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We are interested in how we extract meaning from the language we read or the language we hear, how children learn to do this and why some people find aspects of language processing difficult.

Investigating children's language and literacy development
Investigating children's language and literacy development

We are interested in various different aspects of psycholinguistics, with a particular focus on learning to read. Broadly, we work on two sets of problems, individual words and comprehension. At the word-level we are investigating how children learn to deal with words – the cognitive processes that enable them to move from slow and effortful reading at 5 or 6 years of age to fluent word recognition a few years later.  In terms of comprehension, our experiments are examining how we build a mental representation of text as we read – how readers select, integrate, maintain and update information dynamically as they process text. Uniting all our work is a concern with understanding learning processes themselves, rather than just measuring the end point of learning. This is achieved via three methodologies:  (1) studies with children that chart the development of reading and language, both in typical development and in children who find learning to read difficult; (2) training studies with adults that examine learning and generalization directly via experiments that mimic natural language development, but in a laboratory environment that allows tight experimental control and (3) studies (in children and in adults) that measure processing in real-time; when reading, the eyes move in a series of pauses and jumps known as fixations and saccades. Using an eye-tracker we record the positions of the eyes on a millisecond by millisecond basis. By manipulating certain aspects of the text to be read and examining when the eyes move, and where they move to, we gain a detailed index of the cognitive processes that underpin reading as it happens.

LCD is vibrant and active research group of postdocs, graduate students, research assistants and undergraduate interns, led by Kate Nation.  We are a member of the Developmental Science research grouping within the department and we collaborate with OSCCI, Oxford BabyLab and Professor Maggie Snowling. Beyond Oxford, we have an active collaboration with Professor Anne Castles and other members of the Centre for Cognition and its Disorders at Macquarie University, Sydney.  We collaborate with LCD alumni Dr Holly Joseph and Dr Liz Wonnacott.

For our research hub, please visit our pages over at ReadOxford.  You can also follow Kate on twitter @ReadOxford.

Click here for our publications

Our team

Selected publications

Current Research Projects

  • Nurturing a Lexical Legacy: Understanding the Transition From Novice-to-Expert in Children's reading Development

    How do children move from slow and effortful reading, where they "sound-out" words and struggle with fluency, to develop the fast, efficient and effective word recognition system that characterises skilled visual word recognition? Our new programme of research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, will help us answer this question.

  • The Oxford Children’s Corpus: Lessons for Learning to Read

    This is a new project, funded by The Leverhulme Trust. The scientific study of reading has taught us much about the early stages of learning to read. Critically however, little is known about how children develop from novice-to-expert: how do children move from the laborious process of “sounding-out” words to fluent and apparently effortless reading later on? We will take a novel approach to exploring this question by combining corpus-based analyses with empirical studies of children’s reading behaviour. Specifically, we will investigate when and how often children encounter words, and in what types of contexts, to reveal how different experiences with words drive the development of reading.

  • Making Words Stick: Lexical Consolidation Effects in Learning to Read

    To become skilled readers, children need to move from sounding words out to recognising them rapidly via access to rich, long-term memory representations. Little is known about how this transition is achieved, and why some children have difficulty. This project will address these questions in a set of learning studies with typically-developing and reading-impaired children, focussing particularly on the long-term consolidation of word representations. We will explore the role of sleep in promoting the consolidation process, in both children and adults. The findings will directly inform theory and practice in reading acquisition and enhance the treatment of reading difficulties.

  • The Nuffield Learning to Read Project: From Infancy to Primary School

    Do language skills in infancy predict how well children will learn to read? Are children who are slow to learn to produce and comprehend words at risk of later problems with language and literacy, once they reach primary school? Kate Nation and Kim Plunkett set out to explore theses questions in the Nuffield Learning to Read Project. Fiona Duff and Gurpreet Reen worked hard on the project, completing it in 2015. You can learn about are findings here. We are grateful to the many families who participated in our study, and to The Nuffield Foundation who funded this research.

  • Eye Movements and Literary Reading

    This project explores the utility of eye-tracking in the study of literary devices characteristic of both Modernist literature and the popular crime/thriller genre. Experimenters typically use simple texts of only a sentence or two rather than real literary texts. Our studies will increase scientific understanding of how authentic literary texts are read, as well as demonstrate the value of complementing theoretical claims about literary devices with empirical testing.

Related research themes