Attention, Reading and Comprehension of Chinese-English Bilinguals. An Eye-tracking Study


  • Xingting Zheng Eötvös Loránd University


Mother language (first language or birth language, L1) plays a crucial role in education, especially during reading. It has been suggested that mother language education facilitates learning a second language (L2), and that if a child reads in their mother language from an early age, they will have more substantial reading skills in other languages [1]. As mother language has such a dominant influence on the personal reading skills, and on thinking and comprehension, we assume that bilinguals have a “mother language preference” for decoding of L1 as an automatic process while they do not have it for L2.

We designed a few original eye tracking experiments for Chinese-English bilinguals. In experiment 1 (E1), participants will be told to pay attention to the picture 1 which is shown on the screen for a limited time (10 seconds). The stimuli in picture 1 is a long sentence in L2 reading material (at the top) and it is followed by an “L1 translation” (at the bottom). There are small mismatches between the two sentences, which are not very obvious. After the presentation of the stimuli, we will ask participants some questions related to the sentences, in order to see whether they understood the meaning of both sentences and whether they detected the mismatches.

The principles of experiment 2 (E2) are similar to E1. In E2, we show participants another picture (similar but not the same as the picture 1) with L2 version at the top and L1 at the bottom. The most significant difference between the two experiments lies in the questions. In E2, participants need to make inference from the reading material or even do a simple calculation based on both sentences. So we will also make comparison between the results of E1 and E2. Eye tracking metrics such as fixation duration, total fixation time are collected. The hypothesis of the experiments are: 1. No matter how proficient in L2 the participants are, when given reading materials in L1 and L2 at the same time, in a given duration, bilinguals will pay more attention to the L1 sentences. 2. Even being implied paying attention to both versions, when the L1 reading material seems like the translation version of L2 reading material, bilinguals still prefer understanding the L1 sentences first than L2 sentences.


[1] X. Tong, C. McBride, H. Shu, and C. S. Ho, “Reading comprehension difficulties in Chinese-english bilingual children,” Dyslexia, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 59–83, 2017. doi:10.1002/dys.1566