September 06, 2009

What do our students feel when they first encounter new words in a Reading Comprehension?

Tricia Hedge suggests several examples of what our students may feel when meeting new words or phrases in Reading Comprehension (RC) activities…
· “I read on to see if the word is repeated”
· “I go to my dictionary for a translation”
· “I think if there is a Spanish word like it”
· “I ask my teacher to explain”
· “I look to see if the word has some part I know”
· “I say the word out loud”
· “I start again from the beginning of the sentence”
· “I ask the other students in my group”
· “I write it in my notebook”
· “I study the words around”
These feelings made me reflect upon what is Reading Comprehension for us, teachers. To me, reading in a foreign language is a skill that needs to be developed; since it is not enough to handle a foreign language and to know how to read to be a successful reader in the target language. But, do we all agree on that?
In order to decide whether we would like to foster these feelings/reactions in our students, we need to define what purpose is in including those activities in the class. Personally, I agree with Michel West’s description of Reading as “to confer greater facility in the use of the vocabulary already gained, to give the child a sense of achievement and a taste of the pleasure to be derived from his accomplishment” (1995:45). Following this definition, it won’t be wrong to say that there is no right or wrong reactions to the encountering of new words in a RC activity. I encourage you to go on reading the positive aspects of each of the above mentioned reactions of our students:
· “I read on to see if the word is repeated” >>> This helps them determine whether the word should already be known (generally, if the word is repeated several times it is because it is considered known for the level)
· “I go to my dictionary for a translation” >>> This proactive motivation can be canalized in a specific activity to train the use of different dictionaries
· “I think if there is a Spanish word like it”>>>This way of thinking can be canalized into cultural awareness of languages’ similarities and differences
· “I ask my teacher to explain” >>> There are some students that even after having been trough different techniques for understanding new vocabulary in RC activities will need the T’s explanation. Now, what we really want to foster is autonomous learning, so T’s explanation of new vocabulary items needs to used as a pre reading activity, to allow a smoother development of the activity
· “I look to see if the word has some part I know” >>> Great attitude to be fostered; family words as well as categories recognition are excellent tools
· “I say the word out loud” >>> May be of help for auditory learners!
· “I start again from the beginning of the sentence” >>> Even though starting from the beginning will make the activity longer, this can help understand the context better
· “I ask the other students in my group” >>> Great for encouraging interaction, as long as we keep the English environment!!!!
· “I write it in my notebook” >>> This reaction will help students create their own bank of new words, however, we need to ensure that this activity does not disrupt the comprehension of the text as a whole
· “I study the words around” >>> This is the best technique for deducing from context!!!
I hope you can share some of your ideas with me…
Based on Tricia Hedge, Teaching and Learning in Language Classroom, Oxford, 2000 (Chapter 6)


  1. Hi Yohi!
    I really loved your detailed analysis of each of the techniques!
    I think that it is definitely true that we need to make sure that, regardless of the techniques our students decide to use, they do remember that we are working on comprehension and understanding rather than new vocabulary.
    It is true, however, that there will be moments in which we may decide to work on new vocabulary and, when that time comes, it is necessary for us to let the students know what we are working on and on what they have to concentrate. Learning new vocabulary is essential but teaching them how to deal with a text with unknown words is also important since it will help them become independent readers (:
    Keep blogging! ;)

  2. Hey Yohi! I'm running, but wanted to say I love all that you are working on, I really want to re-read everything with more time to make a productive comment. Promise I'll came back soon. Kisses!
    And, happy teachers day to you all!!! (to your mother too, you both must understand that I don't have my mobile phone and forget to use internet for that kind of things, sorry!)

  3. Hi Yoha!

    I definitely appreciate your positive valuation of all the discussed strategies a student might resort to when approaching a written text. Certainly shows you're willing to celebrate diversity among your learners!

    One point I'd like to make is the fact that, in my view, there are no "words that should be known at a certain level". We teachers can, of course, expect a certain range of vocabulary (active and passive) to have been acquired, but no specific items, I believe! The fact a given lexical items occurs several times in a given text just means it is important to convey that text's meaning, and therefore needs to be clearly understood by the reader, though this might be the first time they've come across the term.

    One last thing: reading words aloud also helps in the case of "auditory cognates" which are spelled quite differently from our L1. Silly me, I can't think of any examples right now, but I'll come back as soon as I remember one, promise!

    That's all for now. Looking forward to your next entry!


  4. Hi Girls!!!!

    Gladys - you mean "chocolate" for example?

    Love all your enriching comments...