Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2018

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/03/2020

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Second Language Acquisition

First Advisor

Shen, Helen H

First Committee Member

Ke, Chuanren

Second Committee Member

McMurray, Bob

Third Committee Member

Nishi, Yumiko

Fourth Committee Member

Plakans, Lia


Reading in a second language (L2) is a complex process that poses formidable obstacles for readers, especially those in the initial stages of learning. The challenge is particularly daunting for lower-level Chinese L2 readers with an alphabetic first language (L1) background. Chinese is a logographic, deep orthography with unique linguistic features that necessitate specific reading processes and skills. The development of Chinese L2 reading competence is heavily dependent upon instruction. Effective instruction requires accurate diagnoses of the learners’ reading problems and appropriate selection of instructional materials. Compared with standardized proficiency tests that provide little diagnostic information, and formal diagnostic assessments that are inconvenient to use in daily instruction for diagnostic purposes, informal diagnostic assessment tools enable language teachers to better accommodate the instructional needs of learners to identify reading weaknesses and select suitable materials. However, thus far, instruction-informative, diagnostically rich, and flexible informal diagnostic reading assessment for Chinese L2 reading is lacking.

This study aims to fill a gap in the Chinese L2 reading assessment field by exploring the applicability of three tasks as informal reading diagnostic assessment tools to measure comprehension performance, detect reading problems, and determine instructional material difficulty levels for lower-level Chinese L2 readers. These three assessment instruments are: oral word reading, word segmentation, and oral passage reading. This study is a necessary step towards constructing diagnostic Chinese reading assessment instruments that can be used by classroom teachers. It also contributes to the Chinese L2 reading field theoretically because it examines whether an L1 English reading theory can be applied to explain L2 Chinese reading. The participants in this study were 70 lower-level English-speaking learners of Chinese from several universities in the United States and China.

The results showed that all three of the informal diagnostic instruments effectively predict reading comprehension, with oral passage reading emerging as the strongest indicator. One shared construct, oral reading fluency, underlies the three diagnostic instruments. Oral reading fluency strongly predicts comprehension, suggesting that there is commonality in reading across languages, and theories designed for L1 alphabetic language reading can be well applied to Chinese L2 reading. Chinese orthographic characteristics also exert influence on reading, as manifested in the stronger role of fluency in predicting comprehension and the word segmenting processes in reading. The informal diagnostic instruments can also be used to evaluate instructional material difficulty. Two of the three textbook-equivalent texts examined in this study fit the learners’ reading level, while most learners felt one of the texts was too difficult to read. L2 readers have diverse profiles and they develop their componential skills in different ways, whereas the crucial role of word-level processing in reading remains stable across reader patterns. Generally speaking, the three diagnostic instruments were moderately difficult for the participants in this study, and the two oral reading tasks were more challenging than the word segmentation. The quantity and quality of learners’ errors when completing these three diagnostic instruments reveal rich information about their reading processes and problems. The findings offered strong support for the three instruments as effective tools for diagnostic purposes in Chinese lower-level L2 reading instruction and indicated the importance of developing reading fluency and training word-level processing skills.


x, 261 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 211-261).


Copyright © 2018 Shuyi Yang