Examining multiple readings of popular culture by ESL students in Hong Kong

Document Type

Journal article

Source Publication

Language, Culture and Curriculum

Publication Date



Advance online publication




Popular culture, critical thinking, critical multimodal literacies, decoder positions, dominant, oppositional, negotiated reading positions


The integration of popular culture into English language learning has recently been formalised in the Hong Kong New Senior Secondary curriculum, with the development of critical reading indicated as one of the key objectives. Whether and how students respond to popular culture texts is, however, under-researched. The present paper reports findings from a study that investigated how a group of 33 senior secondary (Grade 11) students from three schools representing different levels of academic performance in Hong Kong conducted reading of an authentic print English advertisement. In small groups, the students articulated in Cantonese, their first language, an analysis of the text including its purpose, target audience, and intended impacts. Insights from Stuart Hall’s three major decoder positions (dominant reading, oppositional reading, and negotiated reading) were drawn on to conduct a qualitative content analysis of the students’ reading. The findings showed that three-quarters of the students irrespective of their English proficiency levels displayed evidence of critical consumption of the text, but many seemed to have constructed oppositional or negotiated reading positions due to their failure to appreciate linguistic creativity, and spontaneous evaluation of the visual images. The authors argue that language curricula in schools should strengthen students’ critical multimodal literacies.



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Funding Information

This work was supported by the General Research Fund (GRF) of the University Grant Council, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China under grant number HKU 749410H.

Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Access to external full text or publisher's version may require subscription.

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Recommended Citation

Luk, J., & Hui, D. (2016). Examining multiple readings of popular culture by ESL students in Hong Kong. Language, Culture and Curriculum. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/07908318.2016.1241258