Date of Award

Spring 2019

Degree Type




Director of Thesis

Dr. Robin Morris

Second Reader

Dr. Alisha Biler


Reading has been the subject of hundreds of thousands of studies. Reading is fundamental skill not only to an individual’s education, but to their socialization and an understanding of the behavior is a rapidly expanding area of research. One of the least understood areas of reading behavior can be found is the growing English Second Language (ESL) population – or those who are learning English after demonstrating competence in their native language. As their native language has its own unique set of properties and is presented in its own unique written form, the influence this language has on their reading behavior is significant and only recently examined.

In this study, the work of previous researchers was expanded to demonstrate the word frequency effect and its presentation in two ESL populations: Spanish and Mandarin. Readers of the two languages were contrasted using 16 passages containing target high and low frequency words in hopes to demonstrate that ESL readers rely more heavily on word frequency than their native English reading counterparts. The results of this study affirmed that ESL readers more dramatically express the WFE when compared to native English speakers using both first fixation duration and gaze duration as measures.

Additionally, it was found that the word frequency effect presented differently across language groups with Chinese ESL readers relying on word frequency more heavily than Spanish ESL readers.. These results suggest that the native language of an ESL reader has a significant effect on their reading behavior as it relates to word frequency and possibly more components of the skill. It is recommended that future research should explore the source of these differences and determine whether they are the result of language and or writing system differences.

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