- Franz Holzknecht, Language Testing Research Group Innsbruck, University of Innsbruck, Austria (Current affiliation: University of Teacher Education in Special Needs, Zurich, Switzerland)
- Elisa Guggenbichler, Language Testing Research Group Innsbruck, University of Innsbruck, Austria
- Matthias Zehentner, Language Testing Research Group Innsbruck, University of Innsbruck, Austria
- Monique Yoder, Michigan State University, USA and LCC International University, Lithuania
- Eva Konrad, Language Testing Research Group Innsbruck, University of Innsbruck, Austria
- Benjamin Kremmel, Language Testing Research Group Innsbruck, University of Innsbruck, Austria
This study investigated to what extent the complexity of English as a medium of instruction (EMI) university reading materials matches EMI students’ reading proficiency. Text complexity and student proficiency were compared utilizing Lexile© Framework for Reading text measures and reading measures based on test results, questionnaire responses, and interviews. Specifically, the study combined data from 107 students’ Aptis reading test scores and equivalent Lexile reading measures with student questionnaire responses, Lexile text measures of 66 authentic texts used in EMI university teaching, and interviews with 7 lecturers. The participants were recruited from three different EMI institutions in Europe (Austria and Lithuania) and Africa (Egypt).
The results of the study indicate that, on average, Lexile text measures of EMI reading materials match students’ Lexile reading measures relatively well and text complexity is similar to comparable L1 university settings. However, the analyses also showed that there were quite wide disparities between: 1) students in terms proficiency; and 2) between texts in terms of difficulty, as indicated through Lexile reading measures and text measures. While some students displayed Lexile reading measures that were above the text measures of all the texts used in EMI teaching, a substantial number of students’ Lexile reading measures was below the level of even the least complex texts.
The second major finding of the study is that readability indices such as the Lexile text measure, while being useful indicators for the general difficulty of reading materials, appear to only provide a relatively narrow view of text complexity. The questionnaire and interview data showed that factors such as students’ topical knowledge, text length, text structure and organization, and reading tasks, as well as individual differences between students, were relevant aspects of perceived text complexity beyond word frequency and sentence length.