Saturday, April 10, 2010

Do They Really Understand?

ESL in Hainan by Surfing The Nations

I was reading an article today from one of the blogs I am following on my google reader.  It talked about how students may act as though they are comprehending and understanding the book they are reading, but are they really?  The article goes on to say how fiction books are very confusing for ESL learners.  They send mixed messages which are hard for ESL learners to understand.  What do you think about this? Do you see how they could be confusing? I know from my Spanish classes, reading novels were always a challenge.  It took me a while to really understand what the message of the book was.  I think it is important to be sensitive to these various aspects. How do you feel?


  1. Oh I definitely agree. Languages are hard to translate. Even if you know a lot of a language, it takes a while to really understand all of the quirky things we say. For example, you could know a lot of English words but the first time you hear someone say "that's a piece of cake" you are going to be confused. There is no way to avoid that. There must be a ton of those in books, or other words used in ways other than their main meaning. I remember learning german and reading a story when someone called someone else a pig. In english, calling someone a pig isn't really that big of a deal but it is a huge offense in german. I just feel like things like that happen all the time. Words that we don't even think about having more than one meaning, ESL students probably struggle with.

  2. In my literacy reference project, I included a similar concept for the Comprehension construct. For second language learners, fiction is especially confused because of idiomatic phrases like Rebecca explained. They simply don't translate. Also, it can be very frustrating, which might explain why students "pretend" to understand. As teachers, it will be necessary to assess comprehension in SLLs often and to encourage them if they aren't always "getting" it.

  3. I tutored a Korean graduate student last semester and we came across the same problem. Every language has idiomatic phrases and they hard to understand when you haven't grown up within the culture of a country. When learning a language the school teaches formal language and not slang, which is used a lot, so SLL's would definitely be confused by these things. Teachers should be aware of this problem and should encourage students to ask questions and let them know they don't have to pretend they're understanding.