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36 N. Dimitrijevii and D.

Gunton

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Brace, and World.

A Survey of the Reading Habits


and Interests of Learners of
English in Belgrade
N. DIMITRIJEVIC
University of Belgrade
D. GUNTON
The British Council, Belgrade
Introduction
Teachers in Belgrade are not unique in believing their pupils read
as little as possible and probably far less than they, the teachers,
did at a comparable age. Although decade by decade there is an
ever-increasing output of reading matter, there are also the ever-
increasing distractions of audio-visual materials and a philosophy,
significantly propagated in print, suggesting that the book may
be nearing the end of its long and useful life. The child who once
wanted a story at bedtime can now press a button, obtain colour-
ful pictures and sound, and change the channel if not satisfied.
It might seem that interest in reading will inevitably diminish,
Reading Habits of Learners of English in Belgrade 37

thereby confirming teachers' suspicions. In Belgrade it is difficult


to substantiate this argument because no study has been made
of students' or pupils' reading interests and habits. Gearly it
would be timely to record what is being read, what was found
interesting, and what the impediments were to wider reading.
Our essential aim was to discover what books young people
read and what kind of young people read them. To achieve our
aim we decided to draw up a questionnaire and it was when we
began to draft the questions that the ramifications of the task
became only too apparent. For although there is plenty of
research information on reading patterns, habits, and attitudes,
and on the role of reading, it varies greatly in aims, scope, and
quality. In addition, the role of reading in any society depends on
many variable factors, and the yardsticks of one country are
hardly ever those of another. For example, research in many
societies demonstrates a close correlation between children's
educational attainments and the socio-economic status of their
parents. In Yugoslavia, the differences between incomes fluctuate
very little and do not indicate stratified groupings, as they do in
the West In Belgrade, most people live in small crowded flats
which do not encourage the accumulation of large numbers of
books. Belgrade, where our survey was conducted, moreover
attracts students mostly from Serbia, and in 1971 illiteracy ran
as high as 21-9 per cent. Therefore the example of parents and
favourable home circumstances, so often cited, could not be
counted upon as elsewhere.
Apart from the general purpose of the survey, there was the
narrower aim of discovering something about the reading
experience of secondary-school pupils and university students of
English. A subjective but widely held view of their teachers is that
pupils and students do not read outside the syllabus of foreign-
language studies. Reading for enjoyment and exercising freedom
of choice would, if this view were substantiated, play no part in
the acquisition of reading skills or the formulation of reading
interests. The importance of this criticism of pupils and students
should not be overlooked. Mastery of a language must extend far
beyond the ability to 'absorb' or memorise. Associative processes,
the formation of new concepts, thinking, planning, creating,
analysis, and summary are just some of the elements of learning
which must be understood in the second languageand, by the
final year of university, students should no longer need the
intermediate step of translation. Is this possible if students are
not sufficiently interested in the language of their choice to read
outside set books? There was of course another possibility, that
if students do not read the fault lies with the teaching staff and
38 N. Dimitrijevid and D. Gunton

not the pupil. Or perhaps the syllabus was the causeor slow
reading speedsor the lack of materials in libraries, bookshops,
and homes. Enough doubt clouded the issue to justify an
enquiry which proceeded along two lines.

Aims of the survey


These can be divided into two main parts, the first of which
embraced habits and concerned the time of reading, the kind of
literature, use made of the library, and factors influencing the
selection of literature.
Student's interests involved: preferences, favourite authors,
favourite genre of literature, the pupil's/student's reading
experience, and interest in Shakespeare.
Reading has rarely been examined as a contributory cause of
poor language-achievement in foreign-language teaching. Atten-
tion has rightly been focused upon speech, but growing awareness
of poor results, crowded classrooms, few lessons, and rare trips
to countries where the L, is spoken, as well as few contacts with
native speakers of foreign languages, combine to call into question
whether the effort and expense put into language learning gives
a commensurate return.
To organise a course on a foreign literature (for which students
have to read extensively in the foreign language) in such a way
as to satisfy numerous requirements, we should undoubtedly need
extensive data about students' reading habits, interests, and
reading abilities. Unfortunately we have little information.
It was felt that a reassessment of reading and the introduction
of regular and systematically planned programmes might bring
about an improvement in learning, and that a better grasp of
the foreign language culture might result. Those engaged in
teaching foreign languages, authors of textbooks, curriculum
writers, publishers, and government officials, all need to know
as much as possible about the learners' attitudes, interests, and
abilities in both L] and L 2 .
Our experience suggests that, despite the special characteristics
of the sample and the circumstances of Belgrade, further investi-
gations would be justified. Wherever we felt the evidence was
incomplete, we have indicated the need for further study.

Method of obtaining information


Students/pupils completed a questionnaire anonymously in a
classroom. Plenty of time was allocated, as the questionnaire was
detailed and gave no scope for additional comment or explanation
which might have been useful to the authors but impossible to
Reading Habits of Learners of English in Belgrade 39

ask of pupils. Pupils/students took an average of forty minutes


to complete the form.
Questions were framed so as to ascertain both the positive
influences and the impediments encountered by young people.
Parents' language-skills were taken into account but not those of
other members of the household. Experience with audio-visual
aids, the availability of books in the home, and the use of book-
shops and libraries were all studied.
No attempt was made to deal more than superficially with
newspapers and magazines. Their contribution could very usefully
be the subject of another study.

Tabulation
A questionnaire comprising 34 questions, some of which sought
to discover the range of reading interest by separate authors and
titles, was completed by 348 individuals. A massive amount of
documentation resulted, all of which was processed manually.
Access to a computer would have reduced the time spent on
tabulation and permitted further analysis of materials. Anyone
undertaking a comparable survey should consider the possibility
of obtaining mechanical data-processing facilities.
The sample of population
1. Sex
Boys do not study foreign languages at universities in anything
like the same numbers as girls and for this reason girls outnumber
boys in the survey. To have tried to redress the imbalance would
have given a false picture and involved more schools, introducing
additional administrative problems as well as unwanted demo-
graphic factors by taking the survey outside Belgrade. As a result
there were four boys and 110 girls among the 1st year students
and nine boys and 54 girls among the 4th-year students.
2. Numbers
There were 177 university students and 171 schoolchildren, giving
a total of 348. Some of the secondary-school pupils were learning
French as their L 2 , and these were included so as to provide a
cross-check against data provided by those learning English.
3. Reading habits
Our first question dealt with when pupils and students read.
It was no surprise to find that 70 per cent read mostly in the
evening, although most libraries and reading-rooms close early
in the evening. Those who read in the morning have greater
facilities and less competition for seats. Libraries of all descriptions
40 N. Dimitrijevid and D. Gunton

which have anyresponsibilityfor students' needs should consider


staying open later in the evening and, perhaps, opening later in
the morning.
Students were asked about the foreign newspapers and journals
they read. Only 14 per cent of the 4th-year students read a foreign
journal or newspaper monthly, and 6 per cent weekly. Seventy-
three per cent read copies from time to time but less often than
monthly. It was not our purpose to examine the influence of
periodicals upon reading habits, but their usefulness in foreign-
language teaching clearly merits examination.
How far reading has been neglected in foreign-language teach-
ing is made clear by theresponseto a question about the number
of books read in a foreign language. The majority, 54 per cent
of the 4th-year students had not read 50 books in English. For
literature students in their 4th year this is far too few. In the
first year, 8 per cent had read more than 50 books in English,
while 63 per cent had read between from one to ten books. The
prevailing attitude of teaching staff, that reading takes care of
itself, is demonstrably not justified.
Whilst all the participants in the survey knew about simplified
and abridged editions, only 60 per cent actually used them.
Whether tutors disapproved of them, libraries did not stock them,
or young people had no money to buy them is not known. It is
surprising that so little use is made of books published with the
special needs of students in mind, and whether prejudice or the
absence of the books is the cause would be interesting to know.
Seventy-one per cent of the students/pupils claimed to have
read a book as the result of seeing a film. If reading is to be
stimulated there is an encouraging possibility here. Only 42 per
cent claimed to have read a book as the result of seeing a TV
programme. We failed to make a distinction between films and
films shown on television which may have accounted for the high
proportion of students/pupils who did not answer the question.
In contrast with the 68 per cent of pupils who had heard tape-
recorders reproducing plays and poems in the classroom, only
40 per cent of "the 4th-year students had fared similarly. It
would seem that schools are adopting modern methods more
quickly than universities.
Because speech records are mostly imported and consequently
expensive, a surprisingly large proportion (65 per cent) of pupils
and students had heard plays or poems on a record player.
Eighty-two per cent of secondary pupils, as against 60 per cent
of 4th-year students, were familiar with speech records, which
confirms the view that schools in Belgrade have more access to
audio equipment than the university.
Reading Habits of Learners of English in Belgrade 41

Sixty-seven per cent of the sample felt they did not read enough,
whilst 99 per cent considered reading to be an important factor
in language learning. Asked why they did not read more, 82 per
cent claimed they had insufficient time, and only 7 per cent gave
lack of space as the reason. As homes are often overcrowded,
students' hostels are cramped, and libraries close early in the
evening, it was anticipated that lack of space would have been
mentioned more often. Whether students read little because they
have no time or facilities, or because they are distracted or lazy,
or because the curriculum is overburdened merits some enquiry.
Students appear to make particularly poor use of library facilities.
Of 4th-year students, for example, only 30 per cent use the town
library and none support the university library; 24 per cent use
'other libraries', quite possibly the libraries of foreign agencies
in Belgrade. Is this a rejection of poor facilities? It is not recon-
cilable with their professed belief in the importance of reading.
Because most libraries in Yugoslavia are of the 'closed access'
variety, browsing is impossible, and unsuspected tastes or interests
cannot be recognised or stimulated by inspecting books on the
shelves. In addition, handling books and learning to discriminate,
to recognise their qualities and their shortcomings, is an infinitely
more difficult process. The evidence that approximately one
student in four is using a library, and then a library not catering
specifically to his needs, suggests that a survey of libraries used
by students would be instructive.
About 25 per cent of students experience difficulties in obtaining
the books they want. Our question delved no deeper, which is
a pity. Who were the students who could not find books ? Were
they in the brighter and more demanding category or among
the slower and more easily dismayed ? How far did studies suffer
as a result? How much difficulty is it reasonable for a student
to encounter when seeking a book? Is a student any judge of this?
On the whole question of book provision there is an acute need
for a thorough survey of students' requirements, the extent to
which they are met, and ways in which library services can be
improved.

Reading interests
We now pass to the second line of inquiry we pursued, into
learners' interests. What do they prefer? What do they read from
choice? How far do they deviate from prescribed texts?
Asked to give'their favourite literary form, 78 per cent of the
sample cited the novel. Only 6 per cent of the 4th-year students
gave poetry, which in view of the structure of their course, the
attention paid to poetry, and the choice of a foreign language
42 N. Dimitrijevid and D. Gunton

renowned for its poetry, provokes thought. Does this response


indicate shortcomings in teaching or an intrinsic lack of interest ?
Do students distinguish between modern and classical poetry?
Drama attracted very few votes and one wonders how far
enjoyment is impaired because students only rarely see a stage
performance. Our returns do not permit a satisfactory interpre-
tation but should provoke enquiry amongst those teaching
literature.
Pupils and students were asked to name their ten favourite
foreign authors, Only too clearly do we see the influence of:
(i) syllabus; (ii) titles available in Serbo-Croatian. Of the first
fifteen authors, only A. J. Cronin is not in the English syllabus
and his high standing probably stems in part from publication of
a recent complete edition of his works embellished by salacious
dust-jackets. Galsworthy and Maugham have enjoyed the
publicity of popular television series and translations made more
than 30 years ago. Of the 579 English citations, only Edgar
Wallace, Daphne du Maurier, I. Fleming, A. Christie, and
L. Durrell are not to be found in the curricula. Although only
38 French authors, as opposed to 68 English, were listed, Balzac
ran Shakespeare very close in popularity. Hemingway heads the
American list and scored a larger number of votes than Shakes-
peare; Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky lead handsomely as the most
popular foreign authors in any category, and Russian novels are
clearly the most popular foreign form. Whilst good translations
may help, this preference is significant in a group chosen because
they were studying French or English as a second language.
Both students and pupils showed a preference for Russian
novelists; their selection of the ten most popular writers in order
of choice were: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Hemingway, Shakespeare,
P. Buck, Balzac, Remarque, Camus, Zola, Hugo.
Students/pupils were asked to give the author of any book
they were reading at the time of the survey. Several conclusions
can be drawn:

(i) The cultural reading range of the students is widely cast.


(ii) Few spend their time on anything not in the classical
tradition.
(iii) English authors provided the largest part of the reading
experience at the time of the survey, although young
people were reading widely in the literature of Europe and
the United States.
(iv) Faulkner and Shakespeare were the most widely read.
Reading Habits of Learners of English in Belgrade 43

Thirty-seven per cent of the authors read were British, 20 per


cent were American, and 15 per cent were Yugoslav; the remainder,
28 per cent, were of European origin.
How far the university syllabus restricts reading is illustrated
by the fact that only three students, as opposed to 49 pupils, were
reading a book outside the syllabus. Ten pupils were reading
Freud, an author not in the syllabus.
Students/pupils were reading a wide range of books drawn
mostly from European and American sources and translated
into Serbo-Croatian. Some were undoubtedly hoping to make
up for deficiencies in their reading ability in the second language
of their choice. A very high proportion (21 per cent) did not
answer the question, which probably indicates they were too
absorbed to find time to read in Serbo-Croatian and that our
question might have been better phrased.

5. Books students/pupils were reading at the time of the survey


Asked to give the author and title of the book they were reading
at that time in a foreign language, an astonishing 32 per cent of
lst-year and 11 per cent of 4th-year students indicated they
were not reading a foreign book. University students in particular
are expected to be sufficiently self-motivated not to need close
supervision, and can generally be entrusted to familiarise them-
selves with the requirements of their course and settle down to
work. Clearly this is not happening with students reading English
and serious attention should be given to the design and intro-
duction of a programme of intensive reading. Shakespeare and
D. H. Lawrence were the English authors read most in English;
121 students were reading British and 53 students reading
American authors.

6. Shakespeare's plays which studentsi pupils have seen or read


The plays of Shakespeare, the most popular English author,
have been widely seen and read. Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and
Othello were cited most often and this trio of tragedies was
followed, at some distance, by The Midsummer Night's Dream.

7. The most popular play by Shakespeare


The list of the most popular plays by Shakespeare is identical
with the list of the plays our subjects read or saw. Tragedies
were read or seen much more than comedies or sonnets. Romeo
and Juliet as a play is much more popular among the pupils than
among the students.
44 N. Dimitrijevii and D. Gunton

8. The favourite Shakespearean character


The list of the most popular characters follows that of the plays,
but Falstaff comes in ninth place. Asked to name their favourite
Shakespearean character, 40 per cent of the students were without
an opinion, and 21 per cent did not mention a favourite play.
In view of the time given and the importance attached to Shakes-
peare studies, the response is disappointing and provokes
questions as to how far opinion is stimulated among students.
A possible reason why so many students did not answer the
question about the most popular character lies in the complexity
of the question itself.
Conclusion
The most significant fact to come out of this survey is the broad
extent of the reading experience of students and pupils learning
English. Although confining themselves virtually to classical
authors, they read widely in the literature of Europe and the
United States.
Less satisfactory is the implication that as many as 18 per cent
of lst-year students, because they did not answer the question,
were not reading anything; whilst 63 per cent of lst-year students
and 24 per cent of 4th-year students had not read more than
ten books in a foreign language.
Thirty-three per cent of the lst-year and 20 per cent of the
4th-year students experienced difficulty in obtaining books
and there is clearly a case for a study of the nature of these
difficulties.
It came as a surprise that secondary pupils were more famliiar
with record-players and tape recorders than 4th-year students.
This suggests that innovation in secondary schools is in advance
of university language programmes and invites attention.
Some concern must be felt at the high percentage of students
who rarely read journals in the L2. Students of a foreign language
should be familiar with the style of writing that appears in journals
and newspapers as a part of their study of a foreign language,
literature, and culture.
Enough evidence is presented to confirm the impression that
reading skillswhich may be modestare not fully utilised.
Reading is course-centred and circumscribed by time and
difficulties in obtaining books. As most institutions of higher
education regard reading as central to the learning process and
a skill with which every student should be fully conversant, our
findings among arts students are disappointing.
The fears of the Belgrade teachers, cited at the beginning of
this paper, have some foundation. Without previous data it is
The Construction and Use of EFL Crossword Puzzles 45

impossible to make comparisons; however, one can confirm that


only a small proportion of contemporary students acquire a
reading experience across a broad field of literature. In their
chosen field of English studies the syllabus acts as a strait-jacket
and not as a spring-board, as was intended. To some extent we
are all the victims of our libraries, of the motivation we generate
and the encouragement we receive. In order to close the gap
between intention and achievement, there is a strong case for the
re-assessment of the role of reading, an examination of methods
for improving students' present experience, and the introduction
of a systematic programme designed both to extend students'
awareness of books and to improve their reading skills.

The Construction and Use of


EFL Crossword Puzzles1
G. LATORRE and GLORIA BAEZA
Language Department, Catholic University, Santiago, Chile
Games have long been accepted in English language teaching as
a means of relieving the students of much of the strain which
results from work demanding concentrated attention. Although
most of the psychological theories accounting for the nature of
play apply to games in childhood, it is evident that some features
of these theories are also valid for educational situations involving
adolescents and even adults. Thus we see that the view of games
as an outlet for surplus energy accumulated over a period of
attention-fixing work is obviously relevant for an activity such
as an EFL class, in the course, of which student attention may
have been directed to imitating a model, with little or no physical
activity, a consequent accumulation of nervous energy, and
possibly an eventual decrease in interest. W. R. Lee has drawn
attention to this role of games in language teaching pointing out
that repetition, even when meaningful, brings with it the danger
of weariness. 'Language teachers in particular have constantly
to search for means of securing variety, and can ill afford to
neglect whatever language-teaching possibilities games offer.'2
'The authors wish to thank Barbara Cargill and Raul Maiza, both students
of the Language Department, for their valuable contribution in materials
and suggestions for this paper.
'Language Teaching Games and Contests, O.U.P., 1965, p. 1.