Effects of selective attention on novel word learning in L1 and L2 readers: an eye-tracking study.

Effects of selective attention on novel word learning in L1 and L2 readers: an eye-tracking study.

First Author: Melda Coskun -- McMaster University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Nadia Kryvobok; Victor Kuperman
Keywords: Word Learning, Attention, Text Characteristics, eye movement control during reading, exposure time
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: Learning theories emphasize the role of selective attention in L1 and L2 vocabulary acquisition (Ellis, 1994; Schmidt, 2000) and argue that meaning can only be learned explicitly. This study addresses these claims by manipulating attention to novel words learned during passage reading. We tested whether natural reading vs reading with selective attention influenced the speed of reading novel words and acquisition and memory-retention of the orthographic form of the word and its semantics.

Method: We tested 25 L1 and 29 L2 readers of English using the same design. Nine novel words were presented in one passage each, with the target word presented either 2, 4, or 8 times. The critical manipulation was whether participants received an instruction “In the following paragraph you will see the word [2, 4, 8] times” or not. The former condition induces selective attention to target words, while the latter is natural reading. Eye-tracking during reading and post-tests of orthographic and semantic learning were administered immediately and 1 week after.

Results: The selective attention condition led to shorter reading times in both L1 and L2, suggesting less noticing. Post-tests were largely unaffected by this condition in L1. In L2, however, the absence of instructions came with higher scores in the semantic task. Surprisingly, the lack of selective attention led to better acquisition of meaning across two testing sessions, and regardless of the number of exposures to a word.

Conclusions: Selective attention does not always elicit superior learning: in L2, it interferes with successful semantic learning.