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Combining Lexical and Grammatical Features to Improve Readability Measures



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Combining Lexical and Grammatical Features to Improve Readability Measures for First and Second Language Texts Michael J Heilman Kevyn CollinsThompson Jamie Callan Maxine Eskenazi Language Technologies Institute School of Computer Science Carnegie Mellon University 4502 Newell Simon Hall Pittsburgh PA 15213 8213 mheilman kct callan max cs cmu edu Abstract This work evaluates a system that uses interpolated predictions of reading difficulty that are based on both vocabulary and grammatical features The combined approach is compared to individual grammar and language modeling based approaches While the vocabulary based language modeling approach outperformed the grammar based approach grammar based predictions can be combined using confidence scores with the vocabulary based predictions to produce more accurate predictions of reading difficulty for both first and second language texts The results also indicate that grammatical features may play a more important role in second language readability than in first language readability 1 Introduction The REAP tutoring system Heilman et al 2006 aims to provide authentic reading materials of the appropriate difficulty level in terms of both vocabulary and grammar for English as a Second Language students An automatic measure of readability that incorporated both lexical and grammatical features was thus needed For first language L1 learners i e children learning their native tongue reading level has been predicted using a variety of techniques based on models of a student s lexicon grammatical surface features such as sentence length Flesch 1948 or combinations of such features Schwarm and Ostendorf 2005 It was shown by CollinsThompson and Callan 2004 that a vocabularybased language modeling approach was effective at predicting the readability of grades 1 to 12 of Web documents of varying length even with high levels of noise Prior work on first language readability by Schwarm and Ostendorf 2005 incorporated grammatical



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