Reading Comprehension in Two Cultures

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This paper will report on a study of reading comprehension which took place in two widely different cultures: Hong Kong, China, and Namibia, southern Africa. Introductory comments will define reading comprehension as being made up of a variety of components or skills, such as word knowledge, syntactic knowledge, schematic knowledge etc. Consideration will be given to the effects of social and cultural values on the process of reading. One aspect of reading will be identified as having particular importance in the comprehension of text: rhetorical structure. After a brief survey explaining why this feature is of importance, an experiment will be described which took place in Hong Kong (sample size 490) and Namibia (sample size 584) to assess the effect on reading comprehension of different rhetorical organizations.
The experiment assessed students (average age 14) in six schools. Hong Kong students were all Cantonese first language speakers. Namibian students spoke a range of different languages as their mother tongue (broadly designated as part of either the Khoisan, Bantu and European language groupings). All students were presented with a text, in English, on the topic healthy eating. The texts were, as far as possible, identical, except that they had been organized into four different rhetorical forms: description, cause-effect, problem-solution and listing. Comprehension was assessed with a text based cloze and recall protocols. Results suggested clear differences in the comprehension of the texts related to which rhetorical organization had been read. There were also clear differences related to language grouping. The reasons for these differences may be related to intercultural rhetoric, but also to differences in pedagogy and to differences in the linguistic construction of English, Chinese, Khoisan and Bantu languages.


Keywords: Reading Comprehension, Rhetorical Organization, Hong Kong, Namibia
Stream: Literacy, Language, Multiliteracies; Languages Education and Second Language Learning
Presentation Type: 30 minute Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Reading Comprehension in Two Cultures


Dr. Alastair Sharp

Associate Professor, English Department, Lingnan University
Hong Kong, none, China

Alastair Sharp is an Associate Professor in English at Lingnan University, Hong Kong. He received his doctoral degree from the University of Reading, UK and has also studied at the universities of Nottingham, Birmingham, and Wales. He has wide overseas teaching experience at schools and universities in the Gulf, Africa and Asia and has published widely in the area of educational and applied linguistics. He has recently returned from a research visit to Namibia, SW Africa, where he has collected additional research data on cross cultural differences in reading comprehension to add to that published in his book, 'Reading Comprehension and Text Organization' (Edwin Mellen Press, 2003).

Ref: L09P0448