Carnegie Mellon University

Aurora Tsai

Aurora Tsai

  • FMS 325


Second language (L2) literacy skills are often a gatekeeper to higher education and better job opportunities.  They also provide a portal to unlimited information and exposure to other cultures.  However, L2 teachers often lack the time, resources, or training to help students improve these skills.  At the same time, L2 learners often feel the path to L2 literacy is too time-consuming, difficult, and lacking purpose.  For this reason, my primary research interests revolve around ways we can simultaneously support and assess L2 learning-to-read and reading-to-learn skills.  In particular, I am interested in the role of prior knowledge in supporting higher order reading-to-learn skills, and ways we can take advantage of technology to develop useful, literacy activities and assessments that cater to students from diverse backgrounds.

Learning-to-read refers to skills that first language (L1) readers usually develop in the first few years of elementary school, where they learn to match letters with their corresponding sounds, automatically match words with meanings, parse sentences, infer meanings, identify the main ideas, and distinguish important details of a text from minor ones (Chall, 1967, 1983).  At a certain point in reading development, learners can start shifting towards reading-to-learn, where they not only read for basic comprehension, but also learn new material through critically engaging with text content, for example, by evaluating, classifying, and comparing information from the text with what they already know, and applying what they learn to new situations.

To inform L2 literacy practice and the field’s understanding of learning-to-read and reading-to-learn skills, my past research focused on two well-established contributors to L2 reading: vocabulary knowledge and prior knowledge (Tsai, 2017).  My current research explores the potential of prior knowledge scaffolding to support L2 Japanese learners’ reading-to-learn skills using computer-mediated reading assessments that provide technology-enhanced supports for helping L2 Japanese learners compare their prior cultural knowledge with the content of Japanese cultural texts.


M.A. in Second Language Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa
B.A. in Biology, Boston University


Tsai, A. (2017). Conceptualizations of Vocabulary Knowledge in Second Language Reading. The Reading Matrix. 17(2).