Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-dknvm Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-03-03T13:06:02.931Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Comprehension processes in L2 reading: Language competence, textual coherence, and inferences

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 November 2008

Yukie Horiba
University of Massachussets at Amherst


The study reported in this paper examined four groups of readers (L2-Intermediate, L2-Advanced, L1-Japanese, and L1-English) when they processed and recalled two passages that varied in degree of causal coherence (Trabasso & van den Broek, 1985). Concurrent verbal reports and recall data were collected. It was found that L1 readers used much of their attention for higher level processes such as the generation of inferences and general knowledge associations. They processed the high- and low-coherence texts differently, generating more elaborations for low-coherence texts than for high-coherence texts. Furthermore, L1 readers generated backward inferences according to the text's causal structure and recalled events with many causal connections more frequently than events with few connections. These findings confirm L1 research findings (Fletcher & Bloom, 1988; Goldman & Varnhargen, 1986; Graesser & Clark, 1985; Singer, 1995; Trabasso & van den Broek, 1985; van den Broek, 1994). On the other hand, L2 readers paid more attention to lower level processes and did not process differently between the high- and low-coherence texts. L2-Advanced readers generated both backward and forward inferences during reading, whereas L2-lntermediate readers did not. Although L2-Advanced readers' generation of backward inferences did not correspond to the text's causal structure, their second recall indicated they were sensitive to it. A closer look at the data suggests that there were some delays in lower level processes such as understanding words and sentences, as well as resolution of anaphoric relations by these readers.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1996

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Adams, S. (1973). Scripts and recognition of unfamiliar vocabulary: Enhancing second language reading skills. The Modern Language Journal, 66, 155159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bernhardt, E. B. (1986). Cognitive processes in L2: An examination of reading behaviors. In Lantolf, J. & Labarca, A. (Eds.), Research in second language learning: Focus on the classroom: Proceedings of the 6th Delaware Symposium on Language Studies (pp. 3550). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
Black, J. B., & Bower, G. H. (1980). Story understanding as problem solving. Poetics, 9, 223250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Block, E. (1973). The comprehension strategies of second language readers. TESOL Quarterly, 20, 463494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bovair, S., & Kieras, D. E. (1985). A guide to prepositional analysis for research on technical prose. In Britton, B. K. & Black, J. B. (Eds.), Understanding expository text (pp. 315362). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Carrell, P. L. (1984). Evidence of a formal schema in second language comprehension. Language Learning, 34, 87112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carrell, P. L. (1987). Content and formal schemata in ESL reading. TESOL Quarterly, 21, 461481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Clarke, M. A. (1980). The short circuit hypothesis of ESL reading-Or when language competence interferes with reading performance. The Modern Language Journal, 64, 203209.Google Scholar
Demel, M. C. (1990). The relationship between overall reading comprehension and comprehension of coreferential ties for second language readers of English. TESOL Quarterly, 24, 267292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Donin, J., & Silva, M. (1973). The relationship between first- and second-language reading comprehension on occupation-specific texts. Language Learning, 43, 373401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Duffy, S. A. (1986). Role of expectations in sentence integration. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 12, 208219.Google ScholarPubMed
Ericsson, K. A., & Simon, H. A. (1980). Verbal reports as data. Psychological Review, 87, 215251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ericsson, K. A., & Simon, H. A. (1984). Protocol analysis: Verbal reports as data. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Fletcher, C. R., & Bloom, C. (1973). Causal reasoning in the comprehension of simple narrative texts. Journal of Memory and Language, 27, 235244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Garrod, S., & Sanford, A. (1973). Referential processing in reading: Focusing on roles and individuals. In Balota, D. A., Flores d'Arcais, G. B., & Rayner, K. (Eds.), Comprehension processes in reading (pp. 465484). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Gass, S. (1987). The resolution of conflicts among competing systems: A bidirectional perspective. Applied Psycholinguists, 8, 329350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gernsbacher, M. A. (1989). Mechanisms that improve referential access. Cognition, 32, 99156.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Geva, E. (1973). The role of conjunctions in L2 text comprehension. TESOL Quarterly, 26, 731747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goldman, S. R., & Murray, J. D. (1992). Knowledge of connectors as cohesion devices in text: A comparative study of native-English and English-as-a-second-language speakers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84, 504519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goldman, S. R., & Varnhagen, C. K. (1986). Children and adults' memory for embedded and sequential episodes in stories. Journal of Memory and Language, 25, 401418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Graesser, A. C. (1981). Prose comprehension beyond the word. New York: Springer-Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Graesser, A. C., & Clark, L. K. (1985). Structures and procedures of implicit knowledge. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
Haviland, S. E., & Clark, H. H. (1974). What's new? Acquiring new information as a process in comprehension. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 13, 512521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Horiba, Y. (1973). Narrative comprehension processes: A study of native and non-native readers of Japanese. The Modern Language Journal, 74, 188202.Google Scholar
Horiba, Y. (1973). The role of causal reasoning and language competence in narrative comprehension. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 15, 4981.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Horiba, Y., van den Broek, P., & Fletcher, C. R. (1993). Second language readers' memory for narrative texts: Evidence for structure-preserving top-down processing. Language Learning, 43, 345372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hudson, T. (1973). The effects of induced schemata on the “short-circuit” in L2 reading: Non-decoding factors in L2 reading performance. Language Learning, 32, 131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Just, M. A., & Carpenter, P. A. (1987). The psychology of reading and language comprehension. Newton, MA: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
Keenan, J. M., Baillet, S. D., & Brown, P. (1973). The effect of causal cohesion on comprehension and memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 23, 115126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kintsch, W. (1973). The role of knowledge in discourse comprehension: A construction-integration model. Psychological Review, 95, 163183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Koda, K. (1973). The use of L1 reading strategies in L2 reading: Effects of L1 orthographic structures on L2 phonological receding strategies. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 12, 393410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Koda, K. (1973). Transferred L1 strategies and L2 syntactic structure in L2 sentence comprehension. Modern Language Journal, 77, 490500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mackie, J. L. (1980). The cement of the universe. London: Oxford University of Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mandler, J. M., & Johnson, N. S. (1977). Remembrance of things parsed: Story structure and recall. Cognitive Psychology, 9, 111151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McDonald, J. L. (1987). Sentence interpretation in bilingual speakers of English and Dutch. Applied Psycholinguistics, 8, 379415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McLaughlin, B., Rossman, T., & MacLeod, B. (1973). Second-language learning: An information-processing perspective. Language Learning, 33, 135158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Myers, J. L., & Duffy, S. A. (1990). Causal inferences and text memory. In Graesser, A. C. & Bower, G. H. (Eds.), Psychology of learning and motivation: Inferences and text comprehension (pp. 159173). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Myers, J. L., Shinjo, M., & Duffy, S. A. (1987). Degree of causal relatedness and memory. Journal of Memory and Language, 26, 453465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
O'Brien, E. J., Duffy, S. A., & Myers, J. L. (1986). Anaphoric inference during reading. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 17, 94102.Google Scholar
O'Brien, E. J., & Myers, J. L. (1987). The role of causal connections in the retrieval of text. Memory and Cognition, 15, 419427.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Olson, G. M., Duffy, S. A., & Mack, R. L. (1984). Thinking-out-loud as a method for studying real-time comprehension processes. In Kieras, D. E. & Just, M. A. (Eds.), New methods in reading comprehension research (pp. 253286). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Omanson, R. C. (1982). The relation between centrality and story category variation. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 21, 326337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Perfetti, C. A. (1988). Verbal efficiency in reading ability. In Daneman, M., Mackinnon, G. E., & Walker, T. G. (Eds.), Reading research: Advances in theory and practice (pp. 109143). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Rayner, K., & Pollatsek, A. (1973). The psychology of reading. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
Riley, G. L. (1993). A story structure approach to narrative text comprehension. The Modern Language Journal, 77, 417432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sasaki, Y. (1973). Paths of processing strategy transfers in learning Japanese and English as foreign languages: A competition model approach. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 16, 4372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schank, R. C. (1975). The structure of episodes in memory. In Bobrow, D. G. & Collins, A. (Eds.), Representation and understanding: Studies in cognitive science. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Schank, R. C., & Abelson, R. (1973). Scripts, plans, goals and understanding: An inquiry into human knowledge structures. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Singer, M. (1973). Causal validation and causal comprehension. In Lorch, R. F. & O'Brien, E. J. (Eds.), Sources in coherence in reading (pp. 241261). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Stanovich, K. E. (1980). Towards an interactive-compensatory model of individual differences in the development of reading fluency. Reading Research Quarterly, 16, 3271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steffensen, M. S., Joag-Dev, C., & Anderson, R. C. (1977). A cross-cultural perspective on reading comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly, 15, 1029.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stein, N. L., & Glenn, C. G. (1979). An analysis of story comprehension in elementary school children. In Freedle, R. O. (Ed.), New directions in discourse processing (Vol. 2, pp. 53120). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Trabasso, T., Secco, T., & van den Broek, P. W. (1984). Causal cohesion and story coherence. In Mandi, H., Stein, N. L., & Trabasso, T. (Eds.), Learning and Comprehension of Text (pp. 83111). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Trabasso, T., & Sperry, L. (1973). Causal relatedness and importance of story events. Journal of Memory and Language, 24, 595611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Trabasso, T., & Suh, S. (1973). Using talk-aloud protocols to reveal inferences during comprehension of text. Discourse Processes, 16, 283298.Google Scholar
Trabasso, T., Suh, S., Payton, P., & Jain, R. (1973). Explanatory inferences and other strategies during comprehension and their effect on recall. In Lorch, R. F. & O'Brien, E. J. (Eds.), Sources in coherence in reading (pp. 219239). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Trabasso, T., & van den Broek, P. W. (1985). Causal thinking and the representation of narrative events. Journal of Memory and Language, 24, 612630.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Trabasso, T., van den Broek, P. W., & Suh, S. Y. (1989). Logical necessity and transitivity of causal relations in stories. Discourse Processes, 12, 125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Turner, A., & Greene, E. (1973). Construction and use of a propositional text base Journal Supplement Abstract Service, ms. no. 1713.Google Scholar
van den Broek, P. W. (1990). Causal inferences in the comprehension of narratives. In Graesser, A. C. & Bower, G. H. (Eds. ), Psychology of learning and motivation: Inferences and text comprehension (pp. 175194). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
van den Broek, P. W. (1994). Comprehension and memory of narrative texts: Inferences and coherence. In Gernsbacher, M. A. (Ed.), Handbook of psycholinguistics. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
van den Broek, P. W., Risden, K., & Husebye-Hartmann, E. (1973). The role of readers' standards for coherence in the generation of inferences during reading. In Lorch, R. F. & O'Brien, E. J. (Eds.), Sources in coherence in reading (pp. 353373). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Vonk, W., & Noordman, L. G. (1990). On the control of inferences in text understanding. In Balota, D. A., Flores d'Arcais, G. B., & Rayner, K. (Eds.), Comprehension processes in reading (pp. 447463). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Walters, J., & Wolf, Y. (1973). Language proficiency, text content and order effects in narrative recall. Language Learning, 36, 4763.CrossRefGoogle Scholar