Chapter 2. Effects of task complexity and pre-task planning on Japanese EFL learners’ oral production

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This study sought to test Skehan’s (1996, 1998) limited capacity hypothesis and Robinson’s (1995, 2003) cognition hypothesis by investigating the effects of task complexity and pre-task planning on EFL learners’ oral production (see also Genc, this volume). Twenty three Japanese-L1 high school students were given two sets of picture-based narrative tasks: a simple task with fewer characters and a complex task with more characters appearing in cartoon-based stories. Ten of these participants were given pre-task planning time, whereas thirteen were not. The results indicate that (a) the increased task complexity positively affects the specific measure of syntactic complexity, but negatively affects global accuracy and fluency; and (b) planning time positively affects global syntactic complexity, but negatively affects fluency. These findings partially support and partially disconfirm both Robinson’s and Skehan’s hypotheses, posing questions about making blanket predictions on the linguistic consequences of task manipulation. The findings also show the importance of employing task-discourse sensitive measures in investigating the effect of task complexity on learners’ language use. The main value of the findings of the study comes from its focus on Japanese EFL high school students who have limited oral L2 proficiency, a population underrepresented in previous studies, despite their obvious importance for both research and teaching.


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