I met Elcio Souza for the first time about 8 or 9 years ago, when I took a (wonderful) course with him about Pronunciation. Last week, I was lucky to see him again at a workshop at Disal, and invited him to share with us a bit of his presentation about reading. Enjoy it!
What's your graduation and what do you do now?
Elcio - I have a BA in Translation and Interpreting, a BA in TEFL (both from Unibero) and an MA in Applied Linguistics from Unicamp. I work as an ELT-Pronunciation consultant and I teach undergrad and grad courses at different universities. As a consultant, I am usually invited by publishing houses such as Pearson-Longman to deliver lectures and workshops. I also work on teacher development programs at several English-teaching institutions.
Your workshop focused on the importante of reading. How can reading help students improve their English even if their focus is speaking?
Elcio - When we read a story, our brain takes that piece of information as "truth", that is, as an existing reality, with all its language, social and cultural behavior etc. That means the mind starts slowly absorbing chunks and chunks of contextualized information, vocabulary and structure. In the long run, as you come across similar situations (to those the characters go through), those chunks pop up and help you organize your talk. The more you read, the more you develop an "instinct" for the language in focus, and the more comfortable you will feel about speaking it. In other words, the more you read storybooks, the better you will talk, write, listen and, of course, read, once again, in the long run.
Why do so many students think reading is difficult and boring?
Elcio - Mostly due to three factors: 1 - They may not yet have been exposed to the pleasure and advantages of reading extensively (and our Brazilian culture is to blame here); 2 - They might not be aware of the existence of Readers - books written for their own level of mastery -, nor may they have been advised how to choose an appropriate book level for them. So what happens is that they sometimes get a book, feel overwhelmed by the vocabulary range (usually way beyond their own) and grammar structures, get lost and then lose their interest in the story. The most serious problem with this behavior is that it can cause trauma, which prevents them from trying again. 3 - Most important of all, they may not be aware of the fact that they can enjoy storybooks whichever English level they master, and this is the job of every competent teacher: to promote classroom activities which will expose students to storybooks, show them they are able to read those books on their own and make them feel curious enough to start reading them.
How can teacher motivate students to read? What can they do with students who say they "don't even read in Portuguese"?
Elcio - First we need to break this unfortunate Portuguese/English connection which some students and, sadly, some teachers try to make. A speaker’s “Portuguese life” has little necessary connection with their “English life”. For example, I know of many students and teachers who read avidly in English, but rarely do so in Portuguese. Anyway, teachers can motivate their students by sharing stories they have read (without telling the end, of course). There are several activities a teacher can bring to class which will motivate their students to read: they can be introduced to a reading club, they can be asked to read a book and present an oral summary of the story to their classmates, etc. If students claim they do not have the habit (not even in Portuguese), the teacher should not worry about it. After all, they can always be kindly invited to create such habit; they can even be 'seduced' into reading a bit every day. It will all depend on the teacher and students' rapport and in the tricks the teacher can try to get them to read their first book.
Many students also claim they have no time for reading. What would you suggest?
Elcio - We never have time for anything in life... so this should not worry anyone. What I mean is where there is a will there is a way. They can select the most appropriate moment to read and commit themselves to it. As a suggestion, they could start reading ten minutes a day every day. Let's say ten minutes before going to bed. Everyone has that time. Then they could slowly increase their reading time according to their interest in the story till they reach a greater amount of time they also feel comfortable with.
What's the "best way" to read in a foreign language? I mean, if you come across words you don't know, should you look them up in the dictionary or just ignore them?
Elcio - We should first ignore them. This is what we do in our own language. Consider this thought: knowing every single word of a text does not mean you can understand the text at all. So students should not worry about words they do not know unless they are crucial for the understanding of the paragraph/story. In that case, they should read the paragraph several times, digesting the information until the context would give them a comfortable sensation. Only if this never happens should they think of looking the word up. This procedure will always help them become better readers, as they will develop and improve several different reading and learning strategies.
There's a (maybe false) belief Brazilians don't like reading. What's your opinion on that?
Elcio - As I said before, we are simply not used to it. Once Brazilians are introduced into the pleasures of the “reading world” and all its wonders, we certainly become everyday readers. :-)