I have been teaching EFl to college age students in Israel since 1995. In my country children study English for about 8 years and have a matriculation examination at the end of 12th grade. Yet many students still have problems reading and comprehending even a simple text. Often when I ask my students for the topic of a text they have difficulties pointing it out, and they find it much more challenging to formulate the central idea of the text or to restate what the writer says about that topic.
Although some students have serious problems with the language, I feel that this is not the reason for their difficulties. I believe that my students are having problems reading a text in English because they do not read at all (in any language) and thus have no clue on how to approach a written text. The fact that books are not part of my students’ life has many unfortunate consequences for their future life but it also makes my job as their teacher more challenging. Since they do not read they know very little about the world; consequently when I assign an article I cannot presume that they would get references text that require a certain level of general knowledge. Also since reading is not part of their world when encountering an unfamiliar term or a name in the assigned reading they would not look it up as it requires more reading. Thus when assigning an article for homework I first have to find those terms and insist that they’d look them up and write down the definition.
We all know that reading sharpens the mind, it teaches the reader to distinguish between fact and opinion, to generalize, to pay attention to what is not stated in the text, to make assumptions about it--to infer, and to recognize different tones and purposes . My students are lacking those abilities and when they do read their level of comprehension remains basic and they do not grasp complex concepts.
My students are already grown-ups; I can no longer sit them down for a daily silent reading like the one the third graders in Ramona Kirby’s class do. What I could do is to motivate them by introducing interesting articles and to hope that the reading skills that we do teach them will compensate somehow for those abilities that they lack.