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Developing reading skill in English

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Touhid Ebrahim :
English is the most used international language and most commonly spoken language in the world. It is also the most widely learnt second or additional language and official language of the United Nations, European Union and many international and regional international organizations. It is considered to be the most important and essential language in the world. It has achieved the status of international language because of its suitability, clarity, flexibility, and popularity all over the world. In the field of education, research, communication, media, trade and commerce, the importance of English is so high. Currently, it is undoubtedly needed for any kinds of jobs, business, research activities and many other purposes. Nowadays, English is no more a unique possession of the British or the Americans; it is a language that belongs to all people of the world. Nowadays, being able to use English language is similar to having an international visa. It is so useful and helpful that, learning English really can change our life.
It is a great happiness that our education system attaches importance to the learning of English. The curriculum has included English as a compulsory subject from class one to twelve. In order to learn English well, all language learners have to develop four basic language skills - listening, speaking, reading and writing. Among these four skills reading is in the third position. To be efficient in English, reading is important like other three important language skills especially for the intellectual growth of the life-long learners. Reading is simply defined as a process whereby we look at and understand what is written and printed. It is a receptive skill. When we read, we use our eyes to decode written language and images. Simultaneously, we use our brain to convert the written symbols and information into words, sentences and paragraphs that communicate something to others.
From time to time we are getting wonder why reading is important. It is important for variety of reasons. It exercises our brain and improves concentration; helps the readers to understand the meaning of different topics; teaches about the world around us; introduces with cultures of different nations; improves our thinking power; develops readers' vocabulary that increases the ability to write something well; makes the readers keen to learn; gives the readers pleasure; all these help the readers to get enlightened. For studying in a high-ranking university or in any university in an English speaking country, admission seekers have to score high in reading alongside other skills.  
Although reading is an important language skill, my experiences as a student of education show that English reading skill is taught poorly in the schools and colleges in Bangladesh. Although there are a lot of lessons in the English for Today books of every class, those are not taught in ways that can enable students to understand English text when they read them.
Teachers in our schools and colleges generally teach reading skill to students using the age-old Grammar Translation Method. In this method, teachers read out and clarify the text in Bangla; and the learners listen to the teachers inactively. However, as reading is a skill, learners should be engaged in the practice of the reading skill because no skill is possible to acquire without ceaseless practices. Teachers should set some questions for students to answer after reading. Those questions could be short questions, gap-filling, true/false, matching, information transfer, etc. Students are supposed to read the text themselves, answer the questions, check answers in pairs, and get feedback from the teachers. Through the continuous practice of reading in the similar way, students become able to understand any text. Although some English teachers know how to develop students' reading skill, they cannot engage students in reading practice as other teachers and students create obstacles. There are some teachers who are not willing to spend much time in teaching reading. They consider reading as a knowledge-based subject, not a skill based subject. As a result, they try to provide students with knowledge, not with skill.
In order to get rid of this situation, the education authority should take initiative to provide proper training to the English teachers so that they teach English reading skill properly. Teachers need training, no doubt, but there are great dearth motivated and sincere English teachers in our educational institutions. Thus in want of motivation and proper guidance, the students cannot understand the importance of reading and as a result, they cannot be good readers. On the other hand, in schools and colleges many of the students of our country are indifferent and lazy. Even though a small number of teachers try to help the students, they have to be disappointed to see the reluctance of the learners. They read English only for passing the public examinations or getting a good grade. Students get good grades but their grades, in most cases, is not reflected in their everyday use of English.
Alongside teachers' teaching, learners can follow some more effective strategies like making a habit of reading, reading English books, newspapers and magazines daily, creating reasons why we read, finding a place where learners can concentrate, choosing and reading about things that interest us, trying to understand the overall meaning of the topic, writing a summary of the topic we have read, discussing the topic we have read to others, going to a library and picking up books, to get standard pronunciation and joining an English language club or readers' group. Teachers should create opportunities for the students in the classrooms to engage students in activities like read and answer; read and fill out; read and match, read and tell if true or false, read and draw etc. for teaching reading skill. Students' participation in reading should be preferred over teachers' dominance in solving the exercises. The Grammar Translation Method should be replaced with Participatory Approach where students will practice and acquire skills. Through the proper practice with concentration, students can develop their reading skill.
Today we cannot think of the perfection of education without good reading habits. Francis Bacon, an English philosopher says, 'reading makes a full man'. Actually, we see without developing the reading skill, we cannot acquire knowledge and cannot be a full man. The development in the field of education is not immediately visible. It takes a long time to be tangible. Thus higher skill in reading comes from determination and regular practices. If reading teaching strategies are followed properly and practice is continued, I believe the students will develop their competency in English reading within a short period of time.

(The writer is a 3rd year 'Bachelor of Education' honours student at Govt. Teachers' Training College, Dhaka. He can be reached at e-mail: touhidebrahim69@gmail.com)

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