Definitions, Interpretations, Comprehension and Meanings: Any Link?


Reading problems have reached such an alarming dimension that students now leave school without knowing how to perform simple reading tasks.

Many can even hardly read employment applications: (Conley et al, 1992). But this is not without some formal reading tuition having been imparted to them at least at the primary school level.

This means that the problem is not that they have not learned to read, but they cannot use reading to engage in a variety of ways of thinking.

And without this ability, our students will be incapable of communicating and surviving in a print-based school environment and a dream print-based society in our developing countries.

The following is therefore a cursory glance into the issue of the reading process, which by definition implies interpretation emanating from the concomitant to reading comprehension and therefore effective reading.

Some hints are given at the end of the discourse to aid reading interpretation while two exercises are offered as incentives to better reading to produce a skillful reader.

Some Philosophers’ Definitions

Reading comprehension as a message reconstruction is a central idea of many psycholinguistic models of reading. Apart from this, most scholarly definitions converge on a consensus that reading interpretation.

Ruddell (1968), defines reading as  ‘’a complex psycholinguistic behavior which consists of decoding written language units, processing the resulting language counterparts through structural and semantic dimensions, and interpreting the deep structure data relative to an individual’s established objectives.

Put more communicatively, Smith (1971) says reading’’…  is an act of communication in which information is transferred from a transmitter to a receiver, whether the reader is a scholar deciphering a medieval text or a child identifying a single letter on a blackboard.

Unoh (1976) regards reading as’’…. A cognitive, language processing task. The list is not exhaustive since experts are as varied as their definition definitions.

But what is essential is that reading should not be conceived merely as primarily a visual task; word recognition or reproduction of what the author has said.

Rather it should be seen as a thinking process whose success contributes to the total development of the personality of the reader.

Reading by Definition is Interpretation

Reading is a mental process that involves the interpretation of signs or symbols as perceived through the sense organ.

READ ALSO:  How Human Memory Works

The ability to interpret these symbols is a specific form of learned behavior which requires grasping meanings through association that has been formed with what is printed.

Perhaps some scholarly definition of reading will suffice to emphasize the interpretative nature of reading.

Effective Reading is Reading Interpretation

 During the process of reading, printed lines are decoded to discover the meanings of the symbols. It is when this is done that reading is effective.

Effective reading, in effect, is a communication process that involves the processing and interpretation of linguistic cues and symbols and also the use of the higher mental processes of recall, reasoning, evaluation, imagination, problem-solving, etc.

The effective or skilled reader is one who actively explores the materials in search of information. He employs techniques of anticipation and of rapid visual and cognitive processing of language in arriving at the meaning of the reading text.

Reading Interpretation is Reading Comprehension

 There is no doubt that comprehension is concomitance to interpretation. If the content is not correctly interpreted it cannot be comprehended and unless one comprehends the content, one cannot interpret it. What are then the goals of content reading?

Goals of Reading

Conley (1992) identifies three goals of content reading viz:

  • Understanding essential content.
  • Learning how to read-to-learn and
  • Developing motivation for lifelong reading.

 Understanding essential content

Understanding essential content means knowing how to distinguish between what is essential in a subject and what is not.

It means learning implications that transform loose facts into meaningful knowledge and then being able to communicate that knowledge in meaningful ways.

 Learning how to read to learn

Reading to learn is an interactive process in which meaning is constructed in the mind of the reader. The perspectives and knowledge of the reader interact with the language and perspectives of the writer.

It is a constructive process in the way that readers draw from several sources of information to build their message from sources within themselves.

Indeed, the meaning that readers obtain from written language depends on the nature of their experience with the topic and the degree of affinity of the written language to their awareness of the spoken language (Balogun 1980).

READ ALSO:  Understanding Levels of Reading Better

Reading, in this context, is, therefore, an act of communicating with the writer. Motivation implies the positive attitudes and interests developed by the reader which form the basis for the will to read.

Developing motivation for lifelong reading

Readers who are motivated to perform in a content area have a good self-concept, value what they are learning, and are aware of their subject specific skills. Differences in motivation are often the result of past school experiences.

Reading Comprehension is Reading for Meaning

Reading comprehension which is expected to emanate from successful content reading implies understanding a written text.

This in turn means extracting the required information from it as efficiently as possible. It requires the following stages according to Grellet (1990):

  • What do we read? Is it novels, letters, books, puzzles, instruction, etc?
  • Why do we read? Is it for pleasure, for information,n, etc?
  • How do we read? Skimming, Scanning, Extensive reading or intensive reading?

Reading comprehension is therefore reading for meaning. It is also known as purposeful reading.

Advice on Reading for Meaning (Reading Interpretation)

When you read, you must havee a clear purpose.

Purposeful reading saves time for you to spend on other study activities.

When you study by yourself, you should set your own purpose. To develop faster reading, set yourself a time to achieve that purpose.

 Before we conclude this chapter it is worthwhile to take a cursory glance at John Mumby’s hints on skills required in Reading to facilitate our reading interpretation.

Skills Required in Reading: (Adapted from John Mumby’s Communicative Syllabus Design)

  1. Recognizing the script of a language
  2. Deducting the meaning and use of familiar lexical items
  3. Understanding explicitly use the stated information
  4. Understanding information when not explicitly stated
  5. Understanding conceptual meaning
  6. Understanding the communicative value (function) of sentences and utterances
  7. Understanding relations within the sentence
  8. Understanding relations between the parts of a text through lexical cohesion devices
  9. Interpreting text by going outside it
  10. Recognizing the main point or important information in a piece of discourse
  11. Recognizing indicators in discourse
  12. Distinguishing the main idea from supporting details
  13. Extracting salient points to summarize (the next, an ideal etc.)
  14. Selective extraction of relevant points from a text
  15. Basic reference skills
  16. Skimming
  17. Scanning to locate specifically required information
  18. Transcoding information to diagrammatic display
READ ALSO:  8 Best Short Lessons on Reported Speech

Some Hints on Developing Reading Skill

Grellet (1990) has given some hints on developing Reading Skills. The reader is urged to ask questions while reading to perform two functions (1) To clarify the organization of the passage and (2) To clarify the contents of the passage.

To achieve (1) i.e. to clarify the organization of the passage the reader is urged to ask the following questions among others: what is the function of the passage in the general organization of the text? Rhetorical organization (e.g. contrast, comparison)

Cohesive devices (e.g. link words)

To achieve (2) i.e. to clarify the contents of the passage, the reader is urged to:

ask the following questions among others:

Is it a passage presenting the plain fact (direct reference)?

Is it presenting implies fact (inference)?

Is it urging the reader to deduce the meaning (Supposition)?

Or is it requiring my evaluation?

Summary and Conclusion  

We have learned that reading by definition, is interpretation. Except at the stage of learning to read, no reading takes place effectively without interpreting the content.

It is when the reader comprehends what he reads that he can interpret and Vice versa. The goal of content reading is to learn how to read to learn and not merely learn to read.

Generally, reading must be purposeful in which case, the reader reads for meaning. Let us conclude with the following from an expert, Francoise Grellet (1990).

Meaning is not inherent in the text. Each reader brings his own what he reads based on what he expects from the text and his previous knowledge.

This shows how difficult it is to test competence in reading comprehension and how great the temptation is to impose one’s own invitation on the learners.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like