Are children who speak English as an additional language better at learning new words they encounter in text?

This project explores the controversial 'bilingual advantage' in word learning to examine whether children who speak English as an additional language learn new words they encounter during reading better than their monolingual peers. The research project will use eye movement methodology to track reading times on new words over multiple exposures to provide a sensitive and dynamic measure of incidental learning as it occurs.

Department: The Learning Hub

Supervised by: Holly Joseph

The Placement Project

Children who speak English as an Additional Language (EAL) show poor literacy attainment relative to their peers whose First Language is English (FLE) at primary school (e.g. Burgoyne et al., 2009), but also make faster progress than their FLE peers, suggesting that they may employ particular skills or strategies that enable their rapid improvement. Recent research has revealed a possible bilingual advantage in word learning (e.g. Kaushanskaya & Marian, 2009), and so it may be that EAL children have superior word learning skills compared to their FLE peers in terms of the number of exposures needed for learning to occur, and that it is this skill that is driving their accelerated progress at school. In the proposed study, 30 EAL and FLE children (aged 9-11) will read a series of sentences containing a (real but rare) target word. Informative sentence contexts will allow children to infer the word’s meaning. As children encounter a target word, their fixation times will reveal how difficult they are finding the word to process, allowing tracking over repeated encounters the extent to which processing of new words is becoming less effortful. It is predicted that EAL children’s reading times will diminish at a faster rate than their FLE peers, demonstrating an advantage for incidental word learning during reading. Better performance in post-tests of learning the target words’ spelling and meaning are also expected.


The successful candidate will have number of duties, including liaising with schools, organising a timetable for data collection, running the experiment in schools, and contributing to the analysis and dissemination of data. Before testing commences, the student will be fully trained in: 1) Administering standardised tests of reading accuracy and comprehension 2) Using an eye tracker and its associated software 3) Administering bespoke tests of word learning After testing, the student will also be trained in basic descriptive statistical techniques and setting up a database (in Excel) to prepare eye movement data for analysis. They will also be given the opportunity to use appropriate software to analyse eye movement data, conduct statistical analyses and present findings at an informal research group meeting. It is expected that initial training and liaising with schools will take one week. Testing is expected to take three weeks, leaving two weeks for data analysis and interpretation. If the student is keen to present results at a research group meeting, this will be at a later date (in the autumn term).

Skills, knowledge and experience required

Essential skills/knowledge/experience. Before collecting data the successful candidate must have obtained a DBS check, as data will be collected in local primary schools. The successful student will have: • Good written and spoken communication skills • Confidence in speaking to primary school-age pupils whose first language is not English • Sense of responsibility in presenting self in a professional manner in a primary school (including punctuality) • Good organisational skills • Good IT skills • Willingness to travel to local schools (within the Reading area) Desirable skills/knowledge/experience: • Experience of interacting with children (e.g.; volunteering in schools) • Experience in handling numerical datasets, ideally using software such as MS Excel or SPSS • Knowledge of/willingness to learn some statistical procedures • Knowledge of experimental design • Be expecting to achieve a high 2.1 or a 1st class degree • Interest in reading and reading development • Clean driving license and access to a car

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The successful candidate will gain skills in the administration of standardised assessments in a school setting. These will be both the specific skills for administering and scoring the tests to be used in the project, and generic skills in general test administration and scoring. The successful candidate will also gain skills in using an eye tracker which will include experiment creation, running participants, and using basic data analysis software). If the successful candidate has no existing skills in statistical analysis, there will be individual tuition in using Excel for exploring data and deriving descriptive statistics. If the successful candidate has basic skills in statistics there will be the opportunity for more advanced tuition in running linear mixed effects models using R. The successful candidate will be expected to be self-motivated and to negotiate with school administrators to organise the time-table for data collection. This will give the candidate transferrable skills which will be marketable in many employment situations. The successful candidate will be expected to report to the PI and to engage in discussions about interpretation of the data. The contribution of the student to any conference presentation and written paper resulting from the research will be acknowledged in accordance with American Psychological Association and Harvard guidelines. Finally, the student will be given the opportunity to present results to a research group, thereby gaining expertise in public speaking and improving their communication skills.

Place of Work

Institute of Education, University of Reading and 2-3 local primary schools (to be confirmed)

Hours of Work

7 hours/day (average)

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 13 June 2016 - Friday 22 July 2016

How to Apply

The post will be advertised centrally on the UROP website between 8th February and 18th March 2016. In addition, the post will be advertised within the Psychology department, the Institute of Education (through email and noticeboards) as well as through the Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (CeLM) through its existing mailing list. Interested students will be asked to send a CV, an academic reference and a short statement to the PI, outlining why they want to apply for the post, and how they meet the essential and desirable skills/knowledge/experience. Shortlisting and interviews will be conducted by the PI and a colleague at the IoE and interviews will be held in early April. Candidates will be informed of the result in the week following interviews.

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