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Patrikis, P. C. (Ed.). (2003). Reading Between the Lines: Perspectives on Foreign Language Literacy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Pp. ix + 178     $35.95 (hardcover) ISBN 0-300-09781-6             $25 (papercover) ISBN 0-300-09781-6

Reviewed by Dexin Tian
Bowling Green State University

June 19, 2007

What are the new perspectives that have been explored in the present book since so much (see Carrell et al., 1988; Nuttall, 1996; Kern, 2000; Burt et al., 2003; and Plass, 2003) has already been written on reading in foreign language education? Published in 2003, Reading Between the Lines: Perspectives on Foreign Language Literacy is an enlightening book on the theoretical understanding of and practical approaches to acquiring literacy through reading in foreign language education. All the nine chapters are extensively revised essays originally presented at conferences organized by the Consortium for Language Teaching and Learning at MIT in 1998 and Brown University in 2000. All the authors in this volume understand and advocate an active approach to reading and place reading at the heart of learning a foreign language and entering a foreign culture with in-depth theoretical exploration and convincing empirical evidence. Besides the Introduction by the editor, Peter C. Patrikis, the book consists of the nine chapters, a note to the contributors, and an index. Patrikis begins the Introduction by interpreting “Between the Lines” in the title as something “Zen-like,” which suggests that something hidden needs to be explored in the literature on reading in the field of foreign education; furthermore the interpretation of meaning in a text needs to go beyond the “linear assembly of its individual words, their dictionary definitions, their morphology or structure, and their syntactic relations with other words” (p. 1). He also points out that serious reading was neglected when the AudioLingual Mehod was prevalent, and there have been repeated announcements of the death of reading with the challenges of television, computer games, and web surfing. However, the contributors to this volume are renewing an emphasis on the significance of reading in foreign language education in different ways and with different perspectives.

In Chapter 1, “Reading Cultures and Education,” William A. Johnson argues that reading is a social phenomenon deeply rooted in a given society. Using the cognitive model, Johnson has discovered that the difference between the paradigms in the Greco-Roman reading culture and the contemporary techno-culture lies in the socio-cultural construction of reading. One striking contrast is the unstructuredness of ancient physical text and the structured features in the contemporary reading culture. Nevertheless, both depend on the use of a text for intellectual discourse, a bound group to validate the use of the text, and a comfortable feeling with the selected group. Thus, the key to foreign language education is to establish the socio-cultural construction of reading groups or web reading communities in the present-day techno-culture.

In Chapter 2, “Literacy and Cognition,” Mark Turner deals with the relationship between these two complex constructs. Turner regards literacy as a learned ability to deploy elaborate conceptual structures such as a language or writing and to blend features that conflict to make inferences about the empty spaces between languages for conceptual integration. Cognition, for Tuner, means the ability of conceptual integration, which makes literacy possible. Emphasizing the processes of conceptual blending or the cognitive operation of conceptual integration as the determining factors for differentiating languages and cultures, Turner points out that to learn a foreign language or its cultural styles is to learn to deploy its conceptual blending schemes for grammatical constructions, reading, and writing.

In Chapter 3, “Literacy as a New Organizing Principle for Foreign Language Education,” Richard G. Kern defines literacy as the use of socially, historically, and culturally situated practices of creating and interpreting meaning through texts. Based on this definition, he proposes seven principles for foreign language teaching. These involve interpretation, collaboration, conventions, cultural knowledge, problem solving, reflection and self-reflection, and language use. Such literacy-based teaching emphasizes the significance of critical reflection so as to develop the learners’ ability to analyze, interpret, and create meaning in their reading.

In Chapter 4, “Playing Games with Literacy: The Poetic Function in the Era of Communicative Language Teaching,” Carl Blyth argues that the contemporary communicative approach fails to recognize the nature of literacy in foreign language teaching by overemphasizing the referential function of language. By proposing a curriculum that combines referential texts with texts emphasizing the poetic function of language in beginning language classrooms with songs, poetry, jokes, and nursery rhymes, Blyth demonstrates the importance of poetic and phatic functions for language acquisition in his traditional classroom and on-line French teaching.

In Chapter 5, “Reading Between the Cultural Lines,” Gilberte Furstenberg illustrates how she and her colleagues are training their students to read between textual and cultural lines and become literate intercultural readers with the help of a network-based communication project called Cultura. Merging a class of French-learning American students with a class of English-learning French students, Cultura develops the students’ cross-cultural understanding and cultural literacy through reading, rereading, and analyzing a variety of similar materials presented in juxtaposition on the web.

In Chapter 6, “Reading and Technology in Less Commonly Taught Languages and Cultures,” Masako Ueda Fidler uses speeches of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, President Vaclac Havel of the Czech Republic, and Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori of Japan to reveal that text interpretation requires analysis at both the micro- and macro-levels. Fidler finds that the web materials have great potential for incorporating the properties at the two levels, which can benefit learning of reading in less commonly taught languages such as Czech.

In Chapter 7, “Experiential Learning and Collaborative Reading: Literacy in the Space of Virtual Encounters,” Silke von der Emde and Jeffrey Schneider explain how to bring MOO, an on-line text-mediated virtual-reality, into full play in teaching reading in a foreign language classroom. Their efforts have successfully made reading into a collaborative, experiential, and circular enterprise. As one of the productive and beneficial network-based language technologies, MOO helps teachers establish a new paradigm for teaching in the low-intermediate foreign language classroom and gives students a profound new feeling about the possibilities for gaining literacy through on-line reading.

In Chapter 8, “Double-Booked: Translation, Simultaneity, and Duplicity in the Foreign Literature Classroom,” Mark Webber discusses a series of double relationships that impact teachers and students in their foreign language teaching and learning. The double or duplicitous relationships involve readings of literature in German and in English translation and interpretations of literary works such as the writings of Franz Kafka in German and in English. Webber examines such duplicities as both challenges and opportunities for the teaching of foreign language literacy.

In the last chapter, “Ethics, Politics, and Advocacy in the Foreign Language Classroom,” Nicolas Shumway tells stories about Dante, El Cid and two Dominican priests, and politics yesterday and today so as to make clear the relationships among foreign language teaching, ethics, and politics as well as the responsibilities of teachers and students. Shumway posits that it is an ethical choice for teachers to select what to teach in the foreign language classroom, and politics cannot be avoided when language teachers provide their students with the mechanisms for imagining other people. Therefore, teaching and learning foreign language literacy is not only an educational but also a moral responsibility.

Reading Between the Lines: Perspectives on Foreign Language Literacy is an enlightening book for foreign language educators, students of foreign languages, and all other literacy workers at different levels. The contributors to the volume are foreign language teachers of English, Czech, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Latin, and Spanish. They are either established scholars with a long list of academic publications on foreign language education or experienced experts in integrating contemporary techno-culture with foreign language literacy acquisition. They succeed in revitalizing the core functions of reading in foreign language acquisition and cultural awareness.

In summary, the book re-emphasizes the significance of reading in foreign language education and revitalizes the core functions of it in times of change. In Chapters 1, 5, 6 and 7, the authors either theoretically reveal the life of reading in the socio-cultural construction of reading groups and on-line reading communities or empirically prove the dynamics of reading in the present-day network-based techno-culture. No matter what teaching approaches are prevalent and how technology changes the learning environment, reading still proves to be the essential input, especially for interested groups of readers. Throughout the book the authors, on the one hand, look between the lines to examine the nature of reading and propose alternative approaches and, on the other hand, advocate reading between the lines of texts for analyzing, interpreting, and reflecting on meaning. In Chapters 3, 4, 5 and 7, the authors suggest employing critical reflection as a learning device, using songs, poetry, jokes, and nursery rhymes to explore the poetic and phatic functions of language, and adopting close reading and circular reading for cross-cultural understanding. To them, reading between the lines is reading between the cultures.

Finally, it is through theoretical framework and empirical proof that the authors present their perspectives on foreign language literacy. Through the various theoretical lenses of cognition, applied linguistics, technology as hermeneutic, history, literary criticism, and cross-cultural analysis, the authors demonstrate the active process of reading with illustrations from their own field experiences. Individually, each brings a new perspective to re-emphasize the significance of reading in foreign language teaching and learning. Collectively, their essays reveal the richness of a variety of new ways of teaching foreign language reading, interpreting the meaning of texts, and shouldering educational and moral responsibilities.


Burt, M., Peyton, J. K., & Adams, R. (2003). Reading and Adult English Language Learners: A Review of the Research. Washington D.C: CAL, Center for Applied Linguistics and National Center for ESL Literacy Education.

Carrell, P.L., Devine, J., & Eskey, D.E. (Eds.). (1988). Interactive approaches to second language reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kern, R. (2000). Literacy and Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nuttall, C. (1996). Teaching reading skills in a foreign language (2nd ed.). Oxford: Heinemann English Language Teaching.

Plass J.L. (2003). Cognitive load in reading a foreign language text with multimedia aids and the influence of verbal and spatial abilities. Computers in Human Behavior 19(2), 221-143.

About the Reviewer

Dexin Tian, a Ph.D. student in the School of Communication Studies of Bowling Green State University. He majors in intercultural communication and his research interest is copyright infringement and protection in China.

Copyright is retained by the first or sole author, who grants right of first publication to the Education Review.

Editors: Gene V Glass, Kate Corby, Gustavo Fischman

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