Complexity, Accuracy and Fluency from the perspective of psycholinguistic Second Language Acquisition research

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The aim of this chapter, which is written from the perspective of psycholinguistic SLA research, is to establish a possible relationship between representations, processes and mechanisms of second language learning and knowledge as defined from within psycholinguistic SLA on the one hand, and the more behavioural performance outcomes such as complexity, accuracy and fluency on the other hand.In the first section of this chapter the view of second language acquisition presented in Towell and Hawkins (1994) is presented. On the basis of this view, an argument is put forward in favour of a tripartite composition of second language acquisition: one element dealing with language competence, one with learned linguistic knowledge and one with language processing. Each of these elements will have a bearing on complexity, accuracy and fluency, although not on a simple onetoone basis. It is further argued that each element has specific learning dimensions. For second language acquisition to succeed and for learners to be able to use complex language accurately and fluently, it is essential for all three dimensions to be successful and to be integrated with each other. This must take place within appropriate memory systems. Empirical evidence is presented in the second part of the chapter to examine the role which each of the elements plays. It is shown that the acquisition of competence takes longer than is sometimes expected and that learners make use of strategies such as mimicking or generalising constructions in the absence of full competence. Explicit learned linguistic knowledge is seen to be speeded-up but not transformed into implicit knowledge. Learners are shown to become faster speakers over time but their individual Speaking Rate is shown to be relative to that of their Speaking Rate in the L1. It is argued that, whilst L1 and L2 both contain the three acquisitional elements, the balance is different between the two with the L2 depending much more on speeded-up learnt linguistic knowledge. It is suggested that the understanding of the development of complexity, accuracy and fluency would be improved through a dialogue between acquisitionists and those who measure performance progression in these areas.


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