4. Conclusion…………………………………………………….........10 Bibliography…………………………………………………………….12
The world seems to be getting smaller with the convenience brought about by modern transportation and communication. In this “global village??, the contact between people of different cultures becomes more and more frequent. This contact is mainly carried out in spoken and written forms. Reading materials, majority of most which are written in English, are often thought to one of the main channels for most Chinese to communicate. The more and the faster we read and comprehend, the more valuable information we will receive to benefit ourselves. Thus, to read and comprehend English materials efficiently deserves our due attention. For years, teachers hold that students? failure in comprehending a text is mainly due to deficiency in linguistic competence. However, in many cases, students who have a good command of the English grammar and a large vocabulary cannot understand or misunderstand a simple sentence what they are reading, even though they understand every single word and all the grammatical structures （Dai Weidong and He Zhaoxiong, 2002）. Actually, it is intercultural knowledge that blocks readers? understanding. A great number of tests show that the hurdle of English reading comprehension exists not only in vocabulary and grammar, but also in background knowledge and cultural information. Therefore, how to make teaching of English meet the needs of social development has become an urgent task to English teachers. Language teaching should include culture teaching, we need to pay more attention to develop students? intercultural awareness and cultural creativity (Wei Shaohua,2006). For the first time it has been prescribed into the new English Curriculum Standard, which is being carried out all over the country. Obviously this is a challenge to most senior English teachers. In this study, the main purpose is to research senior school students? intercultural awareness and to draw more attention from teachers and students to the importance of cultural background knowledge in English reading comprehension. By designing test papers, collecting data and analyzing the result, the hypothesis raised can be confirmed and some correlated suggestions will be given.
1. The Necessity of Developing the Students’ Intercultural Awareness in English Reading Teaching
1.1 The Relationship Between Intercultural Awareness and English Reading
As Kramsch defines it, the term intercultural means the meeting of two cultures or two languages across the political boundaries of nation-states, or communication between people from different ethnic, social, gendered cultures within the boundaries
of the same national language (Kramsch 2004). The term cultural awareness is used to describe as the sensitivity to the impact of culturally-induced behavior on language use and communication. It has three qualities, namely, awareness of one?s own culturally-induced behavior; awareness of the culturally-induced behavior of others and the ability to explain one?s own cultural standpoint (Tomalin 1993). Becoming more aware of the influence of cultural values leads to a better understanding of us and of others. As we know, English reading is one kind of comprehensive ability which is an intelligence activity unique to man. Reading is not simply a process of knowing sounds, words and sentences. There are so many English articles including the certain background knowledge. Some reading, although has not bumped into a new word in the reading process, and does not have the grammar barrier, but it is difficult for the students to know the meaning of the whole passage, especially when the students lack of the intercultural knowledge（Bao Zhikun, 1997）. From the above, it can be seen that if a reader has little cultural knowledge, he cannot understand an English text which conveys a lot of English speaking countries? culture even though he knows every word and every grammar item. In that case he is not a successful reader. This can explain why readers have a difficult time comprehending a text on a subject they are not familiar with even if the person comprehends the meaning of the individual words in the passage. Therefore, efficient reading depends on the efficient interaction between linguistic knowledge and the knowledge of the world (Silberstein 1994). All these show that as an English teacher, he or she should be fully aware of the necessity of instructing culture as an essential part in teaching reading and developing students? intercultural awareness (Zhao Lian, 2006).
1.2 The Requirement of Syllabus
It is known to all that reading is of decisive importance in English learning. The New English Curriculum has taken English reading as the first priority of the four of the required skills. Normally, any English test paper in senior school contains the reading comprehension part, which is considered to be the most important one for it is assumed to possess the characteristics of rich knowledge, difficult language points and a large proportion in assessment (Fang Li, 2002). Moreover, intercultural awareness has been prescribed into the New English Curriculum Standards. The newly organized teaching materials of senior middle school involve some western culture. It has been confirmed that proper intercultural awareness is of great importance to the comprehension of reading. Hence, the students of senior middle school not only should grasp vocabularies, grammar, and pronunciation, but also properly grasp the relationship between English learning and culture understanding. The teacher should carry out cultural teaching and cultivate students? intercultural awareness.
2. Survey of Intercultural Awareness in English Reading Teaching
2.1 Design of the Survey
2.1.1 Aims of the Survey This survey investigates the correlation between students? reading ability and his intercultural awareness. Meanwhile, the current practice of intercultural teaching in senior English reading will be examined. In this way, both achievements and potential problems would be found. Teachers will be elicited to reflect their practices critically in reading teaching so as to increase their awareness of the significance of intercultural awareness. And the survey also intends to give some aids to well carrying out the New Curriculum Standard about intercultural instruction. The instruments used in this survey are three questionnaires and two reading test papers. Another method used in the data collection is a face-to-face interview with those who all took the two tests. 2.1.2 Participants of the Survey The participants in this study were 50 senior students from a class in Hangzhou Changzheng Senior Middle School. After several years? study of English, they have accumulated a certain amount of vocabulary examination; middle school teachers have to emphasize the learning of language structure. The students also concentrated on doing all kinds of exercises. The teachers are seeking to finish their huge textbooks within the limited period of time. Thus both of them paid little attention to the intercultural awareness in reading process. 2.1.3 Design of the Questionnaires In order to answer the survey questions for the current study, there is a great need to have a review on senior middle school English teachers? intercultural awareness in reading teaching so that we can see the impact on the students. It is also necessary to understand what the student? intercultural awareness functions and how much has the students already learned about intercultural knowledge. At the beginning, the first questionnaire about English teachers? intercultural awareness was applied to see how much attention the teachers have paid to the teaching of culture. The questionnaire was composed of 10 statements, each having five choices, ranging from “Always” to “Never” with three other more or less moderate scales in between. This questionnaire was designed with a reference to the relevant experiments. Also students were ensured that their answers would be kept secret and were encouraged to give their answers honestly. The second questionnaire about students? intercultural awareness was also designed. It was composed of 5 questions. From this results, we can clearly see the student? intercultural awareness. It was of great help to the author when she came to the design of the new reading class later.
The third questionnaire was also designed for the purpose of learning about the students? knowledge concerning cultural difference. From this one, information could be obtained which would help adapt the teaching methods to the students? needs in reading and help students to improve their ability to obtain intercultural knowledge through various sources. This questionnaire consists of 10 questions focusing on identifying their intercultural knowledge. Also students were ensured their answers for the three questionnaires would be kept secret and were encouraged to answer forthrightly and outspokenly. 2.1.4 Design of the Reading Test About the reading tests, one was taken at the beginning of the research. It was designed to show the prior level of the students, while the other test was given to the same group of students at the end of the research, used to show the result of survey conducted by the author. The reading test paper has 5 texts, each with 5 questions. Each question scores 4 points and the total is 100. In order to ensure that all the students take the test seriously, they were assured that their reading achievements of the test would be recorded in their grade book and be added to their final exam scores. 2.1.5 Design of the Interview After the post-test, an interview was conducted with 15 students picked out at random based on their English proficiency in order to get some feedback about this study. Students of different proficiency were asked questions in a very informal and relaxing way, and they were encouraged to talk frankly. These questions are designed to get to know the students? intercultural awareness in reading and their improvement of reading comprehension after the study. Also, the author expects to know from the interview what kind of opinion the students hold for teaching culture in the reading class and what class activities are effective and interesting to them.
2.2 Results and Discussion
2.2.1 Analysis of the Questionnaires The collected data from the questionnaires were analyzed and presented in the following table. Choice Percentage of the Questionnaire 1 by the Students Items Content Always Very Sometimes Seldom Never often 1 When teaching 21% 30% 30% 16% 3% reading, our teacher_distinguishes the words which are partly different from Chinese in meaning. 2 Our teacher_tells us 25% 31% 25% 11% 8% the appropriate use of
some English phrases which are partly different from Chinese phrases. Our teacher_explains the meanings and the usage of some English idioms which are partly different from Chinese idioms. Our teacher_tells us the origin of some English allusions. In addition to the textbooks, our English teacher__recommends some reading materials about target culture to us. Our teacher__introduces some knowledge about the western culture to us. Our teacher__makes comparisons and contrasts between the properties of the Chinese culture and the target culture. Our teacher__tells us the importantce of intercultural awareness in reading. When teaching reading, Our teacher_translates every sentence, every word into Chinese. Our teacher__emphasizes the accuracy of the
reading comprehension exercise. This table and the statistics show the English teaching situation in which the students are and the teachers? awareness to teach culture in reading class. Altogether 50s students took part in the survey and the 50 respondents were all valid without any missing case. Item 1,2,3, and 4 were all related to the teaching of the specific cultural contents. Looking at the data we can see that those teachers pay more attention to the importance of the word, phrases, idioms and allusions when teach reading. On average, more than 50% of the teachers focus on specific linguistic points when teaching reading. Item 5,6,7, and 8 were all related to identify the extent of the teachers? intercultural awareness in teaching reading. Form the results, we can see less than 20% of the teachers realize the importance of the culture in reading teaching. Item 9 and 10 were about teaching method and purpose of teaching reading comprehension. From the data we can see that most teachers were influenced by traditional ideas, they pay more attention to scores of the students instead of to the reading ability that the students should acquire. Choice Percentage of the Questionnaire 2 Items Content Always Very Sometimes Seldom Never often 1 I__take the target culture into 8% 10% 25% 27% 30% consideration when I read. 2 I__think cultural background 8% 11% 25% 25% 31% knowledge influence our reading comprehension. 3 In my spare time, I__read the 10% 12% 27% 23% 28% English books about the western culture. 4 I__pay attention to cultural 9% 14% 27% 34% 14% differences between China and the western countries and their impact on reading. 5 I__think I need some 8% 12% 27% 33% 20% knowledge about the western culture for reading. This survey was meant to identify the students? intercultural awareness in reading. From the data, we can see that less than 25% of the students realize the importance if the culture in reading which meant that most students don?t know that culture can have a direct impact on their reading comprehension and, as a result, seldom do they take culture into consideration when reading. They do not try to read English books about western culture, and they have little awareness of cultural differences between China and the western countries. Less still do they realize the influence the culture imposes
on their reading comprehension. Choice Percentage of the Questionnaire 3 Items Content Know Know Know a Do not some little know 1 Do you know how to introduce western 17% 27% 32% 24% traditional festivals and holidays in English? 2 Do you know how western celebrate 19% 21% 35% 25% Christmas Day? 3 Do you know how English-speaking 19% 21% 32% 27% people greet each other? 4 Do you know that according to western 17% 20% 39% 24% tradition, a man should open doors, take coats for ladies? 5 Do you know what color does a western 22% 24% 34% 20% bride usually wear at the wedding? 6 Do you know what is the response of a 20% 23% 31% 26% westerner when he/she receives a gift from someone? 7 Do you know what the English idiom “a 13% 20% 21% 46% Judas Kiss” means? 8 Do you know in the west, is it 18% 27% 30% 25% appropriate for the host to pick food for the guest and push him/her to eat more? 9 Do you know how westerns give and 21% 24% 34% 21% receive gift according to western tradition? 10 Do you know something about 15% 23% 27% 35% Christianity, the dominant religion in English-speaking countries? This survey was designed to learn the students? intercultural knowledge. From the data we can see that more than 50% of the students know little or do not know anything about intercultural knowledge, which meant more than half of the students totally lack intercultural knowledge. From the students? choices, the author suggests that our teachers realize the students? condition and pay more attention to widen the students? intercultural knowledge in reading. Then the procedures of culture teaching in reading class were arranged and activities were designed based on the analysis of the questionnaire above. During the new procedures, the teachers firstly explained the purpose of this study to the students, then the teachers held some designed reading activities according to the purpose of the study. Reading activities included pre-reading, while-reading and post-reading activities.
2.2.2 Analysis of the Reading Test The following is a description of the basic information of the two tests. The Basic Information of the Pre- and the Post- study Tests Tests Numbers of the Words in the Words in the articles articles questions Pre-test 5 1320 630 Post-test 5 1565 855 Obviously, the length of the article is different, which also means that the post-test is more difficult and calls for higher reading speed and reading ability. The post-test test is more difficult because the author wants to make the test more challenging in order to prove the effectiveness of the study. The Comparison of the Students? Scores of the Two Reading Tests Tests Average scores Pre-test 65.9 Post-test 74.4 It is obvious that students could do much better in the second tests, of which the average score was 74.4, 8.5 points higher than the pre-study test 65.9. We can say the intercultural teaching really works and has substantial effects on reading comprehension. 2.2.3 Analysis of the Interview About this interview, the questions asked at the occasion are listed below. 1. Do you think you have made progress after the study? In which aspect? 2. What do you think the study has brought to you? 3. Is the introduction to intercultural knowledge helpful to your reading comprehension? 4. What kind of reading classes do you like best? The students gave their opinions freely and actively. Here are 4 abstracts from the interviewees. I think I made a great progress after the study. Firstly, I realized the close relationship between language and culture. Before the study, I only concentrated on vocabulary and grammar in reading, which was too limited. Secondly, I knew a lot of intercultural knowledge that was a great help to reading comprehension. Thirdly, I learned to look for more intercultural information after class through different sources, such as internet, bookstore, library. In a word, I made great progress after this study. What benefit me a lot in this study is that now I know how to improve my reading comprehension by using intercultural knowledge. I used to analyze the grammar and pay attention to each word whenever I read. But now I know intercultural awareness plays a very important role in reading comprehension. I am gaining a new viewpoint in my reading. The various activities designed based on different article were very impressive to me. Reading classes are not boring any more. Instead, they are attractive and interesting, providing lots of information about English speaking countries. Above all, I achieved a lot from the study, not only different kinds of knowledge, but also I am highly interested in reading now. That’s very important to me.
I got a totally new idea about reading. Now I know intercultural awareness plays a crucial role in reading comprehension. Before the study, I already possessed the linguistic knowledge of phonetics, vocabulary and grammar, but I cannot still comprehend the test completely. After the study, I acquired a lot of intercultural knowledge, which was a great help to reading comprehension. I’m not afraid of reading any more. From the recording of the interview above, it becomes evident that most students hold a very positive view towards the author?s study. Most students think that intercultural awareness is more helpful and useful in their reading comprehension. Therefore, the effect of the intercultural awareness and intercultural knowledge upon the students can be clearly seen.
3. Suggestions Based on the Survey
3.1 Pre-reading, while-reading and post-reading
Pre-reading activities can warm students up and pre-offer some related knowledge and build a bridge between the reading passage and the readers? background knowledge, to create interest in the topic and to stimulate students? participation in the reading activities. Firstly, activation activities are designed to let the students to predict the contents of the article, check their knowledge of the relevant cultural differences. Moreover, discussion activities are designed to get students to talk about the intercultural knowledge they already knew about the text. Furthermore, based on the students? activation, the teacher presents intercultural knowledge to the students in order to help them to build a new schema. While-reading always begins with a general or global understanding of the text. Students can bring their prior knowledge to the text. Meanwhile, the students can learn some new culture information through the reading. During the procedure, the teacher should link pre-reading activities to reading comprehension tasks. Get the students to read the text quickly and to test if their intercultural knowledge is useful and appropriate. Students should skim and scan, consider and analyze the text with problem the teacher put forward. They are asked to pay attention to some specific cultural information and tell what they have read and where the hindrance caused by cultural difference is. In the post-reading activities, teachers can help the students further comprehend the text, focusing on some specific intercultural knowledge. Teachers can ask students to summarize the content of the text or check their understanding. These activities may also include any other activities related to the text and can extend out of class. Teachers should encourage the students to read widely and to get as much intercultural information as possible (Chen Junseng, 2006). All the above-mentioned methods are proved to be effective on achieving the class goals and lead to more skilful, effective reading, deeper and better understanding of the students.
3.2 Teacher’s role
In the changing situation, teacher?s role is different from that in the past. All their
efforts are to help students learn automatically, speed the change from the unknown knowledge to their own. During the three-month study, the students were given 3 lectures about intercultural knowledge. Besides that, various English activities were held, such as competition about culture, role-play, speech contest about culture and, etc. By gaining knowledge, students gain power because knowledge is power (Zhong Hua, 2006).
This thesis presents an exploration in reading teaching form in terms of intercultural cultivation. The findings of this study suggest that developing learners? intercultural knowledge should be a very important task. It is obvious that differences may interfere with the students? every stage in reading comprehension process. Therefore, the teaching of culture elements should be integrated into the whole process of the class reading teaching. This study and its findings also suggest that culture background knowledge plays a significant role in the students? reading comprehension. However, this study was limited in terms of the time spent on the students, and the lack of the experience in designing and conducting researches. The author also wants to emphasize at the end of the thesis, intercultural awareness is not only important in enhancing students ?reading comprehension ability, but also in developing their other language skills such as listening, speaking, writing and translation. How to improve and make the best use of students? culture background knowledge to teach them other language skills efficiently needs to be restudied in a more detailed way.
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