Reading Comprehension in Two Cultures
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
Dr. Alastair Sharp
Associate Professor, English Department, Lingnan University