The written foreign language: aproximation, maturation, and improvement
The reading comprehension
The written expression
As a way of introduction is worth considering that the efectiveness in the use of a language requires we have different skills, which are, called “linguistic skills”.
We can find two kind of skills. On one hand, the skills which are acquired by means of oral interaction, listening and speaking, and on the other hand, the skills acquired by means of visual interaction, reading and writing.
If we want to achieve a communicative competence among our students, we must work simustaneously the four skills.
In relation to the written foreign language we have to bear in mind we can find three different styles according to writing purpose; the expresive style focuses on the expression of the writer´s personal feelings; the trasactional style focuses on logical statements and the poetic style which expresses imaginative experiences. In the same way, we can find a serie of stages in writing. They´ll be the preparatory stage where principles of the spelling system are acquired; the consolidation stage in which children begin to use the writing system to express what they can say in speech; the differenciation stage where the students diverge from speech and develop their own and finally, the integration stage where they have a good command of language and they can vary their stylistic choices.
Along the Primary Education we pretend students get basical necessities of written language. Moreover, they must be able to answer in usual situations of written language, they must express communicative intentions and recognize the characteristics in each situation.
As for the approach to reading-writing it is convenient to begin to develop the reading-writing capacity of the foreign language through simple and superfluous texts, descriptions and brief narrations, class instructions, children and popular songs, tales encouraging the pleasure to interpret the written texts and enjoy with the reading.
The reading allows the gradual addition of vocabulary and the motivation for second language learning.
Some methods present a book for additional lecture. If the student reads texts spontaneously and in a voluntary way, the success will be complete, as the readings will also give him the opportunity to know and assimilate easily the culture from the foreign country.
At the beginning, the contexts of the new lessons must be easy; in this stage, the reading will be confined, most of the time, to repeat words and structures seen in the lesson (in class), offering new combinations, visual help as pictures, etc. The teacher will read aloud several times and he´ll ask them questions in order to answer yes or no.
As for maturing of the reading-writing process we have to take into account as the course advances, the reading-writing exercises will be, logically, more complex. They´ll serve to assimilate the structures we have just seen and review the previous ones.
The procedure to follow could be based on an introduction of the teacher where the students observe a picture, the teacher asks them some questions and then he relates the text to other situations. The next step will be listening and reading the text and finally we´ll present a comprehension exercise using questions which can be open, that is, the answer expected can change, or close where the expected answer is yes or no.
Teacher: Where did mummy put the cake?
Student: On the cupboard.
Teacher: Is the cupboard small?
Student: No, it´s big.
Reaching this point, the student is able to interpret a complementary text. We’ll try to offer the student short tales with familiar situations, related to their daily lives, alternating with fantastic stories in order to get the success and arise the student´s interest.
We can work out different types of activities: in class, the teacher will comment superficially the plot and then he will read the text; the first texts are read aloud, to continue gradually to silent reading and later to the summaries or brief written commentaries.
After the reading, the teacher suggests a series of judgements that will have to be determined as true or false.
We can propose different endings or return to writing the text but under another point of view, composition of a text whose sentences appear disarranged, etc.
We are going to continue with the improvement of the reading-writing process. We have to consider the texts will present a greater difficulty, they may be more long extended and, in some occasions, without pictures.
When finishing these readings, a simple comment will help understand and place the text. We´ll elaborate in class a summary, we can divide the text in parts with subtitles, the students can answer questions and they can explain their personal opinions about the central idea.
On the other hand, we can use complementary readings. The additional text will consist on a reading already chosen by the student, although we can provide him with comics, series of cartoons, magazines, etc.
The traditional tales and the easy poems are a good source of reading materials.
Now that the possibilities of the students reading-writing are better, it is advisable the use of the dictionary, the preparation of their own vocabulary and the elaboration of his own notebook where he can register in alphabetical order.
In relation to reading comprehension we have to bear in mind that the reading capacity of the students from Primary Education, starts to acquire a more systematic characteristic. It´s convenient the student gets used to extensive and intensive reading.
For the intensive reading, the student will work with short texts, from which he will understand basically all the words (labels, advertisements, letters from friends, etc.).
In the extensive reading, the student will make the effort to understand the messages although he may not known the meaning of some words. In this case, he can ask for the teacher´s help, other classmates, basic bilingual dictionaries and other communication strategies (inference by the context, similarity with the mother tongue…).
In the foreuign language class we can practise activities of different kind focused on global or specific comprehension.
At first, the short of games proposed will be in relation with with what the student already knows in his mother tongue so he can infer from his previous experience the sense of formal or referntial elements (headings, presentation…) which allow him to formulate hypothesis about the content.
We can work out a great number of clues which help the comprehension as photographs, charts, pictures, presentation of the text, the headings, words in the text which are repeated, familiar words, ask the students questions: Who? When? How?
The age to start reading must start from the first year when the language is studied (from the beginning).
The techniques will be suitable to the student´s level, the complexity will vary as he is acquiring more knowledge and promoting to new courses. Firstly, they’ll read short sentences and later they´ll achieve the interpretation of a brief and simple text.
We can find a serie of advantages in reading, which consists, have learn other cultures, review structures and vocabulary and a better-written expression.
In the same way, we must distinguish three types of pupils. Those who find difficult to get a global idea, those who don´t pay attention to details (quick reading) and those who are imaginative readers because they interpret the text as they like.
As result, we have to be careful with the texts we choose. We have to adapt the readings to the group and the individuals.
In relation to the techniques for the global comprehension, skimming, we have to consider that it can be achieved using the following strategies or techniques:
– The student relies on the clues previously mentioned who writes? When? Where? Why?
– The text will be adpated to the student´s level.
– Comprehension of the main idea in the text being neccessary to make student understand that is perfectly possible to understand the main idea without knowing all the words completely. Nouns and verbs have more important meaning than other words.
– Deduce the neaning of unknown words from the context.
– Register the vocabulary in a notebook.
– Look up words in the dictionary.
– Identify relations between sentences by connectors.
– Recognise discourse patterns (conjuctions, etc.)
As examples we can include reading based on the inference system, reading carried out by the teacher in aloud voice, reading made by the students in class, reading aloud and normal reading.
As for the techniques for specific text comprehension, scanning, we´ll take into account reading performs by the teacher in aloud voice where the students have the text and repeat it. Also, they can infer, deduce a specific information by means of clues, questions, etc.
The students reading in class aloud would be another strategie provided them with narrative or descriptive passages or short poems; reading at home as an enjoyable activity, not as a school task. Advertising will be interesting at the time of finding specific information. The teacher could bring a written example, preferably original and with drawings or colour photos.
The scanning is a technique related to the speed in reading and involves the attainment of information by means of searching words or key propositions. It´s a very productive exercises where the student answers questions reading the text very quickly.
Finally, it is important to point out that although there are different techniqes for the global and for the specific comprehension of texts, both will have to be always together or integrate in order to achieve a better acquisition of the foreign language.
We are going to continue with the written expression. Firstly we are going to expone a serie of writing skills visual or graphical as spelling, punctuation and capitalization; grammatical as sentence pattern and constructions; expresive using different styles; rethorical in order to link parts of the text into logical related sentences; organisational rejecting irrelevant information or summarizing relevant points and finally the fact of knowing formal structures.
Also it´s important to emphasize that the more we read the better we write.
Krashem develops the hypothesis that the written skill is acquired in the same way as the speaking skill. The student would request a given language, comprehensive input, in a quantity enough to develop his capacity. This input should be accomplished for pleasure and interest, so his attention would be focused on the message or content and not on the form how the message is expressed.
We have to follow a serie of criteria for planning activities of written expression, which consists of contextualization, because when we write a message in real life, we always do it within a context or situation. The place where the written activity is generated may be as well a determinant element of it. If this takes place in a relaxed atmosphere, the result will be very different that the outcome obtained in an examination atmosphere.
An another criterion is the aim, that is, writing has always a purpose which determine the expressions, vocabulary, etc.
The type of register is also important according to descriptions, informal or formal letters, etc.
The creativity since when we write we elaborate ideas trying to express the contents by means of words or sentences. It´s important to provide the student with occasions where he can create his own language and feel that it is the product of his effort. We suggest the importance of programming activities, where the student writes spontaneously short messages or informal notes in the target language, we´ll select subjects about which the students have read or had a personal experience and therefore are interesting for him.
It´s interesting the reasoning of the writers and the integration with other skills in order to aproximate the use of the language to the real world, develop two or more linguistic skills within the same context so the students aware of the written text, the resources to achieve, the conventions of personal or institutional writings, headings, address, greetings,etc.
The last criteria we are going to comment is to provide the student with a motivation to learn.
We can develop two kind of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic. If the activities are motivating, the student will feel satisfaction to learn, to communicate with others and carry out a task he likes.
In relation to the step from interpretation to text production we are going to consider some activities or preparatory techniques as well as techniques of written expression.
Firstly we have to bear in mind we can find two main kind of writings. On one hand the personal writings for personal use which appear reflected in shopping lists, telephones and adresses, dates, reading books, recipes, etc. Or directed to other people (messages, invitations, letters, postcards, etc.)
On the other hand, the institutional or public writings that are found in daily life: commercial letters, biographies, posters, songs, puzzles, crosswords, games, compositions, etc.
The preparatory techniques are related to the development of reading comprehension. We may emphasize the inference technique of the meaning of a word in the context, or the ones guessing the meaning of unknown words and the meanings implicit in the text, and the techniques of predicting the content of a text from the knowledge of one of its parts.
In the first place, the students are provided with a text where there are a key word missing. We ask them to pay attention to the context surrounding this word (vocabulary, structures, idioms, etc.) to infer the meaning. In pairs or small group, the students try to guess which word it is.
Other technique is the “linguistic reflection”, which help the student to perceive specific aspects from the text.
Later, the students can write letters to the students from another class or formal letter to travel agencies. The next activity is based on “braimstorming” and helps the student to remember and learn the vocabulary necessary to develop a subject.
The students are asked to say the words they can think about a topic and later they will write a composition using the vocabulary noted down.
After the preparatory techniques, we suggest techniques to help students to develop their written expression, so the task they carry out will be attractive and easy. These will vary from the very controlled to the free writing. In most of the activities the student is encouraged to write his own communicative text with his experiences, interests, feelings, etc to a possible reader.
We can work out activities following a model where we can present an illustrative drawing as orientation and stimulus, transferring information activities as elaboration of questionaires, activities from a situation and given instructions to write a text, activities without specific support (creation of tales, short novels, writing diaries, etc.).
As conclusion of the topic we consider very important students feel the interest and curiosity towards the written text as well as the capacity to elaborate them.
The bibliography used has been:
– Bello y otros. Didáctica de las segundas lenguas. Aula XXI Ed. Santillana. Madrid. 1990
– Harmer. The practice of English Language Teaching. Longman. Burnt Mill. 1983
– Byrne. Teaching writing skills. Longman. Burnt Mill. 1988
– White, R. Process Writing. Longman. London. 1991
– Cajas Rojas