Determinants of Word-Reading Development in English Learner University Students: A Longitudinal Eye Movement Study


We investigated the word-reading development of adult second-language learners of English. A sample of 70 (Mandarin or Cantonese) Chinese-speaking students enrolled in a university-level English bridging program at a Canadian university silently read passages of text at the beginning and end of the program while their eye movements were recorded. At each timepoint, we also administered a battery of tests that measure key component skills of second language reading (phonological processing, vocabulary knowledge, and listening comprehension). We found longitudinal changes in lexical processing for long words in early (refixation probability and gaze duration) and late (go-past time and total reading time) eye movement measures, indicating a shift from a sublexical to a holistic word-processing strategy. We found the largest gains in sublexical processing among students with stronger phonological awareness upon entry to the program and students who acquired more vocabulary than their peers during the program. We interpret the results of this study as evidence of a transition from a lexical processing strategy that is heavily reliant on phonological decoding to word-reading behavior that is more actively engaged in higher order cognitive processes, such as meaning integration. This research offers novel insights into predictors of reading skill in postsecondary English-language bridging programs.

In Reading Research Quarterly, Online first