The detailed study of eye movements in reading has shed considerable light into how language processing unfolds in real time. Yet eye movements in reading remain inadequately studied in non-native (L2) readers, even though much of the world’s population is multilingual. Here we present a detailed analysis of the quantitative functional influences of word length, frequency, and predictability on eye movement measures in reading in a large, linguistically diverse sample of non-native English readers. We find many similar qualitative effects as in L1 readers, but crucially also a proficiency-sensitive “lexicon-context tradeoff”. The most proficient L2 readers’ eye movements approach an L1 pattern, but as L2 proficiency diminishes, readers’ eye movements become less sensitive to a word’s predictability in context and more sensitive to word frequency, which is context-invariant. This tradeoff supports a rational, experience-dependent account of how context-driven expectations are deployed in L2 language processing.
Competing Interests: The authors declare no conflict of interests.