Students’ inferential reading skills in Italian L1 and English L2

Students’ inferential reading skills in Italian L1 and English L2

Understanding a written text involves decoding what it conveys explicitly and implicitly. This may pose challenges to children, elders and people with atypical development (Domaneschi, Di Paola, 2019; Bill et al., 2016). Yet, also typically developed (TD) adults may encounter difficulties with phenomena at the interface between syntax, semantics and discourse in an L2 (Sorace, 2011; Feng, 2022, Prior et al., 2014). We investigated how well TD young adults engage in reading comprehension in Italian L1 vs English L2. We designed a questionnaire comprising a reading passage and multiple-choice comprehension items focused on the recognition of presupposed (6), entailed (6), explicit (6) and unstated (6) content. Adopting a between-participants design, we administered it online to volunteer Italian university students in an Italian (30) and an English version (30). The overall information retrieval accuracy was high in both languages (75%), but not uniformly so across meaning categories: it was higher in the case of explicit (English: 89%, Italian: 91%) and entailment (English: 86%, Italian: 80%) content, and lower in the case of unstated (English: 76%, Italian: 69%) and presupposed (English 52%, Italian: 61%) content. Also, accuracy levels were not constant across items within the same meaning category. Finally, comprehension accuracy was similarly high across participants’ levels of L2 proficiency: native-like (89%), advanced (74%), intermediate (75%) and beginner (71%). The findings suggest three considerations. An L2 does not necessarily create a barrier to reading comprehension: cognitive and literacy skills established in an L1 may transfer across languages (cf. Cummins’s Model of Language Interdependence). L1 status is not a reliable predictor of comprehension accuracy: L1 readers might not put great concentration efforts into decoding an L1 text. Within the same meaning category, each meaning unit poses a specific level of decoding difficulty, which may depend on an interplay of lexico-semantic and structural-discursive factors.



Bill, C., Romoli, J., Schwarz, F., Crain, S. (2016). Scalar implicatures versus presuppositions: The view from acquisition. Topoi, 35: 57-71.

Domaneschi, F., Di Paola S. (2019). The aging factor in presupposition processing. Journal of Pragmatics, 140: 70-87.

Feng, S. (2022). The computation and suspension of presuppositions by L1-Mandarin Chinese L2-English speakers. Second Language Research, 38(4): 737-763.

Sorace, A. (2011). Pinning down the concept of “interface” in bilingualism. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 1(1): 1-33.

Prior, A., Goldina, A., Shany, M., Geva, E., Katzir, T. (2014). Lexical inference in L2: Predictive roles of vocabulary knowledge and reading skill beyond reading comprehension. Reading & Writing, 27: 1467-1484.