Chapter 11. Task complexity, language anxiety, and the development of the simple past

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A main prediction of the Cognition Hypothesis is that individual differences will influence learners’ perceptions of task difficulty and, as a result, affect performance and learning as task complexity is increased. To date, little research has investigated this claim, leaving open the question whether an interaction exists between task complexity and learner factors. Thus, the current study employed a pre-post-delayed posttest design to investigate the role of task complexity and anxiety in university Korean EFL learners’ (N = 88) development of past tense morphology during task-based learner-learner interaction. Participants were assigned to one of three groups that carried out four communicative tasks varying in terms of task complexity: simple, +complex, and ++complex, based on [± reasoning demands]. Past tense development was investigated within individual and pair tasks, and assessed following the Aspect Hypothesis (Andersen & Shirai, 1994, 1996). Learners’ anxiety was measured via a questionnaire targeting speaking anxiety only. Results indicated that (1) complex tasks were more facilitative of past tense development compared to simple tasks overall, (2) low-anxiety learners showed more past tense development than high-anxiety learners, and (3) there was no interaction between task complexity and learners’ anxiety level. Drawing on these findings, implications for research on the Cognition Hypothesis and task-based language teaching are discussed.


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