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Background to the Study

     Human beings have the gift of language which distinguishes them from the rest of the animal world.  They are said to be homo sapiens by reason of language.  Man alone has the power to articulate speech and it is largely by virtue of this power that human beings can reason.  It is difficult to think of what the world of man would look like without language.  Of course, one would find it difficult to imagine the implications of such a situation, since the very thought itself would be in language.

          Language has been variously defined. According to Safra (2002) language  consists of vocal sounds to which meanings have been assigned by cultural conventions and which is often supplemented by various gestures.  Language is the medium man uses to shape and express his thought.  Language consists of a number of verbal and non-verbal presentations of ideas, concepts and these are represented through symbols and signs in the written form, by means of which our thoughts are logically and intelligibly proved to be truth.  Language gives human existence its central meaning and focus.  According to Palmer (2005), Otagburuagu and Okorji (2003), man is unlike other animals because he is homo loquens – man the speaking animal.

From the definitions of language, one could infer that there are certain features peculiar to human language.  For instance, the use of vocal symbols (speech sounds), use of gestures; nods, smiles, and of course, verbalization.  Animals and birds can vocalize but not verbalize.  Other lower animals can communicate but not with a meaningful language like human beings.  A bird like parrot can repeat or imitate human sounds but cannot say the meanings.  This is why, in considering further the features of human language, Otagburuagu and Okorji (2003) assert that all languages are dynamic, productive and communicably dependable through speech and exist in human nature as part of culture.  Human language is used for specific purposes such as medium of expression of feelings, medium of creativity, evaluation, indoctrination, social interaction, articulation and classification of thought.  All these boil down to the general purpose of language, which is a means of communication. By implication, language is the unique property of human beings and all the developments of man, be it intellectual, ethical, political, social or economic revolve entirely on the instrumentality of language. It stimulates all forms of mobility among human beings.

This informs the fact that Nigeria, an English speaking country, as a result of colonization by the British apart from her Anglophone inclination, maintains a bilateral relationship with the neighboring French-speaking countries around her in areas of economic, political, and socio-cultural dealings.  Countries like Cameroon, Chad Republic, Benin Republic, Togo, Niger and a host of others are in constant touch with Nigeria under the aegis of the Economic Community of West African States since its inception in May, 1975. French and English languages are the two major languages used for communication during deliberations in the meeting sessions of the union. This informs the necessity of the language for every Nigerian.

The turn of events in the development of French in Nigeria has culminated in the New French/English bilingual policy of French as a second language.  The policy of French becoming a second official language confers on it a status similar to that of English in Nigeria.  French, therefore, becomes a core subject at the senior primary and junior parts of the 9-year Basic Education.

The new language policy is consequent upon government’s awareness and appreciation of the role of the French language as a unifying force in the inter-regional scene among African states, viz.: “For the smooth interaction with her neighbors, it is desirable for every Nigerian to speak French.  Accordingly, French shall be the second official language in Nigeria and it shall be compulsory in schools” (FRN, 1998, 2004).  Again government has realized that operating a monolingual policy of English as the only official language on the international scene in this millennium and probably beyond may be detrimental to her democratic and developmental process (Opara, 2000).

          With this change in status, French is no longer studied as an optional language in the school but as a second language and compulsory subject. According to th National Policy on Education,   

  It has therefore become part of the educational process of the average Nigerian child.  As such, it becomes part of the means for realizing the educational objectives of helping the child to acquire permanent literacy, self reliance and other life-long learning skills through the inculcation of appropriate learning-to-learn, self awareness, citizenship and life skills (FRN,2004)

To prove its commitment to this policy, the Federal Government has already adopted the three-phased implementation schedule recommended by the Ministerial Task Force for the implementation of the policy from 1998 to 2008.  The policy has conferred on the French language a privileged position of a core subject vis-à-vis its former position of an elective course on the school curriculum.  A closer look at the implementation period, suggests a serious and committed effort on the part of the Federal Government for its implementation.  One would believe that logistics put in place at the first phase under implementation is not yet completed (Okwudili, 2006).  It is rather the case that the first phase has already become a myth, as nothing seems to be happening in that regard.  According to Ugwu (2008) the French language policy has gradually been going underground due to some obvious problems which range from human capital to material resources.  As a matter of fact, most of the teachers who are to implement the policy are not yet aware of the policy, or the proposed phases of the implementation procedure.  Logistics and resources for proper implementation are not yet adequately in place.

With the above impediments to the implementation of French language policy in Nigeria, the teaching of French language in secondary schools endeavors to ensure that the individual Nigerian child acquires the basic four language skills.  According to the West African Examination Council (WAEC) (Regulations and Syllabus, 2011), the teaching and learning of French in secondary schools in Nigeria is intended to meet the general needs of students of French including those who may wish to pursue vocational or other studies.  The aim is to develop the four language skills namely: listening, speaking, reading and writing as well as encourage critical thinking.

The focus of this study is the reading skill.  According to Simon (2008), reading is the meaningful interpretation of verbal symbols, a complex process that involves the physical, mental, and emotional abilities and conditions of the reader, his cultural background and the kind of materials to be read. It is a process of retrieving and comprehending some form of stored information or ideas in written form. Aliyu (2009) equally observes that it is a domain of language proficiency that encompasses how a reader processes, interprets and evaluates written language, In other words, reading is a cognitive process of understanding a written linguistic message, symbols, and texts with understanding and fluency. Reading like listening, speaking, and writing is a facet of of communication. Reading and writing build on wealth of oral language that children begin developing long before they enter school. Oral and written languages share common features: the same vocabulary, the same grammar and syntax, and similar purposes. However to read, students must be able to recognize in print the language that they use orally.

The attainment of the aims and objectives of national language policy in French has become a mirage as the performances of the students in Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations have been on a decline.  According to the Chief Examiners’ Reports, WAEC (2009 and 2010), the performance of the students in French language was rated below 30 percent.  The reason is attributed to the poor reading skills on the part of the students.  The report also shows that candidates from Francophone countries performed well unlike those from the Anglophone. The disparity between the performance of the students and the objectives of the study of French language as the second official language prompts the researcher to investigate the reading difficulties encountered by secondary school students of French language in Nsukka Education Zone of Enugu State.

Analyzing students’ area of difficulty when identified is a subsection of this work. The electronic dictionary defines analysis as “examination and determination”. It involves the separation of entity into parts for close examination. Analysis of French reading passages will therefore examine the phonological, phonemic, syntaxes and of course lexical aspects of difficulties in reading French language. Historically scientific knowledge develops through cycles of analysis and synthesis. According to Ritchy (2011:11) “…every synthesis is built upon the results of preceding analysis and every analysis requires a subsequent synthesis in other to verify the correct results…” Analysis as a basic scientific method however implies nothing about a problem having to be quantifiable. Non quantifiable problems rely on judgmental processes and internal consistency rather than causality. At cognitive level, judgments must often be used and worked with- more or less directly. Many if not all the variables involved here are non quantifiable. The researcher however intends to synthesize the sets of these non quantifiable conditions into well designed relationship and configurations to help arrive at solutions. The areas to be analyzed include morphology, phonology, lexis and syntax in French language reading.

Reading difficulty refers to the challenges encountered by learners in reading French language. These challenges may be in the form of phonological and phonemic awareness, word decoding and phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Phonological and phonemic awareness refer to the specific ability to focus on and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken language. Phonemes combine to form syllables and words. For example, the word “ voix” has two syllables and two phonemes; /v/ /wa/. There are 37 phonemes in the French language represented by letter combinations such as /œ/, as in the words fleur, soeur, etc and /wa/, as in the words moi, voila etc. Acquiring phonemic awareness is important because it is the foundation for spelling and word recognition skills. Phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read.  As Pesses (2002) observed, reading and learning are complementary to each other.  Both skills mar or improve the academic success of a child in the school as he/she reads to learn and vice-versa. Students at the risk of reading difficulty often have lower levels of phonological and phonemic awareness than do their classmates.

Phonological awareness assessment involves the examination of students’ awareness of the phonological structure, and their ability to articulate syllables in the process of reading. It looks at how initial sounds, medial sounds, final sounds are manipulated in the reading process. How blending phonemes, segmentation of speech stream affect reading. As a result of the nature of French language, other aspects of phonological awareness will be called into play in this study. They include the use of liaison, and the manipulation of nasal sounds known as “nasalization” in French language. Liaison or linking, strongly affects the flow of utterances. It serves as a linguistic chain that connects words. Critics often refer to the use of liaison in French as being chaotic because of the many exceptions in which liaison must not occur.

Similarly, the fluency of the reader is another essential variable that needs consideration in reading process. Language educators may not all agree on a specific definition of fluency. This informs why Mbanefo (2009) opines that the word is polysemic, in the sense that it may not mean the same thing to two different language specialists. According to her, the “ideal option” broad-based definition for the second language teaching and learning is “smooth, rapid, effortless, accurate use of language” Mbanefo (2009:54).This option involves fluency and accuracy; accuracy in correct pronunciation, in perfect choice of vocabulary, accuracy in command of grammar etc. Comprehension of a passage is enhanced when there is fluent reading. A fluent reader is bound to be well articulate in attaching meaning to what is read. According to Jones (2006), fluent readers are able to focus on meaning because decoding is automatic and effortless for them. In consonance with this, Mbanefo concludes that “Fluency is smooth-flowing connected speech with appropriate timing and distribution of prosodic infrastructure like pause, tempo, pacing and intonation…, without flaws like; imperfect reading rate, imperfect command of sound in pronunciation and above all, reading flowing without hesitation”. (Mbanefo, 2009:54)

It is pertinent to note that a major criterion in the evaluation of fluency is the absence of hesitation. Hesitation here implies the act of slowing down a process as a result of uncertainty, worry or nervousness. Other assessment components of fluency include: prosody, accuracy, and rate. The exact role of expressing and phrasing – or prosody – in fluency and comprehension has not yet been determined, but it certainly is an element that signifies whether or not a student is truly a fluent reader. To measure the quality of a student’s prosody some educators rely on the four-level scale first developed for the 1992 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reading (Daane, Campell, Grigg, Goodman,and Orange 2005).This scale focuses on the level of skill a student demonstrates in phrasing and expression while reading aloud. After listening to an individual student read aloud, the educator rates the student’s reading according to the level that best describes the student’s overall performance.

Although most researchers consider prosody important, Hasbrouck posits that “…the subjectivity of judging students’ prosody makes it a difficult component of fluency to study…”. (>Home) Many researchers have focused on the more easily quantifiable components of fluency (rate and accuracy).  To measure students’ oral reading speed and accuracy, researchers have developed a simple and very brief procedure that uses regular classroom texts to determine the number of words that students can read correctly in one minute. To obtain a Words-Correct Per-Minute (WCPM) scores, students are assessed individually as they read aloud for one minute from an unpracticed passage of text. It is the intention of the researcher to adapt the above procedure in the assessment of fluency in this study.

Furthermore, analyzing students’ error is another factor to be considered in this study. Error analysis according to Afangideh (2004) is the study of inter-language in order to better understand the process of L2 acquisition. Inter-language errors are errors made as a result of intrusion of features of one language into another in the speech of bilinguals. A learner’s error give evidence of system of language he has learned at a particular point in the course and points to the difficult areas as well. This is why Tran-Thi Chan(1974:27) says “The frequency of error is proportional to the degree of learning difficulties”. This implies that the learning difficulties encountered by the learner determine the extent of the errors he/she commits. The proponents of error analysis like Dulay, Burt andKrashen (2002) indicate that studying learners’ errors have some major advantages. It provides data from which inferences about the nature of the language learning processes can be made. Also it indicates to the teacher and the curriculum developers which part of the target language students have most difficulty producing correctly and which error types detract most from learners ability to communicate effectively. It also examines errors from all possible sources and not just those that result from negative transfer from learners L1. The study will adapt Error Analysis (EA) which is applied to every aspect of language: phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexis. It will help to find out how phonological, morphological and structural patterns of students’ previous knowledge in the language are misconstrued and how they affect their reading skills.

Another possible area of reading difficulty among the students may be in the comprehension skill which stems from the inability of the students to decode the encoded information. Comprehension is an aspect of reading skill which emphasizes the internalization of words to convey proper meanings of words as used in texts. To comprehend simply put means to understand. This implies that comprehension occurs in a situation whereby the student recognizes and understands words, at a sight. Armed with the first sight recognition and internalization of word, the student begins to enjoy reading. The excitement in reading is due to the relative ease through which the new words are recognized with the meanings attached to them. It is however pertinent to note that using phonics is only one of several important approaches to identifying words. The term word identification and decoding are broader than phonics. Hence, other clues include grammar and syntax of a sentence, meaning (semantic) clues, word parts (prefixes, suffixes, base words and familiarity with similar words (analogy) (

The multilingual nature of Nigeria is however an imposing problem for effective French reading.  “Nigeria is made up of more than 250 ethnic groups with different political, socio-cultural, religious and economic backgrounds and languages” (Awa, 2006:10).  With the lack of linguistic relationship between French and the various languages of the country, it becomes difficult for the learners to imbibe the reading skills in French language.  For instance, it is not easy for neither the Hausa nor the Igbo or the Yoruba language speakers to find a correlation between French language and these other languages. Any attempt most of the time will lead to erroneous transfer problems.  In some cases, there are many pronunciation styles as there are students among other problems.

Apart from the above problems, the inability of the teachers to teach reading skills in the school comes to play.  According to Ojo in Omachonu (2008), students fail to read efficiently because teachers have not mapped out sufficient time to teach reading skills. Keeping students interested and motivated is sometimes a challenge. Some students who can read would rather do other things instead. Other students struggle with reading and so don’t enjoy it.

Furthermore, gender and student’s location have been pointed out as veritable variables that influence the reading skills of the child.  According to Uzoegwu (1995), gender refers to the varied socially and culturally constructed roles, qualities, behaviours and so on that are ascribed to women and men in different societies.  This implies that the roles and expectations of the male and female are defined by societies and cultures.  She also noted that gender comes into play in the explanations of who has the competence in reading or who possesses reading skills.  She asserts that personal orientation and thinking influence achievement level of an individual.  Kilosmeir (2006) opines that in terms of the performance of boys and girls in reading task, the females have a general tendency to read very slowly than the boys.  Offorma (2009) states that girls have more flair for language than boys they therefore, perform better than their male counterparts in reading.  However, Offorma asserts that there are conflicting reports on the influence of gender on language performance.

The location of a school is another important variable that needs to be studied.  It is very pertinent in the determination of the reading proficiency of a child in the school. Secondary schools in Nigeria are located in both urban and rural areas.  There are a lot of controversies in determining the influence or otherwise of location in predicting the reading proficiency of a child.  The school has the sole responsibility to develop the intellectual potentialities of the child in the presence of some physical infrastructures, equipments or facilities, without which learning will be hampered.  The students will perform well in reading in the presence of qualified teachers, learning facilities and other items that promote learning in the school.  It has been observed that some students process French language with difficulty.  According to Johnson (2008) these difficulties are more pronounced in their reading skills which comprise fluency, decoding, comprehension, and retention of discourse and text.  It is therefore worrisome that students can communicate orally in French, but find it difficult to read and process simple texts. Okeke (2005) sees this as militating against the realization of the National Policy on French Language Education in Nigeria.

In corroboration with the above, the WAEC Chief Examiner’s Report on French language (2010:11) states that “candidates’ performance was not encouraging.  Most of the candidates are weak in the use of the French verbs, which remains the core of all sentence formation”. French language verbs are often prone to inflections – grammatical variations which give rise to different syntactic and lexical functions. When these occur as a result of conjugation of verbs, change of modes or tenses, students may find themselves in a fix, in an attempt to get the real meaning of verbs while reading. It is however even implied that students with poor reading skills will automatically perform poorly in other subjects (Harris, 2005).

           It is therefore imperative that students will be taught reading skills as a stepping stone to enhance their performance in school.  It is against this background that the researcher embarked on this study to identify and analyze the reading difficulties in French language reading skills among senior secondary school students in Nsukka Education Zone of Enugu State with a view to proffer enduring solutions to the problem of reading in French language.

Statement of the Problem

Over the years, the preliminary stage of French teaching which involves oral expression, in other words, listening and speaking attracts the students more, while reading and writing constitute problem areas for them. The relationship between reading and language development is taken for granted by many French language teachers in the schools. There is usually little or no provision for reading exercises. It is just assumed that once language is taught, students should have the ability to read. This must have informed the reason why French language has not found a solid base in Nigeria, in spite of its being declared as the Nation’s second official language by the late Head of state General Sani Abacha in 1987.

 The absence of progress was equally observed by the Centre for French Teaching and Documentation (CFTD) Enugu. The data collated in the years 2006, 2007 and 2008 by the Center indicate that there is a drastic decline in students’ enrolment in Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSSCE) in French Language. For example, in the years mentioned the percentage number of students who registered for the SSSCE were 0.12%, 0.11%, 0.22% respectively. On the other hand, 15.2%,14.9% and 17.9% registered for Junior Secondary School Certificate Examinations the same years. It is therefore evident that there is a decline in the strength of students who read French at the SSSCE level. Could the source of this decline be traceable to reading difficulties? In the same vein, at the end of Junior Secondary School, children are expected to read French language texts confidently.  A greater number of students in Senior Secondary Schools find it very difficult to meet up with the challenges posed by new texts and the concepts therein.  The classroom teachers are also complaining of the inability of the students to read simple passages in French.

  These problems can be solved only if an investigation is carried out to find out why students read poorly.  It is a consensus among scholars that when a problem is identified it is half solved.  Therefore, the problem of the study posed as a question is: What is the reading difficulty experienced in French language by Senior Secondary School students in Nsukka Education Zone of Enugu State?

Purpose of Study

The main purpose of this study was to identify and analyze the reading difficulties in French language among Senior Secondary School students in Nsukka Education Zone of Enugu State.  Specifically, the study  –

·         Identified the pronunciation errors committed by senior secondary school students in reading.

·         Analyzed the fluency in the students reading of French language.

·         Identified the lexical errors in the students’ reading of French language.

·         Compared the errors committed by urban and rural secondary school students in reading French.

·         Found out the type of error committed by male and female secondary school students in reading French.

Significance of the Study

The beneficiaries of this study are the French language teachers, the learners, authors of French language textbooks and the curriculum planners. The significance of this study derives from the theoretical and practical basis of the Gestalt Cognitive theory of learning with its insight on problem solving. Theoretically, the study is tied to cognitive theory which presupposes that the learner should act intelligently to find solutions to problems he may encounter in the process of learning. Language learning provides occasion for thinking, understanding and insightful problem solving behavior.    

Another pedagogical justification for this study is that a good understanding of the nature of French language reading difficulties is necessary before systematic means of eradicating them could be found. We need the knowledge of students’ problem areas in reading if we are to make any well-founded proposals for the development and improvement of materials and techniques of language teaching.

Furthermore, the study is expected to direct the teachers’ attention to the areas of the difficulties so that they might devote special care and emphasis on their teaching to overcoming or even avoiding of the predicted difficulties. They are expected to be more concerned with these difficulties than with the simple identification of them. They should necessarily rely on the intuitive analysis of students’ knowledge and difficulties to show them where the main learning problems lie and also to guide their informal in-course remedial work. This most often takes the form of re-teaching that bit of language which was proved to be a problem. 

The authors of various textbooks in French language will benefit immensely from this study.  This is because the authors will be able to take cognizance of the reading difficulties encountered by the students while writing textbooks in French language. This will help to improve the comprehension level of the students; hence their reading can be improved on.

The curriculum planners will also benefit from the study.  The information from the reading difficulties of students will enable the curriculum planners to build in measures of improving the reading proficiency of the students through the planning of the learning methods and syllabuses.

Scope of Study

The study was delimited to identifying and analyzing difficulties in reading in French language among the Senior Secondary School students in relation to pronunciation, lexis, syntax, and fluency. It also explored the impact of such variables as gender and location of schools on the reading skills of Senior Secondary School Students in Nsukka Education Zone of Enugu State.

Research Questions

       The following research questions guided the study:

(1) What are the pronunciation errors committed by senior secondary school students in reading French language?

(2) What are the syntactic errors committed by senior secondary school students in reading French language?

(3) What are the lexical errors in students’ reading in French language?

(4) What are the impediments to students’ fluency in reading French language?               


The following two null hypotheses guided the study at p< 0.05 level of significance :

Ho1:   There will be no significant difference in the responses of senior secondary school students in pronunciation based on location.

Ho2:   There will be no statistically significant difference between the mean score of male and female senior secondary school students in reading French language. 


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