The importance of the English language is growing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia due to the state’s development and progress. Despite it, most students still face problems with language acquisition and reading skills, in particular. The development of reading skills is a challenging task for all teachers because of the reading culture of students and the lack of interest and motivation. Reading is not a popular activity in Saudi society, and students are not interested in reading practices. Numerous researches have been conducted to evaluate the intensive reading difficulties in EFL students. Both qualitative and quantitative studies have been used to gather data concerning the status of EFL students’ intensive reading difficulties. The results have demonstrated that the lack of appropriate strategies, sociocultural aspects, and students’ negative attitude towards studying English define the status of intensive reading difficulties.
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The Significance of EFL Reading Skills
The importance of the English language cannot be overestimated. The English language is a lingua franca for the whole world. The importance of English and reading skills, in particular, is growing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The country faces the rapid modernization. It is also becoming a significant participant in the global politics and affairs (Al-Seghayer, 2015). Consequently, more residents of Saudi Arabia will have the possibility to enter the international market. Nevertheless, it is impossible without knowledge of English and ability to read in this foreign language.
One can argue that reading skills are not significant for the ability to communicate. On the contrary, reading skills are essential for the efficient communication. In most cases, people communicate via e-mails or other messaging systems. Thus, the ability to comprehend the message is crucial for every individual. An intensive reading is a part of the educational program as far as it promotes the capacity to understand all details of the particular text. The intensive reading enhances the general level of knowledge of the student. According to Rashidi and Piran (2011), “intensive reading is related to further progress in language learning under teacher’s guidance. It provides a basis for explaining difficulties of structure and for extending knowledge of vocabulary and idioms” (p. 471). Intensive reading is essential for the efficient language acquisition. That is why the status of reading in Saudi Arabia is high.
Factors that Predetermine the Status of Reading
Several groups of factors affect the way EFL is taught in classrooms. They refer to teaching reading and intensive reading difficulties as well. The first group is sociocultural factors (Shan, Hussain, & Nasseef, 2013). Every classroom is a small society, and every lesson presupposes the interconnection between cultures, especially if the EFL teacher is not Saudi Arabian. A student can acquire reading skills not only in the school environment. According to Shan et al. (2013), a substantial part of the language is learned via external sources. However, these factors are not relevant in the society of Saudi Arabia. Their dominant culture has nothing to do with the English language. As a result, teachers have to plan lesson activities taking into consideration students’ cultural background.
The second group of factors refers to the organizational challenges. The number of learners in the class, time limits, curriculum, expectations from authorities and parents influence teacher’s choice of approach. In many schools, there is the problem with availability of necessary materials. What concerns reading, students are not interested in the available English books, but they do not have access to other sources as well. Motivation forms the third significant group of factors. The lack of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is typical for secondary students in Saudi Arabia. According to the results of the study of Al-Homoud and Alsalloum (2012), the primary motivation of pupils who have the intensive reading at classes is to receive a required grade to pass exams.
The Status of Reading Skills
Reading is one of four main skills essential for the acquisition of the English language. Other three skills include writing, speaking, and listening. Usually, teachers employ audio-lingual and grammar-translation methods to teach English. Grammar-translation method, being the most common one, presupposes reading and translating of various passages. As Khan (2013) states, both teachers and students lay primary emphasis on reading and writing skills in Saudi Arabia. These skills are regarded as essential for future job opportunities.
Although the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recognizes the significance of reading skills, other factors predetermine the status of reading in the society. Individuals’ interest in reading is one of the most important factors that defines the status of reading. Many teachers and scientists share the opinion that reading comprehension increases if the person is interested. According to Nafisah and Al-Shorham (2010), students with high interest in reading are more likely to read difficult texts and learn new vocabulary that those who are forced to read.
The other aspect that determines the status of reading is the reading culture in Saudi Arabia. The study conducted by Rajab (2015) demonstrates that there is no well-developed reading culture in Arab countries. Oral traditions are of more value in Saudi Arabia. Nafisah and Al-Shorham (2010) state that the little interest of the whole society in reading is proved by the limited amount of print books. Also, Saudi Arabian people do not have reading rituals. They do not read books before going to bed, in parks, or during journeys. These factors are significant for the understanding of the status of reading in the country.
Current Approaches to Teaching Reading Skills in Saudi Arabia
The description of the current teaching strategies is useful for the understanding of reasons for difficulties with intensive reading. Thus, reading aloud is a prevalent teaching method among Saudi Arabian EFL teachers. Oral reading is significant for the monitoring of students’ pronunciation and intonation patterns (Al-Jawi, 2010). Silent reading practices and giving answers to reading comprehension strategies are other two types of activities in classrooms. Al-Seghayer (2015) also has found out that skimming, scanning, explaining of meanings of words and guessing of meanings are usual practices at the lessons of English in Saudi Arabian schools. Skimming is the technique of rapid reading. Students read the text, and they have to find particular information. There is no need to read the text thoroughly during skimming.
This technique can be useful to provide the overview of the piece of writing. During scanning, students are asked to identify the particular moment from the text (Al-Jawi, 2010). For instance, they may have to find the name of the main character or the date when some event happens. Guessing of meaning is another technique of the intensive reading at schools. It assists students to be prepared for situations when some words are unknown, and there is no opportunity to use the dictionary. In such a way, teacher increases their ability to grasp the meaning of the word from context. However, the same study demonstrated that teachers failed to employ such techniques as summarizing and retelling, identifying the main idea of the text, activation of prior knowledge and monitoring of text comprehension. Also, most teachers agreed that they knew nothing about metacognitive strategies of teaching reading.
Metacognitive strategies are essential for the efficient intensive reading. These strategies include the monitoring, regulating, directing, and assessing of one’s reading abilities. Thus, metacognitive strategies aim at the development of pupils’ learning independence and autonomy. Students should be able not only to do exercises as they are told, but they also have to choose the best strategy for the particular purposes and the way this approach should be used. The lack of metacognitive strategies in Saudi Arabian schools represents a significant factor that predetermines the status of EFL students’ intensive reading difficulties.
Arab and Foreign Empirical Studies on EFL Students’ Intensive Reading Difficulties
Students’ intensive reading difficulties prevent the successful studying of the English language. Researchers consider that reasons for problems derive from numerous dimensions including reading interests of learners, peculiarities of the social life in Saudi Arabia, inappropriate school environment and approaches to intensive reading. A variety of empirical studies has been conducted to identify and evaluate intensive reading difficulties.
In 2015, Hussam Rajab performed an empirical study that investigated the reading habits and interests of Saudi Arabian students. According to Rajab (2015), despite that fact that four major skills are taught since early stages at schools, most secondary school students who plan to enter the university have difficulties with reading comprehension. The lack of competencies in the English language leads to the increasing level of dissatisfaction. The author has presumed that the choice of better pedagogical approach can enhance the level of interest and positive attitude towards reading in a foreign language.
Rajab (2015) questioned 330 students (220 males and 110 females) from Saudi Arabia to define their reading interests, gender correlations in reading, and the role of social media in the development of intensive reading skills. For instance, students were asked whether they have completed reading at least one book in English. More than three hundred students answered that they have never finished a book in English (Rajab, 2015). The primary reason for not reading books is a lack of interest. Arabian students do not like topics of books that are available. There is no apparent difference between reading habits of male and female students. Also, students spend approximately three hours a day on the Internet and social media. Rajab (2015) concludes that teachers should take into account students’ preferences and employ innovative techniques of intensive reading teaching with the help of social media and digital devices.
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Nafisah and Al-Shorham have initiated another study aimed at the evaluation of students’ reading interests as a factor that impedes a successful intensive reading. According to Nafisah and Al-Shorham (2010), those students who read are mostly interested in adventure and religious books. Pupils have access to newspapers and magazines as far as most families buy them on a daily basis. Nevertheless, students from secondary schools demonstrate little interest in political or economic affairs that are described in newspapers. Authors have also evaluated the primary obstacles to the effective reading such as confusing and not interesting literature at schools, no time for reading due to the way of life, lack of reading materials, and reading culture in a family (Nafisah & Al-Shorham, 2010).
The effectiveness of intensive reading is often compared to extensive reading. The distinctive feature of extensive reading is that students are welcome to choose what they like to read rather than being guided by the teacher in the classroom. Two groups of students from Saudi Arabia have been taught according to different approaches. Al-Homoud and Schmitt (2009) concluded that overall reading comprehension was improved drastically among students from the extensive group. Both intensive and extensive types increased reading speed of pupils. Extensive reading was more useful for the acquisition of new vocabulary at 2000 and 3000-word levels than intensive reading. Still, the intensive reading group demonstrated better results in acquiring academic vocabulary. According to the other study of Al-Homoud and Alsalloum (2012), students who practice intensive reading are interested only in receiving the necessary grade. This fact exemplifies that the lack of motivation is a primary problem that leads to intensive reading difficulties.
Syed Nezami introduced a detailed analysis of intensive reading difficulties in 2012. Nezami (2012) evaluated the problems with vocabulary acquisition, scanning and skimming procedures, prediction of meanings, summarization, and comprehension of the whole text. The author prepared a survey of thirty-six questions for students who were preparing to enter the college and teaching personnel. The examination of vocabulary knowledge showed that most students always do not know all words from tasks. Almost ninety percent of teachers agreed that they always told students meaning of difficult words from the text due to their incapacity to understand it. The situation with text scanning and skimming is not much better. Students rarely read English books at home, and it impedes the retention of knowledge. Also, a teacher always assists pupils with skimming and scanning. Learners face difficulty in understanding the general idea of the text via scanning (Nezami, 2012). Most students do not have the necessary knowledge to write correct answers and always make mistakes in writing. The development of prediction abilities is another aspect of intensive reading. Almost seventy percent of students rarely understand the meaning of the whole sentence without teacher’s explanation. Sometimes, students can guess the meaning of challenging words from the text.
The most significant difficulty refers to the general understanding of the whole text. Teachers always have to explain the meaning of the text to students. The second important problem refers to the fact that pupils try to make predictions but give wrong answers in seventy percent of cases (Nezami, 2012). The situation with text summarization and comprehension is better in comparison to other aspects. Sometimes, students comprehend the text, but they rarely retell it or express opinions in their words. In most instances, students employ the same basic vocabulary they already know without making attempts to use new words. Silent reading does not bring desirable results, and that is why students read texts aloud in groups. At the end of the survey, Nezami (2012) suggests possible solutions for the improvement of intensive reading. The author considers that digital tools should be used for group discussions. The task of the teacher is to engage students in active debates and dialogues. Also, it is advisable to prepare games to improve the knowledge of vocabulary.
Shan et al. (2013) have investigated external reasons that cause intensive reading difficulties for EFL students. First, Saudi Society is conservative and devoted to religion. The English language is considered as an undesirable and unknown phenomenon. Besides, parents do not express their interest in children’s success at school (Shan et al., 2013). The other problem refers to the negative attitude of learners towards the English language. The reading culture of society makes students demotivated. The core reason for their studying is to pass the exam and receive the appropriate grade. Consequently, teachers face difficulties in finding ways to motivate pupils. Even when they manage to do so, the usual practice of absenteeism impedes the process of studying English.
The importance of the English language is growing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia due to the development of the state. As far as the country faces a rapid globalization and economic improvement, there is a need for studying the English language for all residents. Reading skills are of primary significance for language acquisition because they are essential for the successful business communication. Although the government of Saudi Arabia acknowledges the importance of reading skills, the status of reading is predetermined by other reasons. The reading culture of the society is not developed. Most people in Saudi Arabia do not read books, and this practice is not necessary for them. Consequently, students read mostly in classes. Students experience such intensive reading difficulties as the ability to comprehend, summarize the text, lack of necessary knowledge and the capacity to execute skimming and scanning procedures. The lack of motivation is another aspect that increases intensive reading difficulties.
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