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The Impacts of Vocabulary Knowledge and Text Complexity of the Second Language on Reading Comprehension－A Case Study of Chinese Learners
The factors that affect reading comprehension include reader’s language proficiency and the text itself. While reading, readers must deal with vocabulary (whether they have learnt it or not). Therefore, the dimensions related to second language vocabulary are very important to reading comprehension. Vocabulary knowledge includes breadth and depth of knowledge, and both play an influential role in reading comprehension. Among English-related researches, Staehr (2008) found that the effect of breadth of vocabulary knowledge was related to reading comprehension (r=0.83), and Xiao Lee (2007) found that both breadth and depth of knowledge were related to reading comprehension (r=0.53, r=0.47). Morphological awareness is also crucial to reading comprehension. For example, Carlisle (1995) found that morphological awareness was the best forecasting indicator for reading comprehension (R2=0.366). Instead, Chinese is different from English, for the main formation of Chinese words is compounding, and the semantic transparency of Chinese vocabulary is crucial to vocabulary acquisition and reading comprehension. However, in the field of Chinese second language researches, there are quite few papers that examined the relationship between semantic transparency and reading comprehension. Therefore, this study aims to examine the impacts of vocabulary knowledge, morphological awareness and semantic transparency on reading comprehension of Chinese learners. Thirty-four CSL learners of intermediate level and above participated in this study. The adopted research method, developed by Mahastuti (2016), was mainly to examine vocabulary knowledge. Morphological awareness in this study included derivational awareness and compound awareness, and the reading materials were edited by the researcher. The test items of reading comprehension included the understanding of contents and target words, and semantic transparency of target words was the variable for controlling text complexity. The current findings revealed the following results. First, in terms of the three texts of different complexity, there were significant differences in reading comprehension, the understanding of contents, and target words (F=7.967, p=0.001; F=4.629, p=0.012; F=7.400, p=0.001). Both Text 1 (of the lowest complexity) and Text 3 (of the intermediate complexity) performed better than Text 2 (of the highest complexity). Second, in terms of reading comprehension, the high proficiency group performed better than low proficiency group on all of the three texts. Third, vocabulary knowledge was related to reading comprehension, no matter on which text. For example, reading comprehension was highly related to breadth and depth of knowledge, respectively (r=0.871, p=0.000; r=0.790, p=0.000), while breadth of knowledge was a more powerful indicator for reading comprehension (R2=75.9%). The correlation between reading comprehension and morphological awareness was not significant. Next, breadth of knowledge was moderately related to morphological awareness and compound awareness, respectively (r=0.353, p=0.041; r=0.353, p=0.041), while there was nonsignificant correlation between breadth of knowledge and derivational awareness. Regarding breadth of knowledge, 12.5% of variance could be explained by morphological awareness, and 12.4% of variance could be explained by compound awareness. There was nonsignificant correlation between breadth of knowledge and morphological awareness. Last, breadth of knowledge was significantly related to depth of knowledge, and 73.2% of variance in depth of knowledge could be explained by width of knowledge.
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