Reading is a mental process. There are many definitions of reading. Reading is when someone looks into a written text and starts to absorb the information from the written linguistic message. In Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistic, reading is said as:
Other definition by Collins English Learner’s Dictionary is that reading is an act of looking at and understanding point. This is very true because reading entails the use of vision to understand several words in a sentence and make them meaningful. Same goes to each sentence in order to understand the entire text.
Besides all the definitions from the dictionary there are also definitions made by several people. According to William (1984), he defines reading as a process whereby one looks at and understands what has been written. Rohani Ariffin (1992:1) in her book entitled Anthropology of Poetry for Young People defines reading as a highly personal activity that is mainly done silently, alone. There is a clear understanding that reading is something related to the activity of acquiring information and it is done either silently or aloud.
Reading is an interactive process between the reader and the writer. Brunan W.K (1989) for instance defines reading as a two way interaction in which information is exchange between the reader and the author”. Smith (1973) also shares the same attitude. This is proved by his line:
“Reading is an act of communication in which information is transferred from a transmitter to a receiver”
Despite all the definitions given, there is also definition of reading given by teachers as well as by students. According to Stallfter (1969), teachers define reading as:
“a complicated procedure. Readers read to get information from the printed pages. They should be able to pronounce and comprehend the printed words, signs, letters, and symbols by assigning meaning to them.”
“where words go into your eyes and out of your mouth. They said that books are written with many adventures and time and time again there are spots where they say ‘I know it!’ it is interesting to them as they open the book, words flow out and float across the mind”
In order for a person to be able to read, there is in need of other skill to support the reader while reading. Reading is a mental process as mentioned earlier so it needs other skills to be integrated with such as listening, speaking and writing. According to Chitravelu et. al (1995), reading is not a single skill that we use all the time in the same way but it is multiple skill that used differently with kind of test and fulfilling different purpose. This was earlier being stated by Thomas and Loving (1979) where they alleged reading as a communicative skills along with listening, speaking writing and thinking.
Many or any people can read a text but hardly can understand what the writing was all about. This is because the reading was not providing any information to the reader. Why is this happen? This happened when the reader merely read the text without understanding the content. So it defeats the purpose of reading as a means to gain information. According to Mariam (1991) she proposed that a major avenue of learning is through reading. Yet, if we do not understand what we are reading, we cannot learn or remember it. Comprehending is a major concerned, then, of all teachers who use printed material in the classroom.
Since reading is very important in learning second language, a great effort has been given to develop reading skill. Although many ways have been promoted in order to improve reading skill among students, reading is still something that is seems problematic. Students can’t understand English text. These problems occurred because according to Noormah (2000) the students are lacking of vocabulary, hardly understand the words and less interest to English subject. Besides that, there are also several factors contributing to the diffident of this particular skill. Based on Sivaguru (2000) those factors are home, school and social environment. If the student is living in a family where English to them is a familiar language, frequently spoken by the members of the family then the student will have the advantage of being exposed to the language. Unlike student with no English familiarity in his family where English is seen as a bizarre language to be spoken, this kind of environment demodulates his motivation to learn the language.
Moreover, school is also one of the factors that contribute to the incompetence in reading. This is where the role of teacher in promoting the language to the students. Some teacher just might not fully use English during English class especially in the primary school. This is just because the teacher intended to suit her level with the students and as a result a lot of code switching is used. This early exposure to the lack of using English in class causes a serious impact when they further their study in a higher education level. To them English is not something important. Even if it does, they still can code switch as what their teacher did during their schooling period.
Another factor is the environment factor. We are from what we come from. If the environment around us allows us to speak English for example to have colleagues who are willing to speak English, this would be a good drive. But what actually happen in the Malaysian society is that people are hesitate to speak English in public among friends, neighbors etceteras.
Although the factors discussed are concerning around the speaking skill, but as mentioned earlier that all skills are related to each other. When the students are no longer interested to speak in English, their passions for the language will also deteriorating. These will also affecting their reading skills and their ability to understand English text.
This study will be focusing on the students of a tertiary level. Students of tertiary level are different from students of a secondary school in reading purpose. Secondary school students read because they are forced to read by their teacher. It is hard to find students who do extensive reading by themselves. Students of tertiary level on the other hand read because they have to. They have to read to keep up with lectures and assignments. If they do not read, they will be left behind.
There are three theories related and being use in this study. The first theory is the traditional view of reading (Dole et al, 1991). According to this theory, novice reader’s needs to acquire a set of hierarchically ordered sub-skills that consecutively build toward comprehension ability. Contained in this theory, the students have the ability to comprehend the texts by making sense of the words within the context of the sentence. According to Nunan (1991), being able to read using this view is being able to interpret a series of written symbols to the auditory equivalents as a way for the readers to make sense of the text they are reading and to reproduce the meaning of the reading itself. In other words, this process is called the “bottom-up”.
The bottom-up reading is done step by step as mentioned by Mariam Mohamed Nor and Rahmad Sukor Abd. Samad (2006). The technique begins with the eyes identifying visual information in the materials and this technique begins with the identification of the letter and the sounds follows subsequently. Next, the identification of the lexical items is done through grapheme-phoneme correspondence and being put in the short term memory (STM). This is where the phrases, clauses and sentences are being constructed.
This model requires an accurate comprehension, sequential identification of letters, words, phrases, clauses, sentences and the pronunciation. The other meaning of this view is that it is also a process of “outside-in” as mentioned by McCarthy (1999). To make it simple, the bottom-up model recommends that reading should begins from the low-level processing. The printed texts that being read by the reader can only be interpreted and understood by the reader himself. Apart from the definition given below, this traditional view of reading always been under attack because of the insufficiency and lacking one or more of the usual forms of grammatical inflection mainly the words and structure.
The second theory is the three major types of schemata. The types of schema mentioned by Carrell (1984) are the linguistic schemata, formal schemata and content schemata which are related to the reading comprehension. The linguistic schemata refer to the existing knowledge that the readers have in vocabulary and grammar. It is the foundation for other schemata as it is essential in helping the readers to grasp and decode the text they read. If the readers do not have this schema, it will be hard for them to understand and to decode texts they read. The more linguistic schema the readers have, the easier for them to understand and decode what they are reading.
The second schema is the formal schema. This schema has been explained to be abstract, encoded, internalized, and having coherent patterns of meta-linguistic, discourse and textual organization that are being used to understand a text. The reader tries to use any information that they have in order to understand and to comprehend the English text they are reading at that particular of time. But the formal schema offers less power in the reading process as mentioned by Carrell (1984). In this study, the formal schema helps the students to make relations between the background knowledge that they have with the new one that they just bumped into under the same topic. This is to help them in comprehending the reading English texts in the possible way as they can.
The third schema in the schemata theory is called content schema. In other terms, this schema explains about the reader having the information or background knowledge on the topic that is being brought up in the texts they read. A language is not only the combination of vocabulary or grammar but it also involves the culture of the language and this is where the information came. With the content schema, it can complete the lack of language schemata and thus helps the students in comprehending texts and to be able to put aside any ambiguities and irrelevant words or sentences in the texts.
The third theory used in this study is the affective filter hypothesis by Stephen Krashen. This theory involves the attitudes towards the target language and its relationship with the input achieved by the students. It shows that how attitude is very important in learning language. If the students have a very high or strong affective filter, they tend to have less input. If the students do understand the input, the input will not reach part of the brain that takes charge of the language acquisition. It is different to students who have low affective filter who will have the tendency to obtain more information and because they have more positive attitudes to the language they are learning, they are more open to the input they obtain.