Digital reading in a second or foreign language: A systematic literature review

This systematic literature review focuses on digital reading in a second or foreign language. The reviewed literature (N = 31, published between 2008 and 2020) revealed several characteristics of second language digital reading environments, tasks, and readers.

First, characteristics of digital environments were availability and choice of authentic texts, degrees of linearity, lay-out characteristics, and integrated tools. Second, task characteristics evolved around different reading purposes, navigating elements, and features of digital texts, information management, and interaction. And third, reader characteristics included language and reading proficiency levels; readers’ perceptions of their self-efficacy, locus of control, and of themselves as second language readers; and readers’ topic, lexical, and world knowledge.

These characteristics seemed to enhance motivation, interaction, and understanding, but posed challenges as well, by demanding additional skills, strategies, time, memory capacity, and concentration.

The literature provided divergent insights about digital reading strategy use. The consensus seemed to be that the more one reads in a digital environment in the second language, the more digital reading strategies are used. However, increases in strategy use did not necessarily result in better reading compre- hension.

This review also revealed discrepancies between perceived and actual strategy use, and between teachers’ expectations of strategy use and students’ actions. We found that educational contexts were being represented more frequently than others. The research was predominantly explorative and qualitative. Based on these findings, recommendations for future research were made.

We recommend a clearer focus on the unique aspects of reading in a second language, on the affordances of digital reading, and on the teachers’ perspective. In order to move the research on digital reading in a second language forward, we would also advocate a wider scope and more diversity in research designs.