Making Texts R & S Readable

     These two "texts" may have surprised you as possible "reading" materials because one is composed mostly of three charts, and the other is an advertisement for Club Med (a tropical resort that many remember as a club for swinging singles, but which is now advertising to appeal to families).  Nonetheless, such "texts" are definitely part of the reading that is done in any culture.  Moreover, if a student is to "learn to read" in a way that eventually fosters joining with an L2 community, it is crucial that they learn to read not only the written foreign language, but also the visual language of that foreign language culture (as well as other factors that influence individuals' habits in reading, such as typographic conventions).

     To the discerning eye, that visual language is often as foreign as the verbal langauge is, and, in that sense, it can be read for its unique characteristics.  When a reader realizes that a fairly consistent pattern of difference exists between the visual languages of two cultures, then that pattern can lead to inferences about cultural difference, as well.

     The comparison of the two computer articles discussed in the follow-up to the discussion of Text Q already suggests some cultural comparisons.  The typography and layout of the "average" German-language text in a periodical has fewer graphics and larger blocks of text;  the graphics it has will tend to be more technical (and often more technically detailed) and less colorful.

     Text R, "Der SZ Wetterbericht," differs from the average US newspaper weather-report (click here for a sample).  What needs to be "read" is the fact that yesterday's weather is told in full sentences, while the forecast is in phrases.  A significant amount of cultural information is embedded in the diagrams and charts that is largely absent in the US weather report:  which cities are considered "vacation cities,"  which cities are "significant" markers in Europe, Asia, and the US (note that it's "Amerika" and includes Mexico City, but no cities in Canada).

     There are therefore possible cultural connections and comparisons to be made using this text, but there are also ways to use this text for practice in language-based communication.   Yesterday's report (in the past tense) can be rewritten into tomorrow's forecast (in the future) or today's description of the weather (in the present);  or any activity about which the student has read (e.g. picnics, sports) could be transposed onto this weather map, requiring that student to "read" it with a particular goal in mind (e.g. will we be able to have a picnic tomorrow;  what could we plan to do this weekend, in Germany and beyond?).

     However, these options for what one reads out of this text are not contained in or indicated by the text -- the text offers simply several sets of compatible information, for an audience member to consume as desired.  If the novice reader does not have a point of view from which to approach the text (a clear cultural or grammatical goal, for example), there is either too much unorganized information to read -- or not enough (the pictures speak for themselves if a reader understands how isobars work on maps).  A text like this is not easily readable unless a reader is motivated to  use the text in ways that a member of the L1 audience would.  (Note that this is the case with other kinds of texts like encyclopedia articles or direction manuals, as well -- they each have "too much" and "too little" information simultaneously, unless the reader has a specific goal or set of goals to achieve with them.)  This text thus exemplifies how adding a point of view (a connection, a cultural comparison, or a reference to a community) can make an act of reading more informative for the reader.

     Text S, "Der Club, in dem man sich entdecken kann," is a good contrast to the weather report (and would make a good teaching unit in tandem with it, since it is an advertisement for a vacation idyll -- where weather would be important).  As an advertisement, this text offers mainly a point of view:  it is trying to convince the reader to come to Club Med (for a wonderful, interesting, family-friendly vacation).  It tells the story of how a couple and their child decide to go to Club Med, in a straightforward narrative of part dialogue and part prose.

     Yet easy access to this story depends on a reader knowing what Club Med is -- a fact that comes clear by the end of the reading for a proficient reader.  What is particularly disruptve for the reader about this text, in terms of a point of view for reading, is the fact that the text's point of view is not reflected in the illustration.  The photo is technically beautiful, but its relevance to the text is abstract, mediated through the reader's prior knowledge about the "Club Med" indicated only by a logo;  there is no immediately evident connection between the text and the picture (the text, for instance, speaks about families, and this is only a mother and child).  Otherwise, the reader is not immediately sure who this mother and child are, where they are standing, why they don't have (many) clothes on, and if it's just raining -- in the sunshine. The "who, what, where, when" of this photo thus do not represent a concrete point of view;  at best, they add a "warm and fuzzy feeling" to the text, which must stand on its own.

     To find this text and photo readable, then, the reader must know what "Club Med" is, and that this is an advertisement -- that sets up the mood and activates the reader's knowledge about why people do or don't go on group vacations to the tropics.

     In an alternate case, a teacher can easily use an illustration to make a text readable.  The following advertisement for office electronics shows how a picture can reinforce a text in positive ways, helping a novice reader guess about what piece of office equipment is which  in German. A good illustration, like this one, functions like a picture-dictionary, showing rather than explaining what key terminology means.  (Note, however, that this illustration is not very attractive as a picture.)

     In other cases, lists or charts with self-evident purposes that remind the reader about bundles of vocabulary are useful ways to offer vocabulary help to encourage reading for sense rather than translating.  For example:  a list organized by date of significant dates and events leading to and through the Second World War would help a reader realize the political danger that "Der Vater" and his family are in;  a starchart such as the one included in the article on Hale-Bopp teaches constellation names; a famous painting may reflect the family group described in a particular story.  Each has a clear point of view (the reader can almost immediately identify "what the text is trying to do"), which can then enhance the readability of a block of print-text.

 TEXT PAIR 2 in Exercise 1