Date of Award:

8-2022

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Education

Committee Chair(s)

Kathleen A. J. Mohr (committee co-chair) Ronald B. Gillam (committee co-chair)

Committee

Kathleen A. J. Mohr

Committee

Ronald B. Gillam

Committee

Cindy Jones

Committee

Ryan Knowles

Committee

Lisa Milman

Abstract

For Chinese students, studying in a country with different cultural components and language structures is challenging. Compared to English, the Chinese prefers shorter and simple sentence structure and allows for two sentences to be stated side by side. Different sentence structures in Chinese may influence native-Chinese readers’ understanding of English sentences and even a whole text. This exploratory study examined whether there were any differences between English monolingual and Chinese-English children while reading varied English texts with simple or complex structures at different reading difficulty levels. This study explored the differences across texts and readers, as well as the possible effect of first-language transfer on text comprehension behavior.

Behavioral and eye-tracking data, including accuracy of true/false questions, reading speed, and first fixation duration were analyzed. For true/false questions, both groups answered the questions with sufficient accuracy, indicating basic understanding of the brief passages. For reading speed and first fixation duration, as expected, monolinguals read faster with shorter fixations than bilinguals across all passages and monolinguals revealed faster reading speed for easy passages than for hard passages. However, no difference was found between easy and hard passage reading for bilinguals, which was surprising, suggesting that vocabulary difficulty may not have influenced reading speed. Additionally, the findings that no differences for reading difficulty or syntactic complexity between or within each group in first fixation duration were unexpected. To examine whether participants’ offline behavioral test scores (i.e., language, reading and cognitive capacity) influenced the relationship between first fixation duration and syntactic complexity or reading difficulty, the offline behavioral test scores were added into analysis. According to the results, monolinguals performed expectedly with stronger influence of reading and cognitive capacities on complex structure passages. However, bilinguals appeared to attend to the simple structure passages as expected, but not complex passages. Results suggest that English complex structures may have been too difficult for bilinguals to apply reading knowledge or cognitive ability for text processing or bilinguals were less responsive to the syntactic complexity due to their first-language transfer.

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