Storyline complexity and syntactic complexity in writing and speaking tasks

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Task-based Language Teaching (TBLT) research has provided ample evidence that cognitive complexity is an important aspect of task design that influences learner performance in terms of fluency, accuracy, and syntactic and lexical complexity. Task features such as the degree of structure and storyline complexity contribute to task complexity and affect different aspects of L2 performance. Two of the current models of task complexity (i.e. Skehan 1998, and Robinson 2001), have further encapsulated different dimensions of task complexity and have provided both a framework for evaluating and predicting task complexity and a detailed discussion of the factors that may affect cognitive complexity. These models by principle are assumed to be pertinent to all tasks regardless of their purpose, type, or mode. However, little is known about whether cognitive complexity affects writing and speaking tasks in similar ways, or whether it has similar influences on L2 oral and written performance. By replicating previous research in oral task performance (Tavakoli & Foster 2008), the current study investigates the effects of storyline complexity on L2 learners writing in narrative tasks. The findings indicate that, although cognitive complexity affects both written and spoken performances, the way it affects the syntactic complexity of writing and speaking differs to some extent. In addition to presenting empirical data that provides insights into the effects of cognitive complexity on L2 learners’ writing and speaking, the main contribution of the chapter is to help extend our understanding of how task complexity plays out with the syntactic complexity of L2 performance in the two different modes, and to allow for a more in-depth understanding of the ways in which task complexity contributes to L2 writing. In that fashion, the findings of the current study can also begin to answer the question of whether or not a single model of task complexity can account for both writing and speaking tasks.


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