Reading in a foreign language is laborious (Gorsuch & Taguchi, 2008), involving interaction between bottom-up and top-down movement in the process of creating meaning. When reading authentic literature, students must grapple not only with the text's linguistic code but with the cultural code as well. Thus, language and culture can have profound effects on how students respond to and comprehend literature. The aim of this article, therefore, is to investigate the effect of these two factors on Arab student response to authentic American literature. Part of a major study, the article analyses quantitatively and qualitatively the responses of 23 female students while reading the American short story "I Want to Be Miss America". The analysis shows clearly how students' native culture and language come into play during the process of reading and understanding the text. Appreciating the effect of these factors offers literature teachers an insight into the sources of student difficulties with native literature. This in turn enhances their ability to negotiate meaning with their students and arrive at a plausible understanding of the target text. A further consequence is improved language acquisition by the students (Cheon, 2003).
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