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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Interplay between Working Memory and Topic Familiarity in L2 Reading Comprehension
by Shin, Jihye, Ph.D., Northern Arizona University, 2020, 223; 27957743
Abstract (Summary)

This study investigated whether and how working memory (WM) and topic familiarity combine to facilitate second language (L2) reading comprehension to elucidate the complex dynamics of individual differences in L2 reading. It also examined the distinctive contributions of WM subcomponents (e.g., storage, processing) to L2 reading comprehension with and without topic familiarity. A total of 158 university students in Japan (n = 78) and Korea (n = 80) studying English as an L2 participated. The current study observed participants’ performance under two conditions, reading with and without topic familiarity, which were purposefully created by the researcher. The participants completed tasks that assessed topic familiarity, WM capacity, L2 knowledge, and L2 reading comprehension in a two-phase administration of measures.

Results of mixed-effects modeling showed that there is an interaction between WM and topic familiarity in L2 reading comprehension, even when L2 knowledge was accounted for. Participants benefitted differently from the provision of topic familiarity due to constraints imposed by WM. In the presence of topic familiarity, WM amplified the effect of topic familiarity on reading, which resulted in L2 readers with high WM taking advantage of topic familiarity to a greater extent.

When closely examined, the extent to which participants were able to benefit from familiarity with the topic was linked to their processing capacity rather than storage capacity. The participants’ capacity for storing and maintaining information did not seem to contribute to their ability to take advantage of topic familiarity, nor was it predictive of reading comprehension. Methodologically, the results highlight the need for WM measures to tap processing because of its unique role in L2 reading comprehension.

The findings provide a nuanced understanding of the effect of topic familiarity on L2 reading comprehension and illustrate the role of working memory in L2 readers’ effective use of topic familiarity. Implications for and contributions to pedagogical practices regarding pre-reading stages of lessons are explored. Directions for future research are also proposed.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Stoller, Fredricka L, Dronjic, Vedran
Commitee: Youn, Soo Jung, Asención-Delaney, Yuly, Grabe, William
School: Northern Arizona University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Arizona
Source: DAI-A 81/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: English as a Second Language
Keywords: Second language reading comprehension, Topic familiarity, Working memory
Publication Number: 27957743
ISBN: 9798645477844
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