Factors Affecting Reading Habits

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Reading is a process of decoding, understanding and interoperating information from pictures, signs, codes and written letters Leedy, 1956; Smith and Robinson, 1980; Devarajan, 1989; and Irwin 1998. Reading has numerous benefits that improve a person’s language acquisition, cultural enrichment, critical thinking and social skills. However, literature has shown that young adults in Malaysia seem to have poor reading habits. Kaur and Thivagarajah, 1999 confirmed that most of their Malaysian undergraduate respondents read very little and this showed a major decline in reading English Materials. Another researcher, Pandian (2000) found that majority of university students stated that they were not willing to read English Language Material or any other second language. There are many problems faced by undergraduates in reading such as lack of interest, undergraduates are forced to read and insufficient time to read. The purpose of this study is to identify factors affecting reading habits among undergraduates in University of Malaya. The respondents of this study are undergraduates from different faculties in University of Malaya. The objective of the study is twofold; The first is investigate the reading habits of undergraduates in University of Malaya and the second is to identify the factors affecting reading habits among undergraduates in University of Malaya. The instruments used in this study is a questionnaire consisting of 30 items adopted from various instruments including instruments from of Christina Clark and Amelia Foster from the National Literacy Trust (2003), Kumar & Ansari (2010), Oyeronke (2009) and Lone (2011). Twenty University Malaya undergraduates were selected to participate in this study. After the data was analysed it was found that there were four factors that affected the reading habits among undergraduates in University of Malaya. There four factors are enjoyment of reading, reading interest, time factor and influence of media and peers.

INTRODUCTION

Reading is a process of decoding, understanding and interoperating information from pictures, signs, codes and written letters (Leedy, 1956; Smith and Robinson 1980, Devarajan, 1989; and Irwin 1998).This process has been around since humans started interacting with each other. Reading is also seen as a process of communicating between the writer and the reader. Reading started as interpretation symbols and picture as this can be proven by the vast drawings found in ancient artefacts and in caves. As humans evolved so did language and this brought to the development of the alphabets. By recognising individual alphabets, humans were able to read.

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One the oldest definition can be found from Leedy (1956) who mentioned that reading is an attempt to absorb the thought of the author and know what the author is conveying. Smith & Robinson (1980) defined reading as “an active attempt on the part of reader to understand a writer’s meaning”. Devarajan (1989) defined reading as “the art of interoperating printed and written words”. According to Goodman (1995), reading begins with a linguistic surface expression encoded by a writer and ends with meaning which the reader decoded. In other words, Goodman says reading is seen as the receptive process of written communication. In 1998, Allen and Burton cited in Goodman mentioned that reading is a complex process of making meaning from pictures, diagrams or written text and finally interoperating it by its context. Irwin (1998) said that reading is the ability to recognise words, understand its meaning and interoperating the meaning base on our comprehension and background knowledge. There are many definitions of reading from many researchers, yet the simplest definition agree by many is reading is a complex process of understanding and interoperating a text composed of written signs. Readers make use of background knowledge, vocabulary, grammatical knowledge, experience with text and other strategies to help them understand a written text

Reading not only improves the reading achievements and language acquisition but also improves social skills. Reading improves general knowledge and communication skills and this leads to more participation in the community. A person is able to share the ideas, opinions and feeling with those around him especially with the other gender (Cunningham and Stanovich, 1997)

However, literature has shown that young adults in Malaysia seem to have poor reading habits. Kaur and Thivagarajah, 1999 confirmed that most of their Malaysian Undergraduate respondents read very little and this showed a major decline in reading English Materials. Another researcher, Pandian (2000) found that majority of university students stated that they were not willing to read English Language Material or any other second language

Problem Statement

Reading is a necessary skill when it comes to acquiring a second language. Reading has a lot of benefits including improving the language acquisition, improving the structure of the knowledge and grammar and improving fluency and accuracy. The benefits of reading are well known but there are still a large number of people with poor reading habits especially undergraduate students. The purpose of this study is to identify factors affecting reading habits among undergraduate in University of Malaya. The respondents of this study are undergraduates from different faculties in University of Malaya. It is hoped that with this study, a better understanding of reading habits will be obtained and will help in the pedagogy of teaching reading to undergraduates.

Research Objective

The objective of the study is twofold; The first is investigate the reading habits of undergraduates in University of Malaya and the second is to identify the factors affecting reading habits among undergraduates in University of Malaya.

Significant of the Study

This research will be carried out to identify the factors affecting reading habits among undergraduates in UM. This is important as it tells us the different factors affecting reading habits. By understanding the factors, appropriate measures can be taken to increase reading habits of the next generation of undergraduates. The information obtained through this study can benefit various parties who are involved in tertiary level reading. Such parties are the parents, teachers of primary and secondary schools, teachers in Pre University, lecturers in undergraduates, students and the curriculum developers.

The first party to benefit from this study would be the parents of the child. By knowing the child’s reading habits, parents are able to introduce the benefits of reading at an early stage of life, change the ways of encouraging the child’s reading. Parents can increase the level of the child’s reading by providing rewards. A correct reading habit exposure may lead to better acquisition of the second language.

Teachers from both primary and secondary schools can use the information gathered to strengthen reading among their students. Since reading starts from young it is hoped that the findings of this study could help incubate good reading habits from a young age as good reading habits are important tools for the development of personalities and mental capacities

LITERATURE REVIEW

Reading is a process of decoding, understanding and interoperating information from pictures, signs, codes and written letters (Leedy, 1956; Smith and Robinson 1980, Devarajan, 1989; and Irwin 1998).This process has been around since humans started interacting with each other

One the oldest definition can be found from Leedy (1956) who mentioned that reading is an attempt to absorb the thought of the author and know what the author is conveying. Smith & Robinson (1980) defined reading as “an active attempt on the part of reader to understand a writer’s meaning”. Devarajan (1989) defined reading as “the art of interoperating printed and written words”. According to Goodman (1995), reading begins with a linguistic surface expression encoded by a writer and ends with meaning which the reader decoded. In other words, Goodman says reading is seen as the receptive process of written communication. In 1998, Allen and Burton cited Goodman and mentioned that reading is a complex process of making meaning from pictures, diagrams or written text and finally interoperating it by its. Irwin (1998) said that reading is the ability to recognise words, understand its meaning and interoperating the meaning base on our comprehension and background knowledge. There are many definitions of reading from many researchers, yet the simplest definition agree by many is reading is a complex process of understanding and interoperating a text composed of written signs. Readers make use of background knowledge, vocabulary, grammatical knowledge, experience with text and other strategies to help them understand a written text

Reading has numerous benefits to young adults who are pursuing the degree. According to Cunningham and Stanovich (1998), reading improves one’s ability to improve vocabulary, and, writing skills. Elley (1992) mentioned from her study that the more frequent a young adult independently reads, the reading achievement of that person increases. Elley also explained that the person’s health improves as reading leads to lower stress levels and thus the happier the person gets. In their research, Magubhai & Elley (1983) concluded that the more ESL books read leads to better understanding of second language usage and improves the first language. Reading ESL books frequently help to further strengthen fluency, pronunciation, word choices and linkage of ideas.

Reading not only improves the reading achievements and language acquisition but also improves in social skills. Reading improves general knowledge and communication skills and this leads to more participation in the community. A person is able to share the ideas, opinions and feeling with those around him especially with the other gender (Cunningham and Stanovich, 1997)

Listed below are explanations on how readings are beneficial to the readers. Reading helps to improve a person’s vocabulary, spelling, writing skills, fluency, proficiency, language enrichment, cultural enrichment, critical thinking, personal involvement, sociolinguistic and pragmatic knowledge and emotional intelligent

Vocabulary

According to the studies carried out by Magubhai and Elley (1983), Cunningham and Stanovich (1998), and Elley (1992), reading helps to improve an ESL learner’s vocabulary list. By reading a book or any printed text, a person is exposure to new words he has not encounter before. The reader will be tempted to know the meaning of the word by referring to the context of the text or by referring to a dictionary. The reader will then be tempted to use the particular word in his oral or written communication. Saragi et al. (1978) carried out research on the merits of reading in acquiring second language. They found that extensive reading results in a substantial increase in the vocabulary of the learner which is acquired by grasping the meanings of words in context. They mentioned reading is vital for increasing learners’ selection of vocabulary in context, which cannot be acquired even by referring to the dictionary. Classroom activities do not provide enough scope for the acquiring of vocabulary in context, therefore the reader has to read extensively to acquire a usable level of vocabulary in context.

Spelling

According to Walpole (2009), reading improves one’s phonological awareness, knowledge of phonology, grapheme, phoneme and morpheme. By reading a person can blend the word sound together, matching other sound together and then categorise the two sounds together to form meaning. This means the person is aware how the grapheme, morpheme and phoneme are combined phonologically. This leads to understanding the word, knowledge of the meaning from the contexts and the spelling of the word. The more frequent that particular word appears, the more familiarised the person be with the spelling

Writing Skills

Reading has a special relationship with writing. Whatever is read is remembered and this helps in writing. Reading has many genres that help us to learn the structure of a particular language. By reading a lot, the reader will be more familiar with the targeted language. Vocabulary will be expended and so will the grammatical structures. Rules of grammar wil be automatically acquired. Reading again and again will lead to the curiosity of trying to combine sentences of words together and writing them down

Fluency

Wolfe and Katzir-Cohen (2001) mentioned that fluency is an important part of reading comprehension. Samuel (2002) defined fluency as the “ability to read connected text rapidly, smoothly, effortlessly, and automatically with little attention to the mechanics of reading”. Dowhower (1987) has proven through his research that fluent readers are able to read a text faster, more accurately, and better understanding. In another word, fluent reading allows readers to make connections among the ideas in the text and between the text and their background knowledge. In the end, fluent readers can recognise words and comprehend at the same time. By fluently reading, the readers can automatically recognise the meaning of the word with the help of the background knowledge and link it to the context of the text.

Proficiency

By frequently reading books in a target language, a person can improve his proficiency. Reading again and again helps a reader to be familiar with the language structure and the rules of the grammar. Reading materials from other genres, helps the reader to comprehend the situations from different contexts. For example what do you say during a funeral or what to say in a shopping complex? The reader will be tempted to use the phrases found in the books or reading materials, and when the phrase is repeated, the reader will then be proficient.

Language Enrichment

Reading provides learners with a huge range of the various lexical or syntactic items. Readers will become familiar with the features of the written language. They learn about the syntax and discourse functions of sentences, the target language structures, the different ways of connecting ideas, which develop and enrich their own writing skills. Readers also become more productive and adventurous when they begin to perceive the richness and diversity of the language they are trying to learn and begin to make use of some of that potential themselves. Thus, they improve their communicative and cultural competence in the authentic richness, naturalness of the authentic texts. On top of that, reading helps to develop the grammatical aspects of the language. Literature involves a profound range of vocabulary, dialogues and prose (Truong Thi My Van, 2009). Though poetry is usually criticized for its complex and far-fetched syntactic structures, it can simultaneously be a good source for practicing grammatical structures.

Cultural Enrichment

Literary texts such as poems, short stories, plays and novels facilitate understanding on how communication takes place in certain cultures in different parts of the world. Although the worlds of literary texts are imaginary one, it presents a full and colourful setting in which characters from many social and regional backgrounds can be described (Collie, and Slater. 1990). By reading, the reader will be able to experience the characters’ feelings, thoughts, customs and behaviours. This colourful created world can quickly help Malaysian Undergraduates to feel for the norms that shape a society through written forms. Literature can complement other materials used to develop the Malaysian learner’s understanding into the English language. As a conclusion literature can provide students with access to the culture of the people whose language they are studying.

Critical Thinking

In his 2009 paper Truong Thi My Van, literature is a good medium for critical thinking enhancement among language learners. The author also states that reading can bring about changes in the attitudes of the learners. According to Langer (1997), reading allows SLA readers to reflect on their lives, learning, and language. In page 607, Langer said that by reading literature text it helps to open “horizons of possibility”. This allows students to question, interpret, connect, and explore. Literature therefore helps in the development of higher order thinking skills. Today, critical thinking is extremely important for education especially at advanced levels of education or in order words Undergraduates. Critical thinking prepares us not to take things for granted and to attempt to unravel the hidden agenda of texts.

Personal Involvement

Reading can be useful in the acquisition of second language as it actively involves the reader to the text. Once any SLA reader begins to read, he or she will be drawn to the text. The longer the reader reads the more captive he or she becomes and when this happens, the purpose of reading changes from understanding the meaning to finding out what happens next in the plot (Hismanoglu 2005). The reader then becomes so involved that nothing else matter. When this happens, the reader the reader feels closer to the characters or a particular character and shares their emotional responses. This is beneficial to language acquisition. At this juncture, the prominence of the selection of a reading text in relation to the needs, expectations, and interests, language level of the students is evident (Elliot, 1990).

Sociolinguistic and Pragmatic Knowledge

As mentioned by Hismanoglu (2005), literature is an example of authentic material land this can help with the development of the English Language among Malaysian Secondary School Students. Due to its authenticity, literature can develop sociolinguistic and pragmatic knowledge as manifested in communicative competence models (McKay, 2001). Sociolinguistic and Pragmatic competence are two of the main components of the communicative language. Literature due to its authenticity is equipped with sociolinguistic and pragmatic information. These two features are more related to ‘appropriateness’ in language which can be found only in contextualized language such as literary texts especially dramas and plays. Readers can get firsthand experience as how to use the real language situations.

Emotional Intelligent

Reading literary texts foster emotional intelligence. Emotional Quotient is specifically related to human ability to control and manage their emotions and feelings in difficult situations. Students learn to control their anxiety affection, feeling and emotion through reading (Gajdusek, and van Dommelen, 1993). Therefore literature is a good source for nurturing Emotional Quotient.

Problems in Reading among Undergraduates of a Second Language

There are many problems in reading faced by undergraduate readers of a second language. The main problem is the lack of interest in reading books in English or other second language. Readers prefer to read book or any printed or online material in their mother tongue. They are familiar with the language structure and have been reading in their mother tongue since young. Many readers have difficulties in understanding what they read as the words are alienated to them. This may be caused by their unfamiliarity with the spelling of the word and sometimes the word may have two different meanings. They are no able to understand the context of the text and therefore lose interest in the book.

Another major problem is readers are forced to read. Dowhower (1987) has proven through his research that when a person is forced to read something, then the person will not enjoy the book and this leads to hating the book. The information from the book will not be absorbed into the person’s mind. Smith & Robinson (1980) defined reading as “an active attempt on the part of reader to understand a writer’s meaning” and when you are forced to read nothing is understood. Reading for pleasure or in other words reading for the fun of it will improves one’s language acquisition, critical thinking skills and pragmatic knowledge.

Frustration of readers towards text is frequent problem to reading. Frustration happens when the reader is unable to understand the meaning of the sentence in the first two times of reading Hismanoglu (2005). Readers will then take time to decode the text and if they still can’t understand they will leave the book. Another reason according to Hismanoglu is the reader is unable to connect with the context of the test. Readers of academic books find it difficult to comprehend the meaning because of the long explanations and the blend mood of the text. When there are too many unknown words, reader tend to skip those unknown words and this leads to not understanding the context of the reading material.

Time is another problem faced by undergraduates. With a hectic schedule, undergraduates are able to spend sufficient time reading. Hismanoglu 2005 stated that the reader will be more familiar with the language structure as reading material are authentic material and this can help with the development of the English Language or other second language. Due to its authenticity, literature can develop sociolinguistic and pragmatic knowledge as manifested in communicative competence models (McKay, 2001) If a reader doesn’t have enough time to read, he or she will miss out in improving themselves.

METHODOLOGY

Research Design

This study uses a quantitative research approach. Quantitative research is the precise count of behaviour, knowledge, opinions, or attitudes (Cooper and Schindler, 2006, p.716). There are several reasons why a quantitative questionnaire survey was chosen. According to Sekaran (2003), a questionnaire survey will ensure comparability of data, increase speed and accuracy of recording and facilitating data processing. Many relevant studies relating to perceptions have used the quantitative survey approach. Quantitative method can elicit information from a larger number of subjects in a short period time and it is cost effective

Research Instrument

The instruments used in this study is a questionnaire consisting of 30 items adopted from various instruments including instruments from of Christina Clark and Amelia Foster from the National Literacy Trust (2003), Kumar and Ansari (2010), Oyeronke (2009) and Lone (2011). The questionnaire has three sections. The first section had 8 questions regarding the respondents’ personal information, questions in this section ranged from gender to the spoken language at home. Section B consists of 10 questions regarding the respondents’ reading preferences. The final section consisted of 10 questions that focused on reading and two questions on problems in reading. The questions in all three sections were choice base questions.

Sampling

Twenty undergraduates from five faculties which are Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Faculty of Business and Accountancy, Faculty of Engineering, Faculty of Languages and Linguistics and Faculty of Science participated in this study. They were conveniently selected. The researcher administered the questionnaire to those who were in University of Malaya Main Library and the parking lot

Data Analysis

The questionnaires were collected and the data was entered in a template using Microsoft Office Excel 2007.The data was cleaned and analysed. As this is a pilot study with 20 subjects, it was easier and faster to analyse the data without using SPSS (Statistical Package for Social Science. Descriptive statistics was used to summarise the undergraduate students’ responses.

RESULTS

The Demography of the Respondents

The demographic profile of the respondents is given in Table 1

Table 1 Demography of the Respondents

Variable

Frequency

Percentage

Gender

Male

6

30%

Female

14

70%

Age

18-20

3

15%

21-23

13

65%

23 & above

4

20%

MUET Band

1

1

6%

2

13

76%

3

0

0%

4

3

18%

Undergraduate Year

1

5

25%

2

10

50%

3

4

20%

4

1

5%

Mother Tongue

Malay

7

35%

Mandarin

5

25%

Tamil

7

35%

Arabic

1

5%

Spoken Language

Malay

7

35%

Mandarin

5

25%

Tamil

7

35%

Arabic

1

5%

Base on Table 1, majority of the students are females (70%), aged 21-23 (65%), have obtained Band 2 in MUET (76%) and are in the second year of study (50%). The percentage of students with the Mother Tongue and their Spoken language correspond to each other.

Reading Preferences

The reading preferences among undergraduates in University of Malaya are summarized in Table 2

Table 2 The Reading Preferences

Variable

Frequency

Percentage

Enjoy Reading Books

Yes

16

80%

No

4

20%

Read Books In?

English

5

25%

Mother Tongue

15

75%

Number Of Books Read In The Past 6 Months

One

2

10%

Two

3

15%

Three

3

15%

Four

3

15%

Five

1

5%

Six And Above

8

40%

Frequently Of Reading In A Month

Once A Week

4

20%

Two To Three Times A Week

8

40%

Four Times A Week

2

10%

Everyday

6

30%

Time Spend Reading In One Session

Less Than 30 Minutes

1

5%

30 Minutes To One Hour

4

20%

One And A Half Hour

2

10%

Two Hours

2

10%

More Than Three Hours

4

20%

Time Of The Day

Morning

4

20%

Afternoon

2

10%

Evening

4

20%

Night

14

40%

Table 2 shows majority of the students (80%) enjoy reading books while most of them (75%) prefer to read in their own Mother Tongue. 40% of the students read more than five books in the past six months.

Eight of the students (40%), read two to three times per week. The time spent per reading session is distributed evenly over less than 30 minutes and more than three hours where both are 20%. Out of 20 students, only 40% or 14 students prefer to read at night

Reading Materials

The reading materials of undergraduates in University of Malaya is given in Table 3

Table 3 Reading Materials

Variable

Frequency

Percentage

Reading Material

Printed Material

7

35%

On-Line Material

4

20%

Both

11

55%

On-Line Devices

Computer

2

10%

Laptop

17

85%

Tablet

3

15%

Smart Phone

2

10%

Reading Genres

Thriller

7

35%

Classic

3

15%

Horror

4

20%

Crime

5

25%

Romance

9

45%

Fantasy

7

35%

History

6

30%

Biography

2

10%

Sports

4

20%

Politics

1

5%

Education

7

35%

Academic

3

15%

Religious

7

35%

Magazine

6

30%

Health

7

35%

Cookery

5

25%

Science Fiction

6

30%

Source Of Material

Bookstore

14

70%

Library

11

55%

Friends

7

35%

Photostatted

3

15%

Free On-Line

14

70%

Amazon

1

5%

Other On-line Store

1

5%

Table 3 describes that 11 students (55%) like to read both printed and on-line material. The most often used on-line device for reading on-line material is the laptop (85%).

The Romance Genre was reported to be the most preferred reading genre with a total of 11 students (45%). Only one student (5%) preferred the political genre.

The major source for printed material was the bookstore. This can be seen with 70% of the students said they bought they reading material from the bookstore. For on-line materials, 70% of the students mentioned that they read the material on-line for free

Reading Influence

The current reading influence of the undergraduates in University of Malaya is given in Table 4

Table 4 Reading Habit

Variable

Frequency

Percentage

Current Influence

Parents

4

20%

Siblings

2

10%

Friends

8

40%

Lectures

8

40%

Media

7

35%

Prefer To Read At:

Home

12

60%

Library

8

40%

Alone

17

85%

Selection Of Reading Material

Author

6

30%

Title

11

55%

Summary

8

40%

Price

2

10%

Illustration

3

15%

Genre

6

30%

Pages

4

20%

Cover

2

10%

Suggestion From Others

3

15%

Base on Table 4, most of the students cited that their friends (40%), their lectures (40%) and the media (35%) influence their current reading.

85% of the students (17) reported that they prefer to read alone and their preferred place to read is either at home (60%) or in the library (40%)

11 students or 55% select their reading material based on the title, while only 2 students, 10% choose their material based on the price of cover.

Reading Purpose of undergraduates

The reading purpose among undergraduates in University of Malaya is provided in Table 5.

Table 5 Reading Purpose of undergraduates in University of Malaya

Variable

Frequency

Percentage

Purpose Of Reading

Get Information

16

80%

Reference

6

30%

To Pass The Time

6

30%

To Complete A Course

3

 

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