In our interaction in this session we shall focus on reading skills. But before going deeper into this topic, let’s us try an example: why we read and what do we read. To put it in simple terms we generally read for pleasure and to collect information and knowledge which we may need to solve some kind of problem or to provide answer to some kind of academic question. There are generally several types of texts that one may read in everyday life. Some of the common types are :- newspapers and magazines, advertisements, novels, short stories and essays, recipes, travel brochures, letters, telegrams, postcards, rules and regulations, notices, etc. The purpose of reading would vary according to the type of the text that is being read. Thus we may say that there may be several ways of reading. Some of the ways of reading are – skimming: it implies a quick running over of one’s eyes through the text to get the gist. Scanning: it implies going through the text to find out a specific piece of information. Extensive reading: it is applied in case of long texts usually read for pleasure. Intensive reading: it is applied in case of shorter texts to extract specific information. This type of reading is an accurate activity which involves reading for detail.
The ways of reading mentioned above are however not mutually exclusive. Reading is an activity that requires various skills that will help the reader to comprehend better. Communicative syllabus, designed by John Munby, enumerates the following reading skills: Recognizing the script of a language, deducing the meaning and use of unfamiliar lexical terms, understanding explicitly stated information, understanding information when not explicitly stated, understanding conceptual meaning, understanding the communicative value of sentences or utterances, understanding relations within the sentence, understanding relations between parts of a text through lexical cohesion devices, understanding cohesion between parts of a text through grammatical cohesion devices, interpreting the text by going outside it, recognizing indicators in discourse, identifying the main points or important information in a piece of discourse, distinguishing the main idea from supporting details, extracting salient points to summarize, for instance the text to get hold of an idea etc. Selective extraction of relevant point from a text.
Basic reference skills - Skimming, scanning to locate specifically required information, transcoding information to diagrammatic display. We have just now gone through several reading skills enumerated by Munby. The application of the skills would depend upon the type of text the reader reads. Lets us now try to read a passage from E M Foster’s essay- “Notes on the English Character” and see how some of the reading skills may be applied to reach at a sound comprehension of the text. First note - I had better let the cat out of the bag at once and recalled my opinion that the character of the English is essentially middle class. There is a sound historical reason for this, for since the end of the 18th century, the middle classes have been the dominant force in our community. They gain wealth by the industrial revolution, political power by the reform bill of 1832, They are connected with the rise and organization of the British Empire. They are responsible for the literature of the 19th century. Solidity, caution, integrity, efficiency, lack of imagination, hypocrisy. These qualities characterize the middle classes in every country. But in England, they are national characteristics also, because only in England, half the middle classes been in power for 150 years. Napoleon in his rude way called us ‘A Nation of shopkeepers’. We prefer to call ourselves ‘A great commercial nation’. It sounds more dignified. But the two phrases amount to the same. Of course there are other classes, there is an aristocracy, there are the poor. But it is in the middle class where the eye of the critic rests, just as it rests on the poor in Russia and the aristocracy in Japan. Russia is symbolized by the peasant or the factory worker. Japan by the Samurai. The national figure of England is Mr. Bull, with his top hat, his comfortable clothes, his substantial stomach and his substantial balance at the bank. St. George the keeper of demons and in the speeches of politicians but it is John Bull who delivers the goods, even St. George… wore a top hat once, he was an army contractor and supplied indifferent bacon. It all amounts to the same in the end.
Using some of the reading skills mentioned above, let us try to read the extract. First, we are aware that the text is in English. That the text intends to provide us with an idea of what English character stands for, which it may be inferred is the chief concern of the piece. To drive home the idea of English character, the author provides the reader with explicitly stated information such as the character of the English is essentially middle class. The middle classes have been the dominant forces in our community etc. The reader may also attempt to move outside the text to find out the significance of industrial revolution, the reform bill of 1832 in the history of England which in due course of time shaped the English character. A number of supporting details are incorporated into the text to give an idea of the English character. Some of these are the mention of the industrial revolution, the reform bill of 1832. Napoleon in his rude way called us ‘A Nation of shopkeepers’, but it is on the middle classes that the eye of the critic rests, just as it rests on the poor in Russia and the aristocracy in Japan. Russia is symbolized by the peasant or the factory worker. Japan by the Samurai etc.
I hope that some of the schemes discussed in this session would be of help to you while you read different types of texts. Thank you.