Brief Analysis of Chinese
Students’Errors in English Reading
Ma Zhanmei, English Department,2009
On the basis of the theories of psycholinguistic perspective in language teaching and communicative approach in language learning, this paper analyses briefly some tangible errors for the Chinese students in their reading in line with the author’s own teaching experiences. The paper
is an attempt at overcoming the obstacles existing between the text writers and the text readers and enabling the latter to become effective readers.
Key words: psycholinguistic, communicative, errors, reading comprehension
English reading has always been considered one of the most important parts of foreign language learning. Without reading, nothing can be done in the development of the competence in listening, speaking, writing and translating. Reading courses, or rather, intensive reading ones, fill up a large component of the curricula. Obviously, students and teacher should pay great attention to the importance of reading courses. And what is reading? How can Chinese students achieve proficient reading? 2. Theory of psycholinguistic perspective and communicative approach.
As we know, the psycholinguistic model of EFT is a meaning-based model proposed by Goodman (1967) and Smith (1971). Goodman thinks that in the reading process the “reader reconstructs, as best as he can, a message which has been encoded by a writer as a graphic display” (Goodman 1973). Smith says “???skill in reading actually depends on using the eyes as
little as possible, ???as we become fluent readers we learn to rely more on what we already know, on what is behind the eyeballs, and less on the print on the page in front of us”(1978). The psycholinguists assume that if the reader has the ability to select the productive language cues, he can decode, through his psycholinguistic processing, the message in the text, and share much of information which the writer intends to convey.
The communicative approach of EFL, Which prevails after World War ?,holds that “The primary goal of most foreign language learning is to develop the ability to use real and appropriate language to communicate and interact with others, and the goal of foreign language teaching is to extend the range of communicative situation in which the learners can perform with focus on meaning without being hindered by the attention he must pay to linguistic form.”(Littlewood,1981). In communicative teaching model, the class is students-centred, and communicative
activities are performed between students and the teachers, students and students. But efficient communication still depends on successful decoding of the “meaning” of the discourses, that is, a listener must instantly make out what a speaker wants to get across. And communicative efficiency means that students should be able to do efficiently in all of the four skills. So reading competence, which can be considered as a communication between readers and writers, should also be brought into full consideration.
There should be something in common with both the psycholinguistic perspective of EFT and communicative approach of EFL: reading (and listening) should be regarded as an active psycholinguistic process; a text (or discourse) is assumed to have its potential meaning; and it’s real meaning depends on the reader’s(or listener’s)interaction with the text(or discourse). The relationship between a writer and a reader may be represented in this simple flow chart:
Writer or speaker ? Text or discourse(with message or
meaning)?Reader or listener
This proceeding clearly shows that the purpose of reading is to try to get out of a text as much as possible the message that the writer has tried to put into it. However, we may find
it vulnerable: the result of the readers’ interaction will vary
from one to another, and a reader does not necessarily achieve what the writer expects. There is much that remains to be explored with in the span between the writer and the reader: what constraints prevent the reader from sharing the message (meaning) with the writer? A teacher’s role, I think, is to bridge the gap and help the students become efficient readers. 3.Some Tangible Errors in Reading Comprehension
The Chinese language is totally different from the English language. The former belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family and the latter to the Indo-European language family. Therefore, When Chinese learners attempt to understand a text in English, they face linguistic problems in various respects: spelling, gender, verb forms, tenses and word order. In addition to these, I’d like to discuss some other obstacles between writers and
3.1 Lexical and syntactical errors.
Words such as “imaginative” and “imaginary” and
“respectable” are often misunderstood and misused by Chinese
learners as in their mother tongue words have virtually no inflexions. In my classroom, however, I have found my students more liable to stumble over articles and prepositions. I believe
the reason is that these particles are never used in the Chinese language and hence difficult to handle. For example, they may find it difficult to understand these two sentences:
I am never at a loss for a word, and he is never at a loss for the word.A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle. The first speaker aims at “his” proficiency of wording and “my” casual choice of words, and the second speaker wants to tell that a man is no more necessary to a woman than a bicycle to a fish. The Chinese student might feel at a loss for the meaning because he or she often overlooks the confusing “small words” such as articles and prepositions. Students may be asked to distinguish varied shades of meanings when particles are used before the teacher offers his help.
Chinese is an analytic language and the relationship between the different parts of a sentence is based on reasoning. English, however, is a synthetic language and the relationship between the different parts is usually decided by analysis of those connecting words and the sentence structure. Naturally, in most cases the ambiguity can be cleared up when we look at the context, but sometimes even the context doesn’t help. We have to make clear about “Which governs what” before we have a better understanding, especially those lengthy ones with complicated
structures. Look at this sentence:
The start-up program for the reactor must not be commenced before completion and formal acceptance of fire precautions and associated installations by the competent authorities in question and by the insures or their representative.
For the Chinese students who are not used to the connecting words “of” “by” “for” etc. this sentence is really a challenge for them. A careful analysis based on common sense and grammatical knowledge can dissolve the mystery. The key to the problem lies in the two series of related phrases:
Completion of associated installations by the competent authorities in question.
Formal acceptance of fire precautions by the insurers or their representative
The president said at a press conference dominated by questions on yesterday’s election results that he could not explain why the Republicans had suffered such a widespread defeat, which in the end would deprive the Republican Party of long-held superiority in the House.
It’s not easy for a Chinese student to smooth out the complicated structure of this long sentence at first sight. In
order to decode these graphic signs, a grammatical analysis is necessary, but this can be done by the students before or after class. Only when the students fail to present an acceptable explanation should the teacher do the job for them
(“That-clause” is the object of theverb “said” and
“which-clause” is used as an attribute modifying “defeat”).
When the reader reconstructs meaning from the text, he has unavoidably to use the graphic symbols, syntactic structures and semantic systems of the language. The teacher’s task is to point out possible difficulties for the students and guide them to attack the problems.
3.2 Meaning “between the lines”
And moreover, Chinese readers often get lost while reading paragraphs with implied meanings or meanings “between the lines”. Suppose the students are asked to read the following
paragraph:“If you are interested in buying a pair of contact
lenses, be prepared to pay $200 or more. Generally there are three main reasons why people want contact lenses. You may need them because the cornea of your eye is misshapen and ordinary glasses are not satisfactory. If so, you’ll be in the group that
comprises 1 to 2 per cent of contact lens wearers. But you may want them for a sport, avocation, or vocation. Perhaps you’re
a baseball player, a boxer, a swimmer, an aviator, an actor, or perhaps you’re engaged in an industry where flying particles
may endanger your eyes. If you get your contact lenses for one of these reasons, you are in the same group with about 20 per cent of the users. But if for some reasons, you feel that glasses are handicapping our appearance and you would rather have invisible glasses, you’ll have lots of company. About 79 per cent of lens users hope to improve their looks.”The students
are then asked to make a decision; which of the following can represent the writer’s intention? A or B.
A.To give the reasons for people wearing contact lenses. B.To say that man is sometimes vain.
In accordance with my experiences, many readers will prefer A because they can easily find enough evidence to support that decision. If we take the paragraph into further consideration however, we find that they have failed to notice the rational relationship between the users, that is, the writer never fails to mention the percentage of users when giving each reason. The majority of wearers seem to feel that contact lenses are more attractive than glasses. Although the writer purposely establishes his contextual relationship within the paragraph, it may still be difficult for the students to work out what he
really means to transfer.
3.3 Anaphoric expressions
Anaphoric expression is another pitfall for Chinese students
in their reading comprehension. According to Gui Shichun (1991),
reference, substitution, ellipsis and lexical cohesion are often
talked about under that topic of anaphora in Halliday’s and
Hasan’s writings. By reference and substitution the author
means the fact that a writer refers back or forward to a word,
a fact, a sentence or whatever has been mentioned somewhere else
in the text. Besides pronouns, almost all other parts of speech
can be used as reference words. Usually these words follow
closely the parts they refer to, but sometimes they appear far
from the mentioned parts. Students should be able to identify
the coreference, and, if necessary, they should be asked to
search the adjacent text until they find the required referents.
Here are some examples:
A. He gave her a letter. This gave her food for thought.
What made her think : the letter, or the fact that he gave it? B. They all said the same.
The same as who, or what?
C. Perforated ceilings and plenums above same are equipped to make every room well – ventilated.The pronoun “same” refers to what?
D. Therefore, confidences result in dishonor, and they are as dangerous for the person to whom they are made as they are for the person who makes them..
What do the pronouns “they” “them” “who” “whom” stand for?Dislike of needless repetition is the reason why the reference and substitution systems are used. For the same reason, a writer likes to omit rather than repeat certain kinds of information that he thinks a reader’s common sense can readily supply from the context. This omission is called ellipsis
To deal with ellipsis, students must be aware that the information is incomplete and that they are able to retrieve what is left unsaid. Able students will resort to their non-visual knowledge and grammatical analysis to tackle the problem. But to a weak student, he may have trouble with the following two example sentences:
A. He told us where it was hidden and despite the disapproving glances of the others promised to show us the way.
B.The main point made by the first speaker and the man who followed him on the panel coincided. Who promised to show us the way in sentence A? And what coincided in sentence B? The students could be asked to repair the omissions.
3.4 Different ways of thinking and expression