Center for Language Acquisition at the Pennsylvania State University

Invited Lecture: Bernhardt

Dr. Elizabeth Bernhardt, Professor of German and Director of the Stanford Language Center, delivered a lecture entitled:



"Revisiting three key dilemmas in second language reading"


Date:  Monday, February 3, 2014

Time:  4:00-5:30 p.m.

Location:  22 Deike Building


This presentation focuses on three unresolved dilemmas in discussions of second language reading.  The first dilemma, the proficient reader or proficient text, is the most publicly contentious.  Some investigators search for features of text that render some texts more difficult than others and then superimpose those features onto a notion of second language reading development.  Others search for reader behaviors as indicators of comprehension development independent of text type or genre.  Until there is an understanding of the dilemma rather than a dismissal of it, little progress can be made in understanding the phenomenon of second-language reading.  The second dilemma, strategy instruction or comprehension instruction, has received little or no research attention.  In fact, teaching comprehension in a second-language is virtually unheard of, masked by strategy instruction.  In parallel to the proficient texts-readers dilemma, little progress can be made in the field until it distinguishes between teaching strategies and teaching comprehension.  The final dilemma, L1 or L2 in the instruction or assessment of L2 comprehension, confronts a long-held dogma regarding the exclusive use of the foreign language.  Yet the role of L1 literacy in L2 literacy is undeniable.  Until there is an acceptance and understanding of the L1 in L2 literacy development, the field risks suppressing the key strength that any L2 learner possesses.  The paper contends that these dilemmas are stifling progress in developing knowledge about the second-language reading process and will argue for a reader-based model of proficiency that embraces literacy knowledge that second-language readers already possess.


Elizabeth Bernhardt is the John Roberts Hale Director of the Language Center, Professor of German Studies, and Bass University Fellow in Foreign Languages at Stanford University.  Her research focuses on second-language reading, teacher education, and policy and planning for foreign- and second-language programs.  Her book, Reading Development in a Second Language (1991) earned her the MLA's Mildenberger Prize, as well as the Edward Fry Award from the National Reading Conference as an outstanding contribution to literacy research.  She has published in the Modern Language Journal, Applied Linguistics, Foreign Language Annals, and Reading Research Quarterly; recent books include Understanding Advanced Second Language Reading (Routledge, 2011).


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