How to catch the book bug;Reviews;Modern languages;Books

19th June 1998 at 01:00
Ann Swarbrick makes the case for reading and recommends materials for key stages 3 and 4

What is the place of reading for pleasure in teaching modern foreign languages? With the Year of Reading starting in September, now is a good time to ask.

This is an area where support for teachers and examples of good practice are limited. Simplistic notions of what our pupils are interested in reading go largely unquestioned.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, as part of its analysis of educational resources, recently asked a group of teachers to review French, German and Spanish reading materials for key stage 4 pupils. They pointed to a distinct preference among pupils for texts which were short and journalistic in flavour and related to their own experience of life and to their own popular culture, dealing with subjects such as sport, music and fashion.

While there is a place for such material, journalistic writing about familiar issues set in familiar contexts will not, on its own, provide a rich reading diet. It is unlikely to develop a reading habit or foster an interest in foreign language books. To provide pupils with only what is perceived as "relevant" reading is to go down the path of impoverishment, to the "retreat from text" which English colleagues described in the Eighties. Pupils find reading difficult - so give them less to read. Result, they don't and can't read.

Teachers have often commented that pupils do not so much read as browse. Given the need to find appealing texts for this generation of browsers, resources need to be chosen judiciously. There is a wide range of material available, all of which could form part of a library: topic-based reading cards, graded readers, simplified texts, books and CD-Roms.

Many different sorts of texts can draw pupils into reading. They include texts designed for language learners, abridged stories, parallel texts, children's books, translations, familiar stories, magazines, newspapers in accessible format (such as Authentik), strip cartoons, joke books, books with a practical purpose, texts from the Internet, reading schemes which include fiction and non-fiction, magazines to accompany videos such as BBC's Cafe des Reves and information designed for young readers, on drugs and health education, for example.

But resources are not the only issue: we need much more research based support into how to develop reading skills and encourage the reading habit in our pupils.

The Year of Reading provides the opportunity to make progress in this exciting area. But remember, pupils are unlikely to catch the reading bug from someone who hasn't got it. As you look for resources for your pupils, think about creating more time for your own reading.

Ann Swarbrick is a lecturer in education at the Open University and a contributor to 'La Serie Rouge'. The second edition of her 'Reading for pleasure in a foreign language' (CILT) will be published in the autumn

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