According to a recent newspaper report, the results of the General English Proficiency Test (GEPT) indicate that Taiwanese students are making progress in listening comprehension. However, the test results show that their reading comprehension is at a standstill, becoming a hidden worry for English education.
The fact that traditional English education pays too much attention to "detailed reading" makes students concentrate on grammar study and correct spelling. A reading article is often broken up into pieces, with only the English vocabulary coming off the main body for learning. Students not only need to leaf through the dictionary, but also need to rely on the explanation and analysis of teachers. Teachers need to go over the text by explaining each and every word and phrase and make an effort to ensure full comprehension of their translation.
This kind of teaching method, which lacks the emphasis on main points, has made students fail to see the overall picture. The learning methods of listening, speaking and reading are interlinked, all of which require techniques such as foretelling, guessing, deliberation and inference. Teachers should encourage students to understand that they do not need to fully comprehend each word by listening or by reading as long as they can grasp the meaning of the text.
The result of excessive "detailed reading" can cause students to overlook the significance of "pleasure reading" and "general reading," because students spend so much time on detailed reading that they rarely dabble in extra reading outside class. In the US, children and teenagers often read texts and storybooks that are interesting or appropriate for their age groups. Taiwanese students, however, skip this phase of learning "fluent, correct wording" and go directly to studying academic English, thereby creating a big gap in their learning experience.
Since the introduction of the GEPT, the market has been filled with test preparation materials. These materials can improve their test-taking techniques but offer limited help for the overall improvement of English ability. The fact that teaching instruction has long been led by testing has caused students to develop a learning attitude that is passive and erroneous. Students only seek to improve their GEPT grades but not their English ability.
In Taiwan, pleasure reading and general reading have long been lacking in English education. Pleasure reading should be made a priority for students and cover a wide range of subjects such as science fiction, motion pictures, literature and art, sports, biographies, the retelling of literary masterpieces, suspense novels, fairy tales and commerce.
The vocabulary can range from several hundred to several thousand words. The levels of difficulty can be gradual from the beginner level to the advanced level, with fluency as the priority for training. The prerequisite for the levels would be that students are able to guess 70 percent or 80 percent of the reading text without referring to the dictionary.
Hopefully schools will pay more attention to pleasure reading and general reading and not make students delve into textbooks so frequently. School libraries should order plenty of audio materials to offset the problem of students not being able to listen to English on a regular basis and promote the practice of listening and reading comprehension. Teachers should reset their teaching goals, curricula and test questions so that students can enjoy the pleasure of reading English by spending more time on books, newspapers and magazines that interest them.