La lettura nelle lingue straniere

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  • Sysfem, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 287-301, 1981. Pergamon Press Ltd. Printed in Great Britain.


    CORTESE, Guiseppina (ed.), La Lettura nelle Lingue Straniere. Aspetti teorici e pratici/La Lecture dam les Langues Etrangeres: Problemes thtoriques et pratiques/Reading in a Foreign Language: Theoretical and Practical Issues. Milan: Franc0 Angeli, 1980, 567 pp. L16,OOO.

    This book contains a large number of contributions to a congress on reading held in Torino/Turin in 1929. The articles (35 in all) are written in English, French and Italian by authors from several European countries. The book is divided into two parts; the first contains a number of lectures, the second a number of reports on workshops. Although it is difficult to summarize the content of such a book in a few lines, some general characteristics may be deduced:

    (1) The most striking feature is its enormous redundancy; many ideas and considerations on the reading process and its application in teaching reading are repeated throughout the articles.

    (2) The thinking in reading a foreign language (FL) is largely influenced by what is known from research in reading in the mother tongue (MT). There is a strong tendency towards rejecting the old way of teaching reading (e.g. translation, reading for learning the language) and towards copying in a way, the reading in MT. The thinking about what really distinguishes reading in FL from reading in MT is not always well developed. Of course, the language difference is quoted more than once, but it is not clear to what extent this fact impedes understanding and what the proportions are of teaching (general) strategies and facts about language.

    (3) Reading should be regarded as a distinct objective in FL learning, both in a special purposes course and in a general language course, and not merely as an automatic result of the acquisition of the other skills.

    (4) The book is mainly of interest for didactically oriented readers. They will find enough theoretical information and ideas for practical application for the development of reading courses. Those who are mainly interested in theoretical and experimental data on reading in FL, will only find a few articles of interest.

    As it is impossible to say something about all the articles separately, only a few of them will be discussed in some detail. Without giving sufficient arguments, Galisson attacks the emphasis on the teaching of reading styles (in FL and MT) at the expense of a more formal reading training in which the learning of facts about language is aimed at. He reports an experience with a reading task which consisted of searching neologisms. The learners who executed this task said they had learned many new words. This kind of reading task might indeed be usefully included in a course in order to develop an individual strategy for expanding vocabulary while reading. Haarman di Federico develops an interesting way of designing a FL reading course. Her checklist for the selection of texts might give support to a deliberate selection, but some of the criteria mentioned (e.g. lexical range) may be quite


  • 288 REVIEWS

    difficult to define by a teacher and further, the weighing of the different factors is not indicated. She proposes that, within a course, a text should be treated in two phases, the first related to real life reading purposes and styles, the second to the teaching of formal language aspects.

    Duda expresses his doubts about the possibility of the selection of texts by a language trainer. In his opinion, the learner himself knows best what he needs. He proposes a workshop-like reading course in which the teacher functions as a consultant. At appropriate moments (when the learner needs them) he supplies exercises on reading styles and language facts. In contrast with him Moirand argues that the choice of texts by the learners is often too restricted (e.g. only well-known authors). This limited choice does not permit them to be really autonomous in the sense that they can read all the different kinds of texts in their fields of interest. She proposes an excellent way of constituting a text-corpus representative of a particular field of interest. Her ideas about a pre-pedagogical text analysis, influenced by discourse analysis, may be useful for the preparation of texts by a teacher.

    Pugh submits the concept of speed-reading to a critical examination. He concludes that speed-reading exercises certainly have a motivational influence, but a good reading course should not only develop a fast but above all a flexible reader. Buhlman is one of the few authors who pays attention to testing. Her main point is that the tests have to be narrowly related to reading purpose and style. She gives a large range of examples to clarify this important point. Further, some pertinent remarks on text selection can be found, especially on the (un)usefulness of popular science texts. With help of some examples taken from her anthropological corpus Harding-Esch shows clearly that interpretation exceeds sentence- boundaries and that each science has its discourse conventions which have to be shared by both the reader and the writer in order to communicate. Finally, she gives an example in which she shows to what extent cultural knowledge is needed to achieve full understanding. Her ideas are not new, but they are elegantly exposed.

    Ulijn demonstrates, in a psycholinguistic experiment, that syntactic contrasts between Ll and L2 do not impede the understanding of a text in L2, if the reader has enough conceptual knowledge at his disposal; lexical contrasts however, always hinder. Thus, in teaching reading, the place of developing vocabuary has to be more central than syntax. This article, the only experimental one, thus gives some insight into the weight of the different language components involved in reading. Barnard, Brooks, Posso and Ron design a comprehensive map of the reading process in which the interrelations of purpose, strategies and previous knowledge are represented. The strategies are subdivided into short-span strategies (such as anticipation, inference, exploiting logical connectors) amd long span strategies (such as scanning, intense reading). This map is interesting because it could be used as a starting point for a discussion on the scope of elements to be treated in a FL reading course in comparison to a course in the MT and also in order to give students some background information on the reading process. Bellono, underlining the importance of prediction, which is based on general knowledge of the world and on linguistic knowledge, gives some interesting examples of exercises stimulating prediction. In her contribution Cortese shows the important place reading occupies in special purposes courses. Simplified texts are not to be used because simplification may lead to content change and does not prepare for real reading. She reviews a number of text features to be considered, followed by concrete examples of exercise types. Falletti in her turn overviews a great number of items related to reading among which defining text type and cohesion-elements are dealt with effectively.

  • REVIEWS 289

    Only twelve articles have been discussed separately. This choice was made in order to give an impression of the content of the book as a whole. Personal preferences of the reviewer certainly influenced this choice. More articles can be found on reading exercises, some about the reading of literature and related to the teaching of reading in the school curriculum. In sum, for those interested in designing a reading course, this book may be very useful. But the enormous redundancy and thus the quite frequent repetition of the same theories and types of exercise, do not make this book a practical guide. A better selection of texts and above all a mutual adjustment of their content complemented by more experimental data, would have contributed to a better readability.

    Katholieke Hogeschool Tilburg Language Centre P. N. 90153 NL-5000 LE Tilburg The Netherlands

    A. J. A. Meijers

    UNDERHILL, Adrian, Use Your Dictionary. A Practice Book for Users of Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary of Current English and Oxford Students Dictionary of Current English. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980, 56 pp., gO.95.

    Why is such a workbook needed? In 1979, the reviewer administered a dictionary questionnaire to Japanese students at three universities in Japan. 85.8% (N = 296) stated that they preferred a bilingual dictionary. The most commonly given reasons, in order of frequency, were: (1): Its easy to use. (2) If I use a monolingual dictionary, the definitions have too many words I dont know. (3) Im used to a bilingual dictionary. (4) I can get the the meaning of a word quickly. (5) Using a monolingual dictionary is time-consuming. Students accustomed to bilingual dictionaries develop learning strategies on the basis of these (Tay, 1979). Therefore, care must be taken in introducing a monolingual learners dictionary.

    Underhill provides the means for systematic training. He starts, in chapter 1, by presenting basic terms: headword, entry, definition, compound and derivative. A series of exercises then acquaints students with symbols, type faces and abbreviations. Underhills exercises are succinct, isolating specific types of information. For instance, in exercise 8 he has students scan given entries for abbreviations. For maneuver, they will find n, v and US. A teacher may be tempted to delve into these entries, perhaps even pointing out that in Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary of Current English (OALDC, 1974, third edition) the entry for maneuver reads, (US spelling of) manoeuvre, whereas for center, one finds, (US) = centre, that is, a formal cross-reference. Underhill would probably not condone such an approach.