The Contribution of Working Memory and Word Recognition to Second Language Reading Across Different Proficiency Levels: An Eye-Movement Study

Document Type : Original Article


1 Department of English Language and Literature, Faculty of Foreign Languages, University of Isfahan, Esfahan, Iran

2 Department of English Language and Literature, Faculty of Foreign Languages, University of Isfahan, Isfahan, Iran

3 English Department, Faculty of Foreign Languages, University of Isfahan



This study examined the role of working memory (WM) and word recognition in L2 reading across different proficiency levels. 120 Iranian EFL learners were placed in three proficiency groups based on their IELTS scores. The battery of tests used in this study included a reading span task to measure WM, an eye movement word vs. non-word task to measure word recognition ability, an L1-recall task, and a multiple-choice reading test to measure reading comprehension. Correlations were carried out to examine the connections between WM, word recognition skills, and L2 reading performance. Regression analyses were also conducted to test whether WM and word recognition can predict reading performance at different levels of proficiency. The results showed that there were significant correlations between WM and L2 reading in the beginner group and between WM and word recognition speed in the beginner and intermediate groups. Regression analyses indicated that WM is a strong and direct predictor of reading performance at a beginner level of proficiency and a predictor of how fast less proficient readers recognize words in context. Highlighting the important role of WM in the word recognition ability of less proficient L2 readers, this study also showed that second language reading is not related to the accuracy or speed of word recognition across proficiency levels.


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