Lower-level Processes of L2 Reading Comprehension: Linguistic Knowledge and Processing Skills in Arabic-Speaking Readers of English as a Foreign Language
Date: 17 March 2021
University of Exeter
PhD in Education
This thesis involves two distinct studies towards understanding the lower-level of the second language (L2) reading comprehension processes: word recognition and word-to-text integration and their respective underlying linguistic knowledge and skills. The data was collected from 268 adult Arabic-speaking readers of English as a Foreign ...
This thesis involves two distinct studies towards understanding the lower-level of the second language (L2) reading comprehension processes: word recognition and word-to-text integration and their respective underlying linguistic knowledge and skills. The data was collected from 268 adult Arabic-speaking readers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) at one of the Saudi universities, the same group of participants for both studies. A battery of paper and computer-based tests was administered, on a group and individual basis, to measure the participants' lexical competences, syntactic knowledge, reading comprehension ability, and working memory. Some of these variables were included in both studies for different purposes. Study 1 highlights the Lexical Quality Hypothesis, which contends that high-quality representations of lexical and sub-lexical features are fundamental for the first critical process of reading comprehension, which is word recognition. It underscores the importance of lexical processes in reading comprehension. Therefore, it focused on the sub-lexical and lexical processes (underpinning word recognition) in L2 reading comprehension. The participants’ sub-lexical/morphological knowledge (knowledge of word parts, such as derivational affixes) and lexical knowledge (knowledge pertaining to word form–meaning relationships, more commonly known as vocabulary size knowledge) were measured through a set of paper-based tasks. In addition, their morphological processing (morphological segmentation and combination) and lexical processing (lexical decision) skills were measured with computer-based decision tasks. This study examined how these distinct processes – knowledge vs. processing efficiency on the one hand and sub-lexical/morphological vs. lexical on the other – collectively and relatively predicted the participants’ reading comprehension, after controlling for the effect of working memory. Hierarchical regression analyses revealed that over and above working memory, both lexical and sub-lexical knowledge were significant and unique predictors of reading comprehension, and sub-lexical processing efficiency, as opposed to lexical processing efficiency, significantly predicted reading comprehension. Additionally, among the measured lexical competences, lexical knowledge was the strongest predictor; and the two knowledge variables collectively had a far more significant influence on reading comprehension than the two processing efficiency variables. These findings are discussed in light of the lexical basis of L2 text comprehension and underscore the importance of knowledge of word meanings in developing L2 readers. Recognition of individual words serves as an initial basis for comprehension of a written text. Yet, there are complex word-to-text integration processes underlying text comprehension. The second study focused on comparing the two distinct components of the word-to-text integration process, that is syntactic parsing and semantic association, in L2 reading comprehension. The participants’ syntactic knowledge (grammatical error correction) and semantic network knowledge (semantic association) were measured with paper-based tasks. The study assessed how syntactic and semantic network knowledge, controlling for working memory and vocabulary knowledge/size, differentially predicted two types of text comprehension (literal vs. inferential) among the participants, particularly the relative importance of semantic network knowledge for inferential comprehension. Multiple regression analyses showed that both syntactic and semantic network knowledge significantly predicted reading comprehension disregarding the type of comprehension, after controlling for working memory and vocabulary knowledge/size. As opposed to semantic network knowledge, syntactic knowledge was a significant, unique predictor of literal comprehension. In contrast, a converse pattern was found for inferential comprehension. This thesis makes several significant recommendations and implications for improving the policy and practice of teaching and learning reading skills for policymakers, teachers, and researchers. It also sets out some directions for future research to further understand the lower-level L2 reading comprehension processes and their underlying aspects of knowledge and processing skills.
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