Many studies in the field of second language (L2) education have examined students’ use of online machine translation (MT) in writing, but not much is known about the effect of MT use on reading comprehension. The present study thus investigated how L2 learners employ MT output in L2 reading and how it affects comprehension. Thirty advanced Korean learners of English participated in an online reading comprehension task in which unedited MT texts in Korean were presented before or after reading literary texts in English. Text reading times and responses to comprehension questions were collected and analyzed. The results revealed that the presentation order of MT output and source text has a significant effect on reading times as reading the MT output after the source text than before led to a closer reading. In the post-task survey, the majority of the learners strongly supported the use of MT as a convenient tool that can provide a quick overview of the text and easy access to vocabulary. As the first study to examine L2 learners’ use of MT output in reading comprehension, this study presents important implications for MT as a “gisting” tool that increases learners’ overall understanding of L2 texts.
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