The Effect Of Background Knowledge On The Reading Comprehension Of Second Language Learners


  • Martin G. Levine Ed.D.,

    1. California State University–Northridge
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    • 2

      (University of California at Los Angeles) Professor of Bilingual Education at California State University, Northridge.

  • George J. Haus Ph.D.

    1. California State University–Northridge
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    • 3

      (Indiana University) Associate Professor of Special Education and Evaluator for a Title VII Bilingual Teacher Training Project at California State University, Northridge.


ABSTRACT  This study investigated the effect of relevant background knowledge on the reading comprehension of high school students of Spanish as a Foreign Language. Two hundred three Spanish Level 2 and Spanish Level 3 students were asked to read an authentic report of a baseball game from a Spanish language newspaper. Comprehension of the text was determined by a 12-item multiple choice test consisting of two types of questions: explicit and implicit. A subject's relevant background knowledge of baseball was assessed by means of a 9-item multiple choice questionnaire. Subsequently, 52 of the original subjects were identified as having “Limited Knowledge” of baseball and 38 as having “High Kno wledge” for a total of 90 subjects. Forty-four of them were enrolled in Spanish Level 3 classes and 46 in Spanish Level 2. Test scores for these 90 subjects were used in the data analysis. Results indicate that 1) background kno wledge is a significant factor that affects reading comprehension across the two types of questions when the textual material is at the “instructional” reading level and 2) background knowledge could be more important than language level in comprehending such material.