12 useful sources for researching attitudes to reading in languages in higher education

The following is a selection of research publications, reports and conference papers, which cover attitudes, motivation and anxiety in reading in languages (it’s not an exhaustive list). These are mainly, although not entirely, focused on higher education. Numbers 1-6 are openly accessible online.

1      Mono- and Multilingual Reading Circles – Shannon-Little, Brock & Martiarena (2003) www.llas.ac.uk/resources/paper/1427

This paper reports on an experimental project designed to increase motivation in reading among students on university-wide language programmes. The study initially involved a pilot group of EFL students for whom a reading circle was established which met once a week for 4 weeks. The pilot was subsequently extended to include multilingual groups, monolingual groups of UK students working in Spanish and Spanish students of EFL. Feedback from students revealed both improvements in attitudes to reading and an increase in reading. There were additional social benefits for students in the multilingual groups.

2      Reading attitudes in L1 and L2 and their influence on L2 extensive reading –Yamashita (2004) http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/april2004/yamashita/yamashita.pdf

The author describes a small study which investigated the following issues:

  • the relationship between attitudes to first language (L1) and foreign language (L2) reading;
  • the relationship between reading attitudes and performance in extensive reading in L2;
  • the relationship between reading attitudes and proficiency in L2.

59 EFL students at a Japanese university took part in the study, which obtained data from questionnaires, L2 proficiency tests and performance in extensive reading. Evidence emerged to support the idea that L1 reading attitudes are transferred to L2. Surprisingly, foreign language competence was not found to be significant but positive reading attitudes appeared to motivate students to read more extensively. The author concluded by suggesting that learners’ affective responses to reading do need to be taken into account by teachers.

Reading in a Foreign Language, 16 (1), 1-19

3      Hard-going but worth it: a snapshot of attitudes to reading among languages undergraduates – Gallagher-Brett (2006) http://www.llas.ac.uk/resourcedownloads/1408/reading.pdf

This questionnaire study involved 600 undergraduates in 7 UK universities and investigated:

  • Pre-university reading experience in languages;
  • attitudes to reading in modern languages and in L1;
  • difficulties in ML reading.

Findings showed that most students had positive attitudes to reading in their first language and in the target language. However, attitudes varied depending on the genre of reading involved. Newspapers and magazines were a lot more popular than academic reading. Students in their final year were found to be more confident and had more positive attitudes to reading than first year students. Students with prior target language knowledge were more confident in all year groups than ab initio students.

Southampton: Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies

4      Affective variables and Japanese L2 reading ability – Kondo-Brown (2006) http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/April2006/kondobrown/kondobrown.html

This study examined the relationship between motivational variables, reading comprehension and kanji knowledge in Japanese. Participants were 43 advanced university students with English L1. The methodology consisted of a reading comprehension test, a kanji knowledge test and a motivation questionnaire measuring a range of affective variables.

Findings indicated a link between reading ability in Japanese and motivational intensity. For example, students who performed less well in reading comprehension evaluated their reading ability more negatively and were less likely to show motivational persistence. Students with more determination to learn Japanese also seemed to be more extrinsically and intrinsically motivated to read. The author concluded with a number of recommendations for teachers, including stressing the need for teachers to find texts that are interesting to read and at an appropriate level of difficulty.

Reading in a foreign language, 18 (1)

5      Teaching Literature with Film – Davies (2005) http://www.llas.ac.uk/events/archive/2358

Rhian Davies described a module which is taught at the University of Sheffield and which uses a film version of a Galdos novel in order to overcome barriers to reading Spanish literature in an age group of students who have not had much (if any) experience of foreign fiction, even in translation. In this module, students read extracts from the book alongside the film so that the text is not lost. Davies’ experience shows that using film to support the teaching of literature helps to promote enjoyment and also stimulates more discussion in class.

Presentation at LLAS Workshop, Routes into Reading, University of London, 2005

6      Anxiety about L2 reading or L2 reading tasks? A study with advanced language learners – Brantmeier (2005)http://www.readingmatrix.com/articles/brantmeier/article4.pdf

Brantmeier’s study involved advanced university learners of Spanish and set out to investigate anxiety about L2 reading, anxiety about post-reading oral and written tasks and the relationship between anxiety and reading comprehension. She was concerned that so few studies have addressed links between affect and L2 reading.

Research methods involved an anxiety test, background questionnaire, selection of reading and comprehension tests. Results showed that advanced learners were not particularly anxious about reading Spanish. However, anxiety was found to exist about tasks that follow reading, especially oral tasks.

The Reading Matrix, 5 (2), 67-85

7      Foreign language reading anxiety – Saito, Horwitz & Garza (1999)

Anxiety has most often been associated with oral aspects of language learning. This article is based on a study which examined whether similar problems exist in reading. Participants were 383 first-semester undergraduates on French, Japanese and Russian programmes.

Questionnaire findings revealed that foreign language reading anxiety was distinct from general FL anxiety and that students with higher levels of anxiety achieved lower grades in reading than less anxious students. Learners of Japanese were found to be the most anxious readers, followed by French and then Russian. Anxious students felt that they should understand everything when they read and were nervous about reading unfamiliar cultural material. Anxiety increased alongside perceptions of ML reading difficulty but it was unclear whether anxiety was cause or effect of difficulty.The authors concluded with recommendations for teachers, including reading strategy instruction.

The Modern Language Journal, 83 (2), 202-218.

8      Literary Studies – Holmes & Platten (2005)

The authors review the evolving position of literary studies within ML degrees. Despite a general sense that the importance of literature is in decline, they argue that there is continued demand for literary courses from many enthusiastic students.  University departments which emphasise the role of literature within their programmes continue to recruit strongly (Holmes and Platten do acknowledge other reasons for this phenomenon). They accept though that there is greater reluctance to read among today’s students who may not always be able to see the direct relevance of literature and suggest that lack of preparedness for reading in the transition to university as a key problem. Their solution to this is to offer some literary content in outreach activities that are organised for schools and to develop a specific programme to introduce first year undergraduates to reading. They go on to describe their experiences at the University of Leeds, which have met with positive responses from students.

In: Coleman & Klapper, Eds. Effective Learning and Teaching in Modern Languages, London: Routledge, 207-214

9        Readers and foreign languages: a survey of undergraduate attitudes toward the study of literature – Davis, Kline, Gorell & Hsieh (1992)

Although this study was conducted a long time ago now, it was set against a backdrop of concerns about attitudes to reading ML literature, which are still relevant. The study used a questionnaire to elicit information from undergraduates of French and Spanish at a US university. Generally, students were found to have positive attitudes provided that they had opportunities to express their own views on their reading, read for meaning and read about experiences that were different from their own.

The Modern Language Journal, 76 (3), 320-327

10    Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom – Day & Bamford (1998)

This is not specifically to do with HE but is very useful for anyone involved in teaching or researching L2 reading. These authors raise concerns about the lack of attention to affective concerns in foreign language reading instruction and research. They propose that attitudes to reading in L2 are complex and are influenced by a number of factors, including attitudes to reading in L1, experiences of reading in other languages, attitudes to the L2 culture and the foreign language classroom environment. Students with a positive attitude to reading in their first language are, therefore, likely to begin reading in another language with positive attitudes.  Day and Bamford argue in favour of an extensive reading approach, which emphasises personal responses to reading and enables students to choose their own materials at an appropriate level. This is more likely to result in successful experiences, which are rewarding and therefore lead to more positive reading attitudes. The authors suggest that research studies show that students become more enthusiastic on extensive reading programmes.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

The final 2 on my list are essentials for researching reading and researching motivation and provide comprehensive overviews of the field:

11    Teaching and Researching Reading – Grabe & Stoller (2002)

Harlow: Pearson Education

12    Teaching and Researching Motivation – Dörnyei & Ushioda (2011) – 2nd edition

Harlow: Pearson


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