Improving Reading Fluency And Comprehension In Adult Esl Learners Using Bottom-Up And Top-Down Vocabulary Strategy

Two common teaching strategies are known as top-down and bottom-up, which they take opposite approaches to provide students with an education.P.L.Carrell (1988) states, a top-down teaching style focuses on providing students a large view of a subject, immersing them in a big picture without explaining the components that make up the subject. For example, in an English as a Second Language class, a top-down strategy would begin by immersing students in all aspects of learning English immediately, including writing, reading and pronunciation. Students would not be taught the intricacies of vowels, nouns and pronouns first, instead they would be plunged into the totality of learning English and then gradually learn the building blocks that make up the English language.

Also, Carrell (1988) believed that unlike a top-down teaching strategy, which takes a macro view of a subject first, a bottom-up teaching strategy begins with the component parts of a subject, and gradually builds up to the whole. For example, in an ESL class, a bottom-up strategy would begin with things such as phonics, letters, vowels and syllables, which are the building blocks of language. It's only after students have mastered these specific rules and systems that they move on to speaking and reading.

P.A.Sabatier (1986) says, both teaching strategies have the same learning objectives but different ways of achieving them. Bottom-up teaching is more instructor-driven and focuses on the minutia of a subject as a way of decoding and simplifying each component through repetition and memorization. Top-down teaching is concerned with motivating students to learn through direct interaction and immersion, and allowing them to find meaning in a subject by applying their own experiences.

J,Biggs (1999) explains, Due to the fact that top-down emphasizes instruction via context and relies in part on a student's background and experience to acquire knowledge, it may not provide the same level of specific subject skills as a bottom-up teaching approach. On the other hand, bottom-up will strengthen the knowledge of subject's fundamentals. Its lack of emphasis on learning within a larger context can limit its effectiveness. Just think about learning the specific meaning of a word without understanding how it can change based upon culture and use cases.

Recent researches by Oliver and Young (2016) is done to compare these two approaches to indicate the more effective approach in the learning process of the students of English as a second language (ESL), proved that bottom-up training has a negative impact, while the top-down method was helpful for improving fluency and comprehension of the learners. Since many ESL learners have less adequate vocabulary, they have limitation communication especially in reading and writing.

Malley (1985) admits, Poor readers will tend to read less, and it will keep getting worst without learning new words.On the opposite competent readers will read more, learning more words every time and increasing their comprehension. In this case, we can say that the competent readers will increase their vocabulary in an intentional way, while the other one is only incidentally.Reading is a highly self-motivational activity, the inability to read well may lead to a loss of motivation and increased levels of frustration.

Further investigations are required to determine the better way to improve the reading skills, with particular attention to L2 adult learners trying to study at university.

Zimmerman (1997) found that meaningful repetitious use of words, in an interactive learning, had a positive impact on vocabulary acquisition and reading development.This approach is the same used by famous applications (e.g. Duolinguo, Babbel, Tandem) to teach students and occasional learners new vocabulary and grammar rules.Bottom-up and top-down analysisDuring a reading comprehension a student will use his knowledge of the genre to predict what will be in the text, resulting in a top-down approach. His understanding of affixation, to guess meaning, is the bottom-up approach.For example, asking them to predict what a newspaper article might be about from the headline or first sentence, will encourage them to use top-down processing on the article.

H.Nagao (2002) states, in top down learners or better ESL learners should predict the whole meaning of the text, encouraging them to continue reading while they lead to struggling with the meaning of words by using their knowledge (of the content matter) instead of their knowledge of the vocabularies. Also he says, in bottom up strategy learner focus on each word in a sentence. In this case there are many theories and experiments, and Nagao (2002) believed that top down strategy is more helpful for learners while they only concentrate on the whole meaning of the text.

In the book of Hirotaka, Nagao “Top-Down Skills to Increase Reading Comprehension”, examined through on research about the interaction between second language English learners at senior high school and the text.Since the old way of teaching used in Japanese high school was focused on bottom up skill due to less time of lessons to use other material than text books and more focus on the lexicon and grammar which they thought are the most important part more than comprehension of the whole text. They started using top down in some classes."The concepts which a reader brings to a text are actually more important than the text itself for comprehension". But they start ignoring the bottom up strategy in their classes because, they thought, the best way for improving grammatical knowledge for ESL learner is the old strategy and they focused more on top-down strategy. Two important concepts in choosing the strategy are awareness of students and level of difficulties of the text. While you cannot change drastically the old way of teaching but you can try a small change because it is important the students spend time on learning top down skill. Learning how to read will help students to read rapidly and better understanding the context, otherwise without any these strategies they can only read without comprehension. Students shouldn’t know every word in the passage, while they need good comprehension of the whole text. This research tried to find out the importance of top down strategy in understand better of young children who are now leaning and who are have already learned to read also how the information of background activated while they are reading.

After some research, Kintsch (2005) states, the top-down processing appears in very young children, almost since they come into contact with reading. It develops in a quick and autonomous way, and in parallel to bottom up processing, supporting theories about the complementariness of both processes. They examined between different grades of a primary school firstly students have to understand the percentage of comprehension by asking the questions and secondly by measuring the time of finishing the task which for the younger students took more time as difficulties in the words. However, the results showed that both strategies are complementary for each other, while the top down strategy is still not in the same level of bottom up, and it needs more development.

Studies in reading comprehension and listening comprehension have investigated the processing skills used by skilled and less-skilled readers / listeners. According to A.B.Tsui and J.Fullilove (1998), some of these studies observe that skilled readers / listeners are those who are better able to engage in top-down processing whereas others maintain that they are better able to engage in bottom-up processing. This study investigates the kind of processing skill that is more important in discriminating the performance of L2 learners on listening test items in large-scale public examinations in Hong Kong over a period of seven years. Two variables were investigated the schema type of the aural text and the question type' Two types of schema were identified. The first type is referred to as the ‘non-matching’ schema type in which schema activated by the initial linguistic input which is not congruent with the subsequent linguistic input. Candidates need to be able to process the incoming linguistic cues rapidly and accurately, and to revise their developing schema accordingly in order to get the correct answer. The second type, is referred to as the ‘matching’ schema type in which schema activated by the initial linguistic input which is congruent with the subsequent linguistic input. Hence, candidates could rely on top-down processing to get the correct answer. Two types of questions were also identified. The first type is ‘global’ questions which required candidates to understand the text as a whole and to draw conclusions or inferences. Hence, candidates need to process all the key linguistic cues rapidly and accurately in order to get the correct answer. The second type is ‘; local these answers in the entire paper, were compared for schema type and question type using a series of paired t -tests. The results showed that ‘non-matching’ items yield significantly higher mean criterion scores than ‘matching’ items irrespective of question type, suggesting that bottom-up processing was more important than top-down processing in discriminating the listening performance of L2 learners on test items. As seen even in other fields, like learning a new programming language, the top down approach is more effective and requires less time to learn compared with the bottom up, but is supposed for a person who has already learned one language or more. We, however, believe that the top down approach is applicable to the first-time learners. The top down approach also fosters the understanding of reusability, since it develop the skill to predict from the context without mastering all the definitions.

Whereas there has been some research on the role of bottom-up and top-down processing in the learning of a second or foreign language, very little attention has been given to bottom-up and top-down instructional approaches to language teaching. The research reported here used a quasi-experimental design to assess the relative effectiveness of two modes of academic English vocabulary instruction, bottom-up and top-down, to Chinese university students (N = 120). The participants, divided into two groups — bottom-up and top-down — were exposed to 48 hours of explicit vocabulary instruction. Their achievement was measured with two vocabulary tests, Academic Vocabulary Size and Controlled Productive Knowledge, administered at the start (T1) and at the end (T2) of the treatment. Analyses of the test scores reveal that at T2 the bottom-up group slightly outperformed the top-down one on both vocabulary size and controlled productive knowledge. With respect to the former, the bottom-up group's superiority was found to be statistically significant, although with a relatively small effect size (η2 = .05)


There are different strategies for students as a means of learning the language. It is needed that these strategies to be alongside the classroom environments and focus on developing learning and teaching. Therefore, students can explore the language learning styles in accordance to their objectives which leads the students to achieve success in their educational goals. Students have to select the learning strategies and approaches, which will ascertain that they are successful in reading the language at all times and become successful in their career progress. Teachers should be able to indicate more effective strategies for each level of education. Also, it is important that teachers make an effective interaction with the students. This can help teachers to make sure that students are assisted in developing an awareness of the learning strategies also to make sure that students are assisted in selecting the strategy that suits their educational goals. Moreover, teachers should define an approach where students feel free to interact with them and participate in asking questions and seeking guidance on how to learn reading English and the language. The closer the students are to the teachers the higher is the chance of them to learn great skills and knowledge of the language.

11 February 2020
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