Specific Ways of “Reading” for Specific Cultural Texts

Reading Culturally = Intellect + Intuition
(Syayid Sandi Sukandi) A Fulbright Scholar

The following writing is shared in this blog for the purpose of sharing and for educational purposes only. Your comments and feedback are highly valued. Thank you.
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Syayid Sandi Sukandi
Dr. Joel Hardman
September 13, 2012 – Week 4
ENG 544 – Reading and Writing Pedagogy in TESL

Specific Ways of Reading for Specific Cultural Texts

Reading the two articles, written by Grabe, Birsch and Eskey, brings my mind back to the times when I taught the course entitled Cross Cultural Understanding in College of Teacher Training and Education in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia. This course equips students in the college to learn how to engage with cultural concepts that are not similarly connected with their cultural background. What I could reflect after reading Grabe, Birsch, and Eskey is that there are specific ways that we should inform to the students regarding the activity of understanding texts containing cultural elements in them, even though the students might already have understood the linguistic elements of the texts.

The ESL students whose background primarily Indonesian cultures tend to view Western texts through the mindset that they already have. One of the meetings that my students and I had in the class was discussing about the concept of the melting pot and fish out of water of American’s life. These two phrases contain cultural elements. When the students read additional sources to understand those phrases, they had to read texts that explain what and how the United States of America is. Since students who are taking this course are students enrolling in the last year of their studies, they are expected to have good amount of skills to engage with Western texts, such as their grammar skill and their background knowledge. As Grabe points out, “Some of the strategies that are important for comprehension involve grammatical knowledge while others focus on processing skills and background knowledge” (51). Reading comprehension in L2 (Second Language) might not be necessarily assessed through how many cultural words, or content words they may know, but how they could get the overall meaning of the texts that they read culturally.

To be honest, though, Eskey’s article resonates with all dimension of understanding that I had since I was working as an English lecturer. He mentions that, “As human beings, we have what could fairly be called a biological instinct to learn to speak, but we must be taught to read in some particular culture that employs written language for some particular purposes” (7). This statement, to me, does make sense. A basic cultural text that we discussed, for instance, is the idea of technology. The value of technology in Indonesia might not be that similar with that in the United States. Technology is a tool for making life easier in terms of daily basis. For the society that already engage with “technology”, this word might mean something else. Another text that we discussed was about religion and faith. The idea of religion and faith in the Western society are not that strong compared to those in Indonesia I perceive. When I took current news dealing with religion and faith from the Western media, the definition of these words become different from what my students have understood in Indonesia. As a teacher, I gave them specific explanation that the discourse of such texts may not be correlated what they already know, but to some extents, they should be able to differentiate things that they should comprehend with the things that they could take as new definitions. Many specific words also are interpreted as political words, when they are being used in specific contexts. This notion draws my mind to see that specific ways of reading are for specific cultural texts. These modes help the students more in understanding different texts throughout their lives.

Misunderstanding in this expanded worldly communication can happen because of the lack of reading skills worldwide. Even when critical thinking comes to play, many students are not ready to face texts that are written outside their common circle, or to put it simply, their personal background. When they are asked to understand such texts, they resist. They also mention that the texts were wrong or the author has been misled in his or her mind. When this situation emerged in the classroom, I emphasize to my students that the frame of mind that we already have could be implemented to think critically for they read. However, to come into a better conclusion about particular ideas, they must read many texts with different topics so that they do not have narrow view toward many specific topics. “Poor readers avoid reading and lack of reading practice means they do not improve” (Birsch 9). Birsch’s idea is clear at this point. Our life improves when we could adjust ourselves with new things, especially when it deals with our students. Their ways of life are different from us. We might be used to typing with typing machine. Now, they have all these equipment. Our task is to lead them to better and meaningful ways of life. One of them is to help them “read texts” in different ways in order to get meaningful “image”, right?

Works Cited

Birsch, B. English L2 Reading. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 2002. Print.
Eskey, D. “Reading and the Teaching of L2 Reading.” TESOL Journal, 11, 1. 2002. Print.
Grabe, W. “Research on Teaching Research.” Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24, 2004. Print.

8 thoughts on “Specific Ways of “Reading” for Specific Cultural Texts

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