Eye Movements and Word Recognition during Visual Semantic Search: Differences between Expert and Novice Language Learners
Background. The empirical studies in visual word recognition done over the past years have been focused on the influence of contextual, lexical, and semantic properties. Researchers also have taken into consideration the role of individual differences in the word recognition process, e.g., vocabulary knowledge.
Objective. This study focuses on the cognitive strategies used by expert and novice language learners in a visual semantic search task. Our hypothesis is that the level of ESL (English as a Second Language) mastery would influence the word recognition and oculomotor patterns applied by the participants.
Design. The participants–native Russian speakers–were divided into three groups according to their level of English language mastery. The experimental task involved a search for horizontally- or vertically-oriented English words in letter matrices (15*15); the frequency and length of the words varied.Performance measures (number and orientation of the found words) were registered, along with the participants’ eye movements.
Results. Word search efficiency depended on the frequency, length, and orientation of the words and the participant’s language mastery; however, these factors did not interact.Thedata show that oculomotor events are denserin experts’ results. Learners with different levels of language mastery use different information-processing patterns, which are reflected in the proportions of fixation and saccade durations. Two complementary trends were found: word search efficiency is effected, first, by a longer gaze scan path, and second, by the focal mode of visual information-processing, manifested in a combination of longer fixations and shorter saccades.
Conclusion. The registration of eye-movement patterns in visual semantic search tasks reveals the characteristics of effective and non-effective cognitive strategies used by ESL students at different levels of language competence.
Keywords: visual semantic search, word recognition, expert and novice language learners, SL competence, eye-movement, cognitive strategies, visual information processing.