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Cigdem Göle

The Difficulties That EFL Learners Have with Reading Text on the Web

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With the advent of technology, computers have become an indispensable part of daily life. Students access the Internet at home and at school on a regular basis. They browse different web pages, check emails and chat with friends. While browsing different web pages they take part in a lot of reading activities. The Internet provides new text formats, new ways to interact with the information on the web pages. The new methods of interacting with information could overwhelm some EFL learners in Taiwan, who are taught to read from traditional text printed on paper.

Reading traditional text in the field of ESL/EFL has been well studied over the past few decades. When reading printed text, readers start from the top left-hand corner and finish at the bottom right-hand corner. Readers' eyes move in a straight line, making the reading experience a linear activity. However, the process of reading hypertext is uniquely different (Barnes, 1994). When reading web pages, readers click a hyperlink and then they are led to a different web page. The web pages on the Internet consist of graphics, sounds, pictures, text, animation, and clips of films. Readers read information in scattered bits and pieces not in a textual whole. Their eyes move in a circular motion. According to Ojala (2000), online reading is a non-linear activity. Reading hypertext is different from reading printed text.

Background

Since reading printed text is different from reading text on the web, the purpose of the study was to find the difficulties that EFL learners experienced and provide pedagogical suggestions accordingly. Students were asked to do reading comprehension exercises on the Internet, and then they were interviewed regarding the reading difficulties they encountered.

The Influential Factors of Reading Text on the Web

Students were asked the influential factors for reading text on the web. The answers were divided into five types.

  1. Eyestrain and eyes-blurred: thirty students (36%) mentioned that their eyes were strained after staring at the computer screens for a period of time. They also felt their eyes blurred and could not read text clearly.
  2. Others: Sixteen students (18%) pointed out different factors. Three students mentioned they could not think on computer screens, five of them said it was because of habit, four of them said when they read online, they wanted to browse other irrelevant websites, two of them said the radiation of computers affected reading on computer screens, and two of them said the speed of downloading was a critical point.
  3. Background color: fourteen students (16%) pointed out that the background color was a crucial factor that affected reading on computer screens. They did not like a bright background that made their eyes feel uncomfortable.
  4. Lines: thirteen students (15%) said that it was easy to skip lines when reading on computer screens. They sometimes got lost between lines, and had to look for the line they intend to read.
  5. Font size: thirteen students (15%) stated that the words on computer screens were too small. It increased the difficulty in reading.

The biggest factor of reading text on the web was eyestrain. When students' eyes felt tired, they just skipped the questions. Since their eyes felt uncomfortable, it was tiring to go backwards and forwards among web pages. The second influential factor was the background. Students did not like a bright background.

The third influential factor is lines and font size. On paper, there are 38 lines on one page using a single space format. A participant can read the questions and find answers from the passage. When the length of the text is not long, some students might still remember where, in the upper, middle or bottom of the page or even which line they saw that particular words or phrases. But on a web page, there could be unlimited lines. When students tried to find a certain word or line, they had to go from the top of the page and look for the answers. They might just get lost in between lines as they mentioned. Therefore, it affected the way the students read in this study. Also, students felt that the words on the web pages were too small. It was fairly tiring for them to read every word on the computer. One particular influential factor listed in "others" was that students thought there were too many websites on the Internet; they would feel like going to other websites and this distracted their attention from the test.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Reading Text on the Web

Students were asked the advantages and disadvantages for reading text on web pages. Their answers were categorized as follows:

Advantages: (Excerpts from Students)

  • It was convenient for searching for information.
  • There were many animated pictures.

Disadvantages: (Excerpts from Students)

  • My eyes got tired easily sitting in front of a computer screen.
  • There were too many words.
  • We could not write anything on computer screens.
  • It was not convenient to carry a computer everywhere.
  • All the words and pictures were on the computer. It was not real.
  • It was more difficult to locate a certain word or line on computer screens.
  • I did not get used to reading on computer screens.
  • There was radiation.
  • I felt tense reading on computers.
  • I could not focus my mind on computer screens.
  • It wasted electric power.
  • It was not convenient to find something on computers because it took time turning on computers and waiting for downloading.

While reading the text on the computer screens, students pointed out many disadvantages. For instance, they felt tired physically reading words in front of a computer. Also, that it was not convenient to take the computer everywhere, and that they could not focus their attention on the computer screens.

The rest of the article can be found at

http://iteslj.org/Articles/Tseng-TextOnTheWeb.html

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