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The eyes have it


Looking at English learners’ eye movements while reading English text tells us how well they are learning, a recent American study has suggested.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were able to predict the learners’ scores on standardised proficiency tests (MET and Toefl) by tracking how long they spent looking at individual words.

They compared their predictions to participants’ actual results and found they were reliable.

They examined 145 ESL speakers, almost evenly divided among native Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish.

Each participant read 156 English sentences drawn from a Wall Street Journal archive.

Researchers filmed the participants’ eye movements, allowing them to track the length of time readers were fixated on specific words.

They used a set of metrics called Eyescore, which shows to what extent the pattern of a learner’s eye movements resemble those of native speakers when reading English.

The sample included 37 native English speakers for comparison purposes.

‘This outcome confirms the effectiveness of reading time comparisons when the presented sentences are shared across participants’, the study said.

In future, the researchers say they want to look at how to combine real-time eye tracking with traditional task-based tests to come up with a more accurate and fair assessment of learners’ English proficiency.

⇒ Universals and cultural diversity in the expression of gratitude, Simeon Floyd et al (various universities). Royal Society Open Science tinyurl.com/ycu7v9yp