Eye movements of second language learners when reading spaced and unspaced Chinese text

Shen, D., Liversedge, Simon Paul orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-8579-8546, Tian, J., Zang, C., Cui, L, Bai, X., Yan, G. and Rayner, Keith (2012) Eye movements of second language learners when reading spaced and unspaced Chinese text. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 18 (2). pp. 192-202. ISSN 1076-898X

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0027485


The effect of spacing in relation to word segmentation was examined for four groups of non-native Chinese speakers (American, Korean, Japanese, and Thai) who were learning Chinese as second language. Chinese sentences with four types of spacing information were used: unspaced text, word spaced text, character spaced text, and nonword spaced text. Also, participants’ native languages were different in terms of their basic characteristics: English and Korean are spaced, whereas the other two are unspaced; Japanese is character based whereas the other three are alphabetic. Thus, we assessed whether any spacing effects were modulated by native language characteristics. Eye movement measures showed least disruption to reading for word spaced text and longer reading times for unspaced than character spaced text, with nonword spaced text yielding the most disruption. These effects were uninfluenced by native language (though reading times differed between groups due to Chinese reading experience). Demarcation of word boundaries through spacing reduces non-native readers’ uncertainty about the characters that comprise a word, thereby speeding lexical identification, and in turn, reading. More generally, the results indicate that words have psychological reality for those who are learning to read Chinese as a second language, and that segmentation of text into words is more beneficial to successful comprehension than is separating individual Chinese characters with spaces.

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