Year: 1993

Author: Willcoxson, Lesley

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In the past two decades research into reading in a foreign language has indicated that reading strategies are transferable across languages (Clarke, 1980; Cziko, 1980; Sarig, 1987). Differences have been found, however, in the speed with which non-native readers are able to process text (MacNamara, 1970; Oller, 1972) and in the extent to which these readers are able to make use of syntactic and semantic cues (Clarke, 1979, 1980; Cziko, 1980; Carrell, 1983; Laufer and Sim, 1985). Such differences have been shown to cause comprehension difficulties for the foreign-language reader and research demonstrates that still further comprehension difficulties may arise as a result of lack of relevant cultural and rhetorical schemata (Johnson, 1981; Carrell, 1983, 1984; Steffensen and Joag-Dev, 1984; and Parry, 1987).

For the reader of foreign-language fiction, comprehension difficulties associated with inappropriate schemata when combined with syntactic and semantic deficits, might be theorised to have an impact upon response patterns, given that research with nativelanguage readers indicates the existence of individual preferences related to form versus sentimental appeal (Williams, Winter and Woods, 1938), analysis versus intuition (O'Brien, 1981) or literary and social/thematic significance versus personal significance (Squire, 1964; Wilson, 1966; Purves, 1973).

It might be expected that, regardless of response preferences in the native language, comprehension difficulties in foreign- language reading would impede intellectual processing (related to analysis of form, style, and thematic generalisations). Thus the responses of many readers of foreign-language fiction would be confined to the affective domain, where plot, characters and setting are imbued with meaning on the basis of sentimental appeal or the ability of the reader to relate these elements directly to personal experience.

Research suggests, however, that even for native-language readers affective entry into the literary space of a piece of fiction is impeded if the reader encounters syntactic or semantic difficulties (Jacobsen, 1982). Beach (1972) and Applebee (1977) have found that for native language readers the medium of response also affects type response type, in that written responses are generally shorter than oral responses and characterised by statements of interpretation rather than engagement or retelling of the story.

Surprisingly, given the many studies of response to native- language fiction, only one study has investigated response pattern transfer across languages, and Fanselow's (1971) finding that bilingual Spanish-English subjects exhibited the same preferences in both languages fails to shed light on the issue of transfer relevant to the majority of teachers of foreign language fiction whose students do not possess the same degree of competence in the foreign and the native language.

With the aim therefore of providing research data which teachers of foreign-language fiction might use to inform their teaching practices, in this paper I report the results of a study investigating the extent to which readers of foreign-language fiction transfer response preferences from their native language. Written and oral responses to native and foreign-language fiction are compared, the impact of linguistic competence upon response patterns and approaches to fiction is examined and finally, the implications of these findings for teachers of foreign-language literature are discussed.