Task complexity and linguistic performance in advanced college-level foreign language writing
This study contributes to our understanding of the potential of tasks in the domain of writing for second/foreign language (L2/FL) development by exploring task complexity in academic writing and its effect on the linguistic performance of advanced college-level learners of Spanish. It focuses on essay-type writing tasks of different levels of complexity in terms of topic, discourse genre, task type, and cognitive processing and their relationship to syntactic complexity, accuracy, and fluency (CAF). It adds to the emerging research on task complexity in L2/FL writing in terms of two models: Skehan and Foster’s Limited Attentional Capacity Model (Skehan 1998a, 2001, 2003; Skehan & Foster 1999, 2001) and Robinson’s Cognition Hypothesis (Robinson 2001a, 2001b, 2003, 2005, 2007). Findings suggest a tendency towards an emerging tension between syntactic complexity <i>and</i> accuracy and fluency in relation to task complexity and, at the same time, a positive association between task complexity and some measures of syntactic complexity, accuracy, and fluency depending on the writing abilities of the students based on the quality of the essays they produced. The chapter calls for future research that provides a classificatory system of task complexity in L2/FL writing to help explain the effect of task variables on attentional resources and the role played by long-term and working memory capacity in the composing processes. In addition, further research is needed that considers writing ability in relation to levels of L2/FL language proficiency in order to understand better the interaction between tasks, L2/FL composing skills, and language production.