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Top Story

Gauging language proficiency through eye movement

A National Science Foundation-funded study has uncovered a new way of telling how well people are learning English: tracking their eyes. That's right. Using data generated by cameras trained on readers' eyes, the research team has found that patterns of eye movement -- particularly how long people's eyes rest on certain words -- correlate strongly with performance on standardized tests of English as a second language. The study delves into a phenomenon about reading that we may never notice, no matter how much we read: Our eyes do not move continuously along a string of text, but instead fix on particular words for up to 200 to 250 milliseconds. We also take leaps from one word to another that may last about 1/20 of a second. But if you are learning a new language, your eyes may dwell on particular words for longer periods of time, as you try to comprehend the text. The particular pattern of eye movement, for this reason, can reveal a lot about comprehension, at least when analyzed in a clearly defined context. As the researchers see it, the current study is just one step on a longer journey of exploration about the interactions of language and cognition.

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