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Incidental vocabulary learning in a natural reading context: an eye-tracking study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 June 2017

Michigan State University, Second Language Studies Program
Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Center for Applied Linguistics
Michigan State University
University of Central Arkansas
Michigan State University
Michigan State University
California State University, Northridge
E-mail address:


This study responds to the call for more ecologically valid psycholinguistic research (Spivey & Cardon, 2015) by examining how readers incidentally acquire multifaceted vocabulary knowledge while reading a long, authentic text. Using eye tracking, we explore how the processing of unfamiliar words changes with repeated exposure and how the repeated exposure and processing affect word learning. In two sessions, native and non-native English speakers read five chapters of an authentic English novel containing Dari words. After reading, participants received a comprehension test and three surprise vocabulary tests. Growth curve modeling revealed a non-linear decrease in reading times that followed an S shaped curve. Number of exposures was the strongest predictor of vocabulary learning (form and meaning), while total reading time independently contributed to the learning of word meaning. Thus, both quantity and quality of lexical processing aid incremental vocabulary development and may reveal themselves differently in readers’ eye movement records.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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*This project resulted from a graduate-level seminar LLT 841 Eye-Movement Registration in Second Language Acquisition Research that took place in Fall 2014 at Michigan State University. The authors would like to thank Mostafa Papi, Jiwon Song, and Lorena Valmori for their help with data collection, Ji-Hyun Park, Megan Smith, and Le Anne Spino-Seijas for their input on the study design, and all the members of the MSU Second Language Studies Eye-Tracking Lab for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


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