Fostering EFL Learners' Reading Comprehension Through a Web-Based Cumulative Sentence Analysis (CSA) System

Fostering EFL Learners' Reading Comprehension Through a Web-Based Cumulative Sentence Analysis (CSA) System

Yea-Ru Tsai (I-Shou University, Taiwan)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5466-0.ch010
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In this chapter, the author investigated the effects of a web-based cumulative sentence analysis (CSA) instruction on university engineering students' English reading comprehension. The results of two empirical studies were presented. The findings showed that the experimental group achieved a higher level of reading comprehension performance following the instruction. Inter-group comparison also revealed that the experimental group significantly outperformed the control group in the post-test, while no difference was found between these groups in the pre-test. The questionnaire showed the majority of the students have perceived positive learning outcome in reading comprehension after the CSA instruction. The positive correlation between the post-test and online CSA test indicates that learners' syntactic analysis ability can benefit their reading comprehension. By presenting the instructional framework, this study has contributed to the empirical research concerning the effect of syntactic competence on English as a foreign language (EFL) reading comprehension.
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Students’ reading ability has considerable impact on academic performance. Empirical studies have shown that students with proficient reading ability typically outperform the students with less-proficient reading skills (Lan, Sung, & Chang, 2009). It is also undeniable that reading creates important opportunities to promote the acquisition of a foreign language (Chien, 2000; Dlugosz, 2000; Salinger, 2003). Previous studies have revealed that English reading comprehension ability has been regarded as essential in English instruction (Chang & Hsu, 2011; Hsu, Hwang, & Chang, 2010). However, it has been recognized that there is still a considerable number of students struggling with reading in English. Smith (2011) mentioned that many teaching EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teachers in Taiwan would agree students who are not English majors are generally not highly motivated to learn English.

Reading competently in a foreign language is the product of a complex system involving lower-level processing (e.g. word recognition skills, vocabulary knowledge, orthographic knowledge and phonological knowledge), higher-level processing (syntactic knowledge, text structure, prior knowledge) (Baghaei & Ravand, 2015; Koda, 2007). Because diverse aspects of linguistic knowledge are interacting in these operations, it is postulated that students’ reading comprehension can be facilitated with the support of understanding and applying linguistic knowledge at different levels.

Of special interest for research on web-based environments to support reading is the correlation between syntactic knowledge and reading comprehension. In L2 research, Alderson (2000) states that the knowledge of syntactic structure plays a significant role in second language reading. It has been reported that syntactic knowledge significantly contributes to reading performance among L2 learners (e.g., Nagy, McClure, & Mir, 1997). Reading requires syntactic knowledge because understanding grammar offers insight into the way writers construct text (Cajkler & Dymoke, 2005). The results of Cain and Oakhill (2007) demonstrated that poor syntactic knowledge processing is one of the factors causing difficulty with reading comprehension. Shiotsu and Weir (2007) also confirmed the relative contribution of syntactic knowledge to L2 reading comprehension performance. As emphasized by Scott (2009): “If a reader cannot parse the types of complex sentences that are often encountered in academic texts, no amount of comprehension strategy instruction will help” (p. 189). Hence, the acquisition of syntactic parsing ability is necessary to operate in reading comprehension, especially when the text contains complicated syntactic structures that would disrupt an understanding of the whole text at a normal reading pace.

To motivate this study, the author mostly focuses on the role of syntactic parsing in reading comprehension. It is argued that some learners’ reading comprehension difficulty is caused by their lack of understanding of the sentences they engage. Theoretically, if a reader can’t understand the meaning of individual sentences, he or she will also encounter considerable difficulty with comprehension at text level. The purpose of this study is therefore to present a framework of Cumulative Sentence Analysis (CSA) instruction to support EFL students’ English reading comprehension. In what follows, some studies related to computer-assisted reading instruction and the relationship between syntactic parsing and reading comprehension are first reviewed.

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