An Exploration of Reading Comprehension Challenges in Saudi Arabian University EFL Students
Alsubaie, Mohammed Aedh A.
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Abstract: This is an interpretive study, framed by sociocultural theory, and employing qualitative data collection methods to explore the nature of reading comprehension challenges faced by English as Foreign Language learners. These challenges were identified through analysis of the students' reading aloud processes, and the factors to which students attributed these challenges were investigated from the perspectives of both the readers themselves and those of their lecturers. Information about student reading aloud processes was obtained through participation in the Think Aloud Protocol by sixteen student volunteers from three universities in Saudi Arabia. Nine students then volunteered to reflect on their reading aloud processes in the follow-up Retrospective Verbal Report. All sixteen students then took part in a semi-structured interview in which they were questioned about the factors influencing their reading challenges. Six of their lecturers also volunteered to undertake a similar interview process with regard to their student's reading of English. The findings showed that Saudi EFL students exhibited a number of reading processes which interfered with comprehension. They paid little attention to punctuation, and used ineffective reading strategies such as repetition and guessing, which were usually incorrect. Words were often incorrectly decoded and therefore, mispronounced, particularly vowels which were pronounced by their alphabetic names rather than phonically, and words were substituted for those which were graphically or phonologically similar, indicating a failure to monitor comprehension. Students also read slowly which interfered with the development of coherency, fluency and comprehension. A number of themes were identified with regard to the source of these challenges. These themes relate to the social and cultural framework surrounding the student, including a cohesive, authoritarian society with a strong social tradition and a culture which does not value or prioritise reading for pleasure. Participants believed that these social and cultural forces lead to a lack of resources, poor access to English, poor teaching methods and a lack of background knowledge as they read. They claimed that this generated states of mind which contributed to their reluctance, and largely negative attitudes towards, reading in English. In particular, participants reported that the social demands of their culture, the failure to teach good phonic skills, and of negative mental and emotional states, influenced their reading fluency and contributed to their reading comprehension challenges. The unique approach and design of this study, particularly in the context of the Arab world, has produced findings which demonstrate the relevance and influence of social and cultural factors on reading processes and comprehension challenges. These findings have led to a number of recommendations for the learning and teaching of English reading in international contexts. The study concludes by suggesting that these processes and factors be further investigated by future studies.
PhD in Education