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Technology-Enhanced L2 Reading: The Effects of Hierarchical Phrase Segmentation

  • Author(s): Park, Youngmin
  • Advisor(s): Warschauer, Mark
  • et al.
Abstract

Sentence processing skills contribute to successful L2 reading, and require understanding and manipulation of the order and interdependence of words within a sentence. Acknowledging that this syntactic awareness is significant but challenging in language development, a small number of researchers have explored whether modified text format increases reading abilities by raising syntactic awareness. This mixed within- and between-subjects study aims to examine whether phrase-segmented format, supported by visual-syntactic text formatting technology, scaffolds rapid and accurate L2 reading. Three groups of college students from the U.S. (NES and ESL) and Korea (EFL) read eight passages (4 block-formatted vs. 4 phrase-segmented) and answered four types of comprehension questions (topic, vocabulary, information, and inference-making). This study also investigates whether the format effect on rapid and accurate reading varies depending on L2 students’ working memory capacity.

This study revealed three main findings. First, text format type did not generally affect reading speed in any language group, but the group difference between ESL and NES students narrowed in the phrase-segmented versus the block condition. Second, the positive impact of the phrase-segmented format on comprehension was found among the L2 groups but not the NES group. Group differences in comprehension were mostly associated with the block condition rather than the phrase-segmented format, except for the persistent difference between EFL and NES groups across format. The third finding was that the phrase-segmented format did not influence the reading speed of L2 students with low working memory; however, it assisted them in making inferences and possibly expanding vocabulary.

Although syntactic cues are only part of a multifaceted L2 reading process, these findings provide support for the phrase-segmented format as a helpful resource to promote L2 reading comprehension without hindering reading speed. This study additionally demonstrated that reading phrase-segmented text may scaffold inference by alleviating working memory overload.

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