Investigating implicit and explicit processing using L2 learners’ eye-movement data

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In this chapter we review eye-tracking methodology as a way to investigate aspects of implicit and explicit L2 processing, given that the research context allows one to do so. We begin by briefly reviewing the L1 eye-tracking research of psychologists and cognitive scientists whose work provided (and continues to provide) a strong foundation for subsequent and now burgeoning L2 eye-movement studies. We discuss how eye-movement records can be used to investigate the workings of the language-processing system, which in adult L2 learners is often fraught with processing difficulties that can give rise to longer or more frequent fixations and rereading. We explain the premise that longer fixations and more regressions, as compared to baseline data, indicate more effortful processing and, in some research designs, more attention. However, the resolution (successful or not, remembered or abandoned) of that processing is not specified through the eye-movement record. Following that premise, we outline how L2 researchers use eye-tracking data to investigate bilingualism&#8217;s effects on language access and processing. We also review eye-movement research by applied linguists who have investigated L2 knowledge, processing, and implicit or explicit learning conditions. We conclude by recommending that researchers triangulate their eye-movement data with offline or other online measures to provide more nuanced insights into the nature and effects of L2 learners&#8217; processing, whether implicit or explicit and conducive to L2 development or not. In this way, future SLA researchers can employ eye trackers to robustly investigate L2 learning from an implicit <i>vs. </i>explicit perspective.


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