L1 Reading Habits of Young Emirati Women from the East Coast

Abstract

“The Arab Reader is Dead!” proclaimed a life-size gravestone above a mock grave at the Beirut International Book Fair a few years ago. Hyperbole though this may be, there is certainly widespread concern among Arab intellectuals that Arabs do not read. This view is shared by many English teachers in this part of the world, although some (such as Williams, 2006) warn against assuming that it is true for all Arab learners.

Individuals differ in their approach to reading based on their personal experiences at home or at school as well as their cultural background (Aebersold & Field, 1997; King, 1986). An important feature of teaching is to be sensitive to the cultural patterns of foreign students (Patil, 2007). Singhal (1998) relates this specifically to the teaching of reading, saying “it is therefore important teachers know as much as possible about the cultural, linguistic and educational backgrounds of their readers since many of these factors influence reading in an L2 context.”

Therefore we attempted to ascertain how far the prevailing stereotype of a non-reading Arab is true of our students at Fujairah Women’s College. In order to gain insight into the reading habits in their L1 and how much reading they have been exposed to in their daily lives while growing up, we distributed a questionnaire to all students in the 2008 cohorts of Diploma Foundations and Higher Diploma Foundations (482 respondents in all). We also carried out supplementary interviews with six students. This article firstly discusses the idea that Arabs do not read, and then presents the results of our survey. Finally it makes brief suggestions of some areas to consider when developing a reading programme.

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