Second-language readers

22 June 2009 at 4:26 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

It is one thing for a first-language reader to read a work done in that language by a writer with a different mother tongue. It is quite another thing for a reader to read a work written in other than her or his mother tongue. The second situation is much more familiar to teachers of literature. It is not unusual at all for a teacher to encounter students that cannot get the connotations or context of the words in a foreign-language poem.

Linguists have looked at the second situation. For example, DI Hanauer of Israel summarizes his “The task of poetry reading and second language learning” (2001) this way: “The aim of the current study was to evaluate the role of the poetry-reading task for second language learning. The study followed Skehan’s (1998) methodological approach to task choice and theoretical position on the importance of focus-on-form for language learning. The paper first describes the way poetry is read and understood by advanced second language learners and then considers the interaction between this description and the language learning process. The research methodology chosen was qualitative and consisted of an in-depth analysis of the protocols of ten dyads of advanced English language learners reading a poem from a popular song. The most basic contribution of this study is the development of a coding system that describes the types of responses elicited during poetry reading. Poetry reading is described as a close reading, meaning construction task that involves high levels of close consideration, analysis and elaboration of textual meanings. This coding system reveals how non-native readers of poetry notice form and consider the gap between input and output, thus extending their understanding of the potential uses and meanings of an existing linguistic structure. In addition, it shows how non-native readers view the distance between the poem’s content and their own knowledge of the target culture and thus find their cultural awareness enhanced.”

As far as I know, there is not much linguistic work done on the first situation. There is, moreover, a third situation: a reader reading a work not in her or his first language written by someone also not in the latter’s mother tongue. This is a very complex situation that linguists should start studying.

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