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Detail of contribution

Auteur: Sandra TINNER

Read into the eyes of bilinguals to elucidate some aspects of the different reading strategies

Abstract/Résumé: Switzerland, a small country of 8 million inhabitants and 4 national languages should have plenty of bilingual and multilingual people, mixing with ease every day many of these languages, possibly even with English. However only a very limited percentage of the population is able to work and live in more than one language. Late bilinguals, having learnt the second language later than at the child age, are rare even if they sometimes show excellent grammatical skills in their L2 (second language), almost always after years of immersion in the L2-region. Even if there is a chance to acquire L2 with a very high level, there are some basic properties of the educational system making it difficult to become a late bilingual. One of these properties is the age of learning L2. Various studies show that starting L2 at a later age is not strictly limiting the chances to become bilingual. However our study shows, based on experimental analysis of the reading strategies of bilinguals, using the so-called eye-tracking technology, that the reading strategy developed with L1 is in many cases strongly influencing the later developed reading strategy with L2. We have been using compound nouns in French and German as stimulus material since they are constructed just in the opposite way in terms of the position of head and modifier: Zahnbürste - brosse à dents (toothbrush rather than brush of teeth). We have been measuring simultaneously reaction time and error quotes, but also eye tracking specific parameters of the eye movements during reading like "first gaze", the directions of the saccades and the duration of each fixation. These results revealed interesting differences between early and late bilinguals on the one hand and between French and German reading strategies on the other hand. The opposite compound constructions in French and German turned out to be one of the crucial factors of visual word identification capability of the subjects: Early bilinguals showed higher ability to adapt their reading strategies to their languages than late bilinguals as well as needing less effort to get the correct answer. All these findings were also compared to the results of the language tests and the language biography of each participant. In this talk we will present the experimental design, our choices for a specific observation of the reading strategy and the different results obtained in average by early and by late bilinguals. We will show how the syntactical processing in the brain depends on the degree of bilingualism and will conclude with some ideas about how to improve literacy while learning a new language and discuss the next step extending this work.