Coming from different directions : A comparison of the eye movements of English L1 and Arabic L1 speakers reading in English and the implementation of an intensive reading intervention programme

Oakley, Joan and Kormos, Judit (2018) Coming from different directions : A comparison of the eye movements of English L1 and Arabic L1 speakers reading in English and the implementation of an intensive reading intervention programme. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

[thumbnail of 2018oakleyphd]
PDF (2018oakleyphd)
2018oakleyphd.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs.

Download (3MB)


Eye movements have been widely used to investigate cognitive processes during first language (L1) reading and in the last few years it has become more common for applied linguists to use eye tracking technology to examine topics that had previously been investigated using off-line measures (Conklin & Pellicer-Sánchez, 2016). However, few eye movement studies have investigated Arabic L1 speakers reading in English, although there have been numerous studies which showed that this population experiences great difficulty learning to read in English (see, for example, Abu-Rabia, 1997b; Fender, 2003, 2008; Hayes-Harb, 2006;; Randall, 2007; Randall & Groom, 2009; Randall & Meara, 1988; Ryan, 1997; Ryan & Meara, 1991; Saigh & Schmitt, 2012; Thompson-Panos & Thomas-Ruzic, 1983). There is general consensus in the literature that these problems are related to inefficient processing of English vowels. The overall aim of this thesis was to investigate the causes of the reading difficulties I observed with my own students and then to devise a barrage of pedagogical interventions which would remediate these problems. The research was comprised of two studies. The aim of Study One of the present research was to investigate the differences in eye movements between skilled English L1 (N=36) and Arabic L1 EFL participants (N=39) reading English sentences. Study One found that the Arabic L1 participants displayed eye movements which were significantly different from the patterns exhibited by the English L1 participants, and were indicative of potentially less efficient cognitive processes. These differences were demonstrated in 10 of the 11 metrics calculated. Specifically, the Arabic L1 EFL participants exhibited significantly more and longer fixations than the English L1 participants. They also made significantly more and shorter (forward) saccades than the English L1 group. Furthermore, data analysis showed a highly significant difference between the two groups in visits on vowels and consonants. Study One constitutes an important contribution to the literature on the difficulties experienced by Arabic L1 students learning to read in English. It demonstrates that their eye movements are significantly different from those of skilled English L1 readers. Little or no work exists which investigates any differences in allotment of visual attention when comparing the eye movements on vowels and consonants of Arabic L1 and English L1 speakers as they read sentences in English. The finding that the Arabic L1 EFL participants spent more time attending to vowels than did the English L1 participants questions the ‘vowel blindness’ hypothesis as proposed by Ryan and Meara (1991). This refers to the assumption that Arabic L1 speakers “lack an awareness of the function which vowels perform in English” (Ryan, 1997, p. 189) and consequently do not recognize or attend to them.The aim of Study Two was to investigate the effects of focused reading interventions on the eye movement patterns and overall reading proficiency of Arabic L1 EFL students. Study Two was a quasi-experimental study which compared two groups of proficiency-matched Arabic L1 EFL learners (N= 39), before and after an intensive reading intervention programme during a 14-week semester at a technical college in Qatar. It included two intact classes in the experimental group (N=20) which received reading interventions consisting of textual enhancement, phonemic awareness, spelling, tracking exercises, rapid word recognition and oral text fluency and two intact classes in the control group which received regular classroom instruction (N=19). The effect of the treatment on reading test scores was analysed using a 2-way repeated ANOVA. Analysis of total reading scores showed a significant main effect for time, but no significant main effect for experimental condition. To investigate the eye movements of the two groups before and after treatment, this phase of the study used the same eye tracking metrics employed in Study One. Results showed there was no statistically significant interaction between the experimental group and time, indicating that both the treatment and control groups showed improvement in their eye tracking measures during the 14 weeks. Study Two is the first study to investigate a barrage of pedagogical interventions on the eye movements and reading proficiency of Arabic L1 EFL students. Although the interventions did not produce statistically significant results, the study provides a building block for future studies using focused pedagogical interventions with this particular group of learners.

Item Type:
Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? eye trackingreading in a second or foreign languagereading abilitypedagogical practicesarabic l1 studentsvowel blindnesspractitioner researchreading interventionsnoticing and awarenessarts and humanities(all) ??
ID Code:
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
15 Mar 2018 10:20
Last Modified:
14 Nov 2023 00:31