The Glossed Reader: Authentic Literary Text as "Comprehensible Input"

Avigail Rashkovsky, University of Tennessee

The subject of this investigation is the use of vocabulary losses, i.e., short definitions or explanations of the meaning of a written word which are commonly used in foreign language readers and textbooks. Their acceptability, however, is determined by the prevailing views on FL teaching. While glossing does not contradict the traditional grammar-translation approach, it appears controversial in the framework of schemata theory, which suggests that background knowledge and top-down processing are the major factors in native and foreign language reading comprehension.

The widespread use of vocabulary glosses, on one hand, and their ambiguous theoretical interpretation, on the other, provoked some researchers, in recent years, to investigate the effects of glossing on foreign language reading in Spanish, French, and German. The main issues addressed in these studies are: what is the effect of glosses on reading comprehension and vocabulary learning, as well as how FL students perceive the use of this technique. The research findings of these experimental studies appear to be inconsistent, hence further research in this area is needed.

This investigation contributes to our understanding of the effects of marginal glosses on reading comprehension and vocabulary learning by adding a new aspect, namely, Russian as the language of the reading text. The 30 participants of this within-subject experiment had read glossed as well as non-glossed passages from an authentic literary text. Both their reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition were measured by various tests, and a follow-up survey was conducted. The results of the reading experiment showed statistically significant gains on all measures while the survey data demonstrated strong preference for glossed reading materials in Russian.

Widely perceived in the theoretical field of SLA as "inevitable evil," glossing, nevertheless, enhances reading comprehension, increases vocabulary knowledge, and enjoys the strong preference of students, thus, motivating them to read. Consequently, there is an obvious need to develop Russian glossed readers and other instructional materials, including software, where the use of glosses can be effectively employed.


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