Content Of The Problem English Language Essay

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Language learning is a complex phenemonan. It has a psychological aspects since it is a cognitive process. Moreover, it has a sociological aspect since language is a human characteristic enabling communication. A language can not be set apart from the culture of the people speaking that language. Therefore, any language being studied will include cultural elements belonging to the society by which it is used. These cultural elements are reflected in any text produced by the members of that society and therefore will be reflected in the texts used in a language classroom.

Generally, when a person reads, he reads for pleasure, for getting information, for his particular interest in him. Therefore, he enjoys what he is reading.

The effects of language complexity and culturally determined background of a text have always been recognised as elements of concern in the evaluation, selection and development of reading materials foreign language learners. These elements also have an important effect on the evaluation of the learner's comprehension. Culturally determined background of a text seems to play on even more important role in the comprehension of a text. As the texts are never totally explicit, they must be completed by the reader.

The ability to understand a linguistic message inherent in the text requires active participation of the reader. Complete comprehension depends on the availability of relevant knowledge to fill in the gaps in the text. The learner, to be able to do this, besides the linguistic knowledge, also needs to posses the sociocultural knowledge of that language. In the case of a learner brought up in a cultural environment of her than the Western culture, the sociocultural meaning seems to be the most difficult to attain because the learner possesses volue judgements, beliefs, and attitudes of another culture.

As stated before, comprehension of a text is an interactive process between the reader's background knowledge and the information in the text. Comprehending words, sentences and entire text, involves more than just relying on one's linguistic knowledge.

1.2. Statement of the Problem

Taking the schema theory into consideration, the purpose of the present study is to investigate whether the cultural content of the text really effects comprehension and at the sometime if so, to what extent it does. Therefore, the research question will be as follows: -

"Does the culturally determined back ground of a reading text affect comprehension?".


2.1.What is Reading

Reading is like an infectious disease:it is caught not taught(and you can not catch it from someone who has not got it...)

It seems only logical that a text about the teaching of reading would begin with a definition of what reading is. However, the act of reading is not completely understood nor easily described. In the most general terms we may say that reading involves the reader, the text and the interaction between reader and text. Since our philosophy of learning begins with the individual, this chapter begins with you, the reader. Your reading skills and strategies, your assumptions about a text, your participation in the interaction between the text and the reader-things you may have never considered carefully before. Self-reflection is central to the learning spiral. It is the first step to becoming more conscious of yourself as a reader and ultimately yourself as a teacher of reading in the classroom in order to gain this higher level of consciousness about your reading.

Reading experts generally agree that more information is contributed by the reader than by the printer on the page. That information comes from various sources in your life and in turn, shape your experiences of reading. The five most common sources include family, community, school, sociocultural environment and individual differences.

2.1.1.The Family Influence

Despite their relatively small size, families faster a variety of experiences that affect reading. Family members especially parents and other adult relatives in the house model reading behaviours, habits and attitudes. Children note why parents read -to gain information about their professions, about world and community events, about house maintenance;to relax or to explore new interests. Reading for relaxation and enjoyment can be an individual or a family activity such as reading of bed time that are filled with magazines,newspapers and books send a clear message to children about the value of reading: reading is powerful activity that confers knowledge, insight and perfpective on readers.those who grow up in homes where reading is seldom seen have a very different view of the value of reading.

2.1.2.The Community Influence

Communities also provide readers with a set of varied life experiences that shape their indivudual bases of varying degress, readers incorporate the knowledge and  values of the community into their own perspective. The experiences of people growing up on farms, in affluent suburbs and in small towns will differ significantly. For example going to dozens of wedding or picnics, block parties, wakes, political rallies, parades or other community event as they are growing up enables readers not only to have memories of specific events but also to build mental concepts of an event by extracting the shared elements of those sociol events as they occur in that community. The more varied community experiences and the more readers participate in community events , the richer the background knowledge readers will have to draw on when reading.

2.1.3.The School Influence

Besides family and community experiences readers bring their educational experience to reading. Schools can bring people into contact with communities other than their own or they can be homogeneous institutions that reflect shared values. School experiences provide some common ground for people; they have all shared the experience of learning how to read.nevertheless, there can also be very different experiences in the same school.

2.1.5.The Cultural Influence

Subsuming the important factors of family, community and school is the larger context of cultural environment. although many people associate the meaning of culture with the behaviours and artifacts that are produced by a given cultural group. (e.g. art works, language, music, food)a cognitive definition of culture emphasizes  that culture shapes a group's basic systems  foe seeing  and interpretting the world around them (Robinson, 1985). While different social and economic groups within a culture may emphasize different uses  for reading that a cultural group shares. Culture is like a filter, blocking or letting through  a set of learned patterns and attitudes that form its core  values. In a culture where reading is highly valued, the society as a whole will take great pains to promote reading amoung its members. A current example of that situation is the high literacy rates in Japan. Cultural notions about reading are implicit and hard to identify; people acquire them unconsciously. It is diffucult enough to remember our early experiences of learning to read.trying to analyze the cultural influences that shaped those experiences demans a knowledge of our own culture and cultural values in relationship to be values held by others.

2.1.4. The Influence of Individual Characteristic

As people experience the influence just discussed - family community, school, culture, each individual perceives these experiences and gains knowledge from them in different ways. The differences from one individual to another raise the question of nature versus nurture, a topic that has long been hotly debated in the field of education. Although classroom research investigates how motivation, learning styles, aptitude and intelligence influence language learning, teachers need to consider how different readers and how teachers can best facilititate that process.

Home, community, school, culture and individual characteristies all shape the life experiences that readers bring to reading.they help from the complex personel of reader and from the basis for understanding the reading process. The background information that readers bring to a text including the knowledge of habits and beliefs from their own life experiences - is often referred to as schema. What people alreaady know about the history, culture, habits, politics, sports and music of any given place help them understand a reading about that topic. Also, the way they learned to read affects their degree of success in understanding a particularly diffucult text.

2.2.Language and Culture

A language does not exist in vacuum. It is embedded in the culture of a people and reflects the totally of beliefs and sentiments of the speech community. Every language has special vocabulary items, the concepts  of which are totally different in another language. In urdu, for example, there are five words fort he english word rice: chavol (uncooked rice), that (bolied rice), palao (fried rice), biryani (rice cooked with meat), zarda (dish of sweet rice).

The meaning of a word is not only absolute in a language, it is conditioned by social convents.

2.3.Cultural Knowledge and Reading

While foreign languge teachers and theorists have been aware of the fact that students from differnt cultures will bring different system background knowledge to the comprehension process pedagogical methods and materials have not always reflected this insight.this may be attributed to a number of factors. First, the power and scope of this effect has probably been underestimated. Second, foreign language pedagogy, until recently, has factored out skills as productive or receptive and oral or written. While the third factor is easier to identify and teach specific features of the phonological and grammatical systems of language in a methodical and concise way than its to teach features of culture.

It was not until the mid-60's that linguistic, recognized the importance of culture in language pedegogy. Before that time, they restricted their attention to the formal aspects of language.the linguistic from saussure to Chomsky studied language in a pure and abstract from; they did not take into account the sociocultural aspects of a language.

2.4. Culture And Reading Comprehension

In reading a foreign  language text, we extract three levels of meaning: lexical meaning, structural or grammatical meaning, and sociocultural meaning (Fries, 1963). For lexical or grammatical meanings students may turn to a dictionary or grammar textbook. It is a sociocultural meaning that is the most difficult for a second language learner to penetrote for it involves the values, beliefs, and attitudes of the speech community. Reading is a complex skill. It is not simply a decoding operation. It is not enough for students merely to decipher the surface meaning of the text. Teaching a foreign language therefore forms a serious problem, especially in a country where cultural prejudices are great. The success of a second language program, therefore, depends on reducing the culture bondage of a student and motivating him to understand the culture of the target language.

One of the objectives of foreign language teaching is to promote international understanding' and cooperation by enabling students to gain access to the life and thought of people who speak another language. This objective becomes unrealistic when there is hostility towards the culture of another group. The study of a foreign language not only enables an individual to develop his cultural understanding of that language; but also promotes his personal culture through contact with great minds and literature. For culture! is often defined as that training which tends to develop the higher faculties, the imagination, the sense of beauty and intellectual comprehension.

Many linguistics have questioned the usefulness of nonculture baund reading materials in foreign language teaching. Texts are designed on a theme familiar to the students and reflecting their own culture. This destroys the unity of language, severing it from it's social context. Language and culture are inseparable, the one cannot by learned without the other. No two languages represent the some social reality. Even the most familiar objects, such as food and house-hold items, have different connotations in two languages.



3.1. Relation of Language to Culture

In the early 1950's linguists and anthropologists developed a great interest in the relation of language and culture and they come to recognise that they are two related phenomena. Culture has different meanings in different fields of study. By anthropoholigsts it might be defined as life styles of population (Oswalt 1970, 15 in Chastain 1976, 388).

This definition of culture is the one which is most commonly taken as the basis for selecting cultural content for the foreign or second language classes. Chastain (1776, 388) indicate that this definition encomposses the types of information the types of information that would seem to be of most interest and most important to the typical student enrolled in a second language class. Ideally, at the end of their studies the students will have a functional knowledge of the second culture system just as they have one of the second language system. Taking this view point into consideration, the EFL teacher should be aware of the fact that the learner needs to gain insight into the foreign language. Relatedly, the teacher needs to clarify the learners' own cultural behaviour in a particular situation for a comparative study.

Becker (1972) defines culture as "the problem of collective action of how people manage to act together". He adds that "culture is shared understanding'". This shared understanding enables people to act collectively because they have shared ideas about how a certain activity might be carried on in certain situations. Becker (1982, 518) states that the culture process consists of people doing something in line with their understanding of what one might best do under the given circumstances. Others, recognising what was done as appropriate, will then consult their notions of what might be done and do something that seems right to them, to which others in return will respond similarly.

Hall ( Nababan, 1974) sees culture as "a complex message system by which the members of the community exchanges messages". The sharing of one culture makes, the members of the community capable of understanding one another, makes one know what other members expect and what to do in order to make one's wishes, feelings and attitudes known the other members of the group. Therefore, culture can be said to be the "medium of the flow of information'" as Nabadan (1974) puts it. Not only among the contemporary members of the group but also between generations of the society.

From this discussion we can see how important culture, in the same way, they have a language which enables them to communicate. Therefore, culture and language are very much related. This is pointed out by Nababan (1974, 14) who indicate that one of the most obvious relations of language to culture is that of part to whole. Language qualifies as an element or subsystem of culture in all the definitions and aspects of culture; it is the central part of it and is involved in particularly all the other parts of culture. After stating the definitions of culture and the relation of language to culture, Nababan concludes that "the foreign language teachers should know enough about the foreign culture, including kinesics and paralanguage to give their students an adequate ability in cross cultural communication, i.e. understanding and using the foreign language properly".

3.2. The Concept of Reading Comprehension

The teaching of reading has gone through a process of evaluation ever since English started to be taught as a second language. In the oral approach of audio lingualism teachers trained in this approach audio lingualism teachers trained in this approach were taught that language was speech, and reading was speech written down. When these teachers taught their students in the light of this approach they tried to build a knowledge of the spoken language before the students did any reading.

Reading texts were produced for written, reinforcement of oral instruction. They were intended to improve or reinforce grammatical patterns and vocabulary in the audiolingual classroom. These texts had another purpose: since all these studies book place in the USA. it was thought that the texts used in an EFL-ESL classroom should also develop a cultural understanding of the United States. Fries (1945) was one of the scholars who strongly, pointed out that "the so-called knowledge of the life of people must not be just an adjunct of a practical language course". He added that the text used for an EFL-ESL classroom should be accompanied by a '"contextualized orientation" providing systematic cultural background, they were thinking in terms, of farming a set of language habits in the student. This was because another shared view among the audio lingualists was that language was a set of habits.

Later on, dissatisfaction with this approach began to be felt. There were learners in the United States who needed English for their academic / professional needs. In the fifties and sixties the"increasing number of foreign students who came to study in the United States needed training in study skills, one of which was reading. It was then realised that a great gap existed between the so called 'oral approach' and the needs of these students. Scholars began to approach reading as a linguistic problem, a problem of syntax, upon this realistaon. Unsimplified texts were produced for these students to introduce them to the kind of texts to be found in their textbooks.

In the sixties and seventies reading gained a psycholinguistic perspective. From this reading is viewed as a complex information processing skill. Although reading is thought to be a passive skill, the people realising the psychological insight considered the reader engaged in a very active skill while reading. This was because the reader planned, made decisions, and coordinated a number of skills and strategies to achieve comprehension. Phychological research by Miller ( Silberstein, 1987) carried out in this field has proven that "the reader, rather than remembering everything he reads is selective about what he needs to put on memory" Another research by Kolers ( Silberstein, 1987) demonstrated that "reading is incidentally visual. In reality more information is contributed by the reader than the print on the page. It is a process of thought and or interaction between the text and the reader". It was then that the reading texts began to be followed by exercises requiring skimming and scanning.

In the nineteen eighties the comtemporary "interactive approach to reading elabrotes psycholinguistic theory emphasizing the importance of cognition and interaction between the text and the reader. According to this approach, the text have meaning only when there is an interaction between the text and the reader. Some scholars like Ghodessy (1985), Mc Beath (1988), Mc Cay (1987), Carell and Eiserholt (1983), Carel (1984) emphasize the importance of background knowledge in the reading process within the frame work of schemo theory. This theoretical framework focuses on the importance of preexisting knowledge which provides the reader with information that is implicit in a text.

Rumelhart (1977) describes schema theory as "a theory about how knowledge is presented and about how that presentation facilitates the use of the knowledge in particular ways". Within the framework of this theory he states that "all knowledge is packaged in to units which are called schemata. According to Rumelhurt one function of schemata is the construction of an interpretation of an event, object or situation and another function of schemata is to help predict the events that have not been observed. Povey (1984) explains schemata as follows:

These schematas are the structures totality of the past personal experiences, cultural assumptions and background knowledge of the reader... the ability to understand the language of the text... Comprehension and recall of reading passages depend upon reader's familiarity with the subject.

This part personal experience mentioned by Povey it stored hierarchilly in the brain. Each reader's hierarchy of schemata organises his / her knowledge and the world. Carell and Eiserhold point out that efficient readers rely simultaneously on two kinds of knowledge processing: bottom-up, top down.

The interaction between the text and the reader depends on several factors. It involves perception of meaning at different levels beginning from individual graphemes and ending with the perception of the text as a whole, starting with the general idea and ending in interpreting graphic clues. Gough ( Parry, 1987) calls the former the "bottom-up" process and the latter "top-down". Carell and Eiserholt (1983) also stress that efficient readers rely simultaneously on two kinds of knowledge processing. The latter is the process Qt matching the information in the text to the readers schemata. When the reader tries to make predictions about the data he will find in the text, he uses his prior knowledge and this is called 'top-down" processing successful reading requires both "top-down" and "bottom-up" processing.

3.3. Culturally Determined Background of a Text and Successful Reading.

Goodman (1967) says that reading is an interactive process in which the reader forms expectations about the material being read, then samples the text to confirm or revise predictions. Since reading was considerable research and evidence on the effect and significance of the cultural content of reading materials. The studies carried out in this field aimed of demonstrating the effect of the schema (stored knowledge) of the learner on his ability to make predictions (top-down processing) the text. These studies come to a conclusion that while reading, one form expectations based on his prior knowledge of the text and the world, and seeks to confirm them on the basis of in put the text. The results of the research, therefore, indicate the importance of cultural backgrounding in the comprehension of a text, regardless of the text being in the native or the foreign language if the reader possesses the schema assumed by the writer, he can understand what is being stated effortlessly and make the inferences intended.

As Goodman describes reading as a "cyclical process in which a reader reconstructs a text by sampling and predicting and tests the occuracy of the text against his previous information" Johnson also says that:

In other words, readers understand the passage by analysing the text according to their schema, an internal organisation of pas personel experiences... The view of schema theory asserts that activating or building readers 'existing knowledge prior to reading would, improve and / or alter reading comprehension or recall. Thus, the provision of vicarious or real experiences would fill in or expand the reader's background knowledge of a topic and would prepare them to comprehened and retain material on that topic in the reading passage that followed (1982).

The scholars sharing the same view point all agree on the fact that texts are never totally explicit, and therefore, must be completed by the reader. The ability to understand a linguistic message is not simply a function of knowledge of language; language comprehension depends on the availability or relevant knowledge to fill in the gaps in the messages. Hence new information and new ideas can have meaning when they can be related to something the reader already knows.

Kolars (1969) says that reading is incidentally visual. For him reading is not all a precise perceptual process of sequental word recognition. More information is contributed by the reader than by the print on the page. That is, readers understand what they read because they are able to take the stimulus beyond the graphic representation to an appropriate group of concepts already stored in their memories.

Johnson (1982) in her research probing into the effect of the reader's prior experience and difficult vocabulary on understanding of a text came to a conclusion that the variable of topic familiarity or cultural context of a passage provided information about the interpretation of a passage in terms of personal knowledge. Real experiences within the cultural context provided background information for more effective comprehension of a passage The reader's misunderstanding of textual meaning on the linguistic level was accompanied by a misunderstanding on the conceptual level. The problems with language in the student's written recalls of unfamiliar sections of the possage seemed to be actually problems caused by a background knowledge of the topic. In conclusion she says "familiarity with the culturally determined topic, knowledge obtained from real comprehension of a passage on that topic" (508), Lono (1987) points out that.

Comprehension of a text implies understanding the overall message, above and beyond the literal meaning of the words used in a reading passage. It also includes understanding of concepts such as family, education and religion which may involve dimensions that are difficult for foreign students to understand because they are different from those in their own culture (81).

Thus, succesful reading is a result of a simultaneous interaction among the conceptual abilities, background knowledge of the learner and a process strategies, such as sampling, predicting and testing the accuracy of the text against the schema inherent in a text. The background knowledge of the learner affects the speed with which he learns a foreign language. If he needs to learn both cultural and linguistic aspects of that language it will take time to completely master the language together with it's cultural norms. Problems of reading, most scholars dealing with the subject say do not usually arise from the complexity of language or unfamiliar words but from lack of knowledge of cultural concepts contained in the text. As a result, a person's accumulated past personel experiences play a vital role in reading comprehension because they enable the interaction between the text and the reader.

The reader constructs the meaning of the text by interprenting textual information in the light of prior knowledge and experience. (Mikuleckv, 1990)

3.4. Levels of Reading Comprehension

When a foreign language learner reads, he faces both a problem of language and a problem of reading. He might have difficulty applying his first language (Ll) top-down skills to the second language (L2) reading. When he reads he has to find factual information, make inferences, evaluations and applications. Finding factual information is perhaps the easiest to achieve and it is the area the teachers frequently ask questions about comprehension. However, answers to such questions are no Guarantee of full comprehension of the text because of the text because such questions usually require direct answers from the text. Therefore, when the learner give correct answers to such questions, it does not mean that he has a full understanding of the facts, can reach conclusions and form opinions on what he reads.

When the learner is asked to make inferences come to conclusions or express opinions, he has to realise that some information in the passage is hidden; therefore, he has to establish relationships among different pieces of information himself. In order to achieve this, the intentions of the writer and the expectations and the background knowledge of the reader should match. He cannot make the interned inference when the information in the text cannot find a reference among the reader's experiences.

Another level of reading comprehension is evaluation. The reader evaluates the material or the content of the text by sampling. He searches through his knowledge of the subject matter to assess information and evaluate what has been said. He measures the writer's actions, ideas and thoughts against his own. As a result, the information contained in the text and the writer's interned message find their place in the reader's schema. If the subject matter of the text is remote from the reader's schema, it is very difficult for the reader to evaluate the information. Moreover, when he is asked an evaluation question beginning '"Why do you think?" he keeps returning back to the text in search of a concrete answer as if it is there, whereas, he should come up with a subjective evaluation expressing his opinion. Since a subjective evaluation draws on personal experiences, beliefs, opinions shaped by the reader's cultural background, in this case the learner finds himself surrounded by a maze shaped by the foreign cultural elements.

Putting what has been learned or understood through reading into practice is the application level of reading comprehension. With an increasing emphasis on the communicative aspect of language (stressing the formation of communicative competence) and on national functional syllabi, many language programmes are developed within integrated curricula. In this syllabi, reading and writing instructions are integrated. The learner is expected to transfer the rhetorical or contextual information obtained from the reading text to writing. Therefore, the reader will take an active participation in the subject as a writer. The advantage of an activity like this in the ease with which one can focus on the implied presence of the reader in the writing process.

Another application of the gained information from the text into real life is when the learner is expected to recognize valid applications of the writer's ideas. At this level the learner is expected to learn certain behaviour through reading in reference to specific cultural aspects and, therefore, facilitate the social adjustment to the country in which the foreign language is spoken. This is also an assumption based on building communicative competence in the national/functional approach to language teaching. However, in this case the learner is expected to act according to certain norms in society, whereas, the former approach is used for, EAP, ESP situations.

Contemporary perspectives on reading guide the people dealing with EFL reading in the production, selection and evaluation of materials. The purpose of the learner in learning English (EAP, ESP, EFL, etc) will determine the content and the subject matter of the material in use. The material which most contributes to the learner's participation and interaction will be employed in the class. Therefore, the needs and expectations of a learner should be very carefully analysed.


The connection between culture and reading comprehension is very tight. Every country has it's own culture and while someone is learning a foreign language she/he must take the importance of culture into consideration. Ever)' language has specific vocabulary items, which are different in another language. The meaning of a word in any language is conditioned by social conventions. There are some words which can not be translated in another language since the object or thing may not be found in that language.

The culturally determined background of a text whether it is a foreign or native to the readers, has an affect on reading comprehension. This effect is positive when a text has a native cultural background and it is negative when a text has a foreign cultural background. This result implies the inevitable consideration of this fact as a criterion in the selection, evaluation and development of reading material:

We can conclude that real comprehension of a text is very much related with it is cultural content and the reader's education.

As a result, it is obsulate that language and culture are inseparable because a language expresses it is culture so when someone is reading she/lie must know about that culture in which language he is reading, to understand what he/she is reading.