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How to interpret a reading for your class


“Cultivate above all things a taste for reading”, said Robert Lowe. Therefore, it is important to know how to interpret a reading for your class.

Reading any kind of literature, whether it is fiction and non-fiction, is a pastime of the known trail blazers, like Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Many can consider being an essential tool in learning or a form of escapism from the real world. But in any way, it is a way for us, humans, to develop our appreciation for our culture and traditions and even others.

When facing a reading material given in a world literature class, often the student faces a challenge to understand and interpret the assigned reading tasks. There are times that the reading material is not being read because for some reasons like boring and irrelevant to their interests. The article given can create culture shock among the students. However, if the reading assignment was discussed in the classroom or the lecture hall, the students often develop the understanding and the appreciation of the given text. The difference of reading for your own entertainment and for your class is that the reading assignment is a requirement in order for you to have your grade at the end of the term.

Reading a text that is different from your own culture requires a lot of skills, such as critical thinking, interpreting of the text and its details, comparing and contrasting. Critical thinking, as defined, is an objective analysis, and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement. An example of critical thinking is when the professor or the students start to discuss the given text and make analysis like a lawyers in a courtroom arguing a case, wherein the text is the evidence (in this case, a primary source of information) that the students’ analyse and interpret the text in all. Nevertheless, there are also secondary sources (the expert opinions) can also help the students in interpreting the text. In order for one to understand a given text, the student or the reader can use their own personal beliefs, their own experiences. Sometimes, the teacher or the professor, being “the expert” on the text, encourages the students to look further into the evidence.

In each interpretation, there would be right and wrong ones. But, just remember to know how to distinguish between the views of the original audience versus of the modern reader. The text may remind them the stories shared or read by their grandparents about the good old days (when they were young). It can be meant to be useful before then it will be useless in this time and age.

Some of the students in some universities and high schools might have different ones form their Asian or European counterparts and reading some text from other countries can cause a confusion of the students. In order for the student to understand is to give them the right tools and resources when interpreting a foreign literature. For example, the professor can give them a brief backgrounder on the culture and traditions before reading the assigned foreign literature; or give them a short research paper on the topic afterward based on the culture or tradition. It can be a cause of their interest in a country or a time period.

The access to more background on the topic will easily help them interpret the text given to them. The internet is a great tool for interpreting a text or literature. There is unlimited access to interpretation from the real experts to the “so-so” / self-proclaimed experts. The students should know what are the reliable sources.

The usage of some literary symbolism in everyday conversations or in how they go about their everyday life can trace some roots of their popular literature. Examples of these characters of the ancient Indian tales of Mahabharata and Ramayana can still be referred to the everyday conversations and it is impossible to read the modern Indian literature without referring them. Another one is the Chinese literature, which is embedded with the Confucian concepts, because it left a huge impact in the Chinese culture for thousands of years.

The most simple way to interpret and to understand a text is to compare and contrast the common themes. Yes, it is easier to understand and discuss the text in the classroom. The differences in the cultures can be easier to see. While the cultural expectations may not be universal, yet there are themes which have universal appeal like bravery, love, friendship, self-discovery. Making a comparative paper or essay as the matter could help a lot the student to understand.

As the Harry Potter author, J. K. Rowling, once said “There’s always a room for a story that can transport people to another place.” This is true when you learn and develop the habit of reading. It will transport you into another world, another time, that you can learn many things, which can help you to be a better person in the real world.

Maristelle Castro

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