Role of Task Complexity in Promoting Foreign Language Learning Featured Image

The Role of Task Complexity in Promoting Foreign Language Learning

Executive summary

Led by Dr. YouJin Kim, a professor at Georgia State University, this study explores Robinson’s Cognition Hypothesis which predicts that increasing the complexity of instructional tasks will promote more interaction opportunities for language learners during task-based interaction, and therefore, facilitate their language knowledge and use (Robinson, 2001, 2007). To date, the majority of studies targeted English language learners, and a little attention has been given to the acquisition of less commonly taught languages such as Korean as a foreign language in the US. The proposed study will test the Cognition Hypothesis in light of the relationship between task complexity and their linguistic performance (complexity, accuracy, fluency) during task performance.

Project Description

Instructional tasks have been used as a primary unit of instruction or as building blocks of classroom language learning over the past few decades (e.g., Bygate, Skehan, & Swain, 2001; Ellis, 2003). Proponents of task-based language teaching have argued that instructional tasks provide learners with opportunities for constructive interaction, authentic input and functional language output (Ellis, 2003). To date, although the benefits of tasks have been supported by a number of empirical studies, they mainly targeted English language learners. Therefore, whether learners of less-commonly taught languages such as Korean would benefit from carrying out tasks in classrooms is still questionable. Furthermore, when designing tasks, one of the critical questions is related to how to adjust task complexity levels. According to Robinson’s Cognition Hypothesis, requiring L2 learners to engage in tasks of increasing complexity for instance, either by requiring learners to use reasoning skills [+reasoning], or to consider many elements [-few elements], can direct learners’ attention to specific, task-relevant language forms (2001). More specifically, it may (1) elicit L2 production characterized by greater accuracy and complexity but less fluency, and (2) promote greater amounts of interactional processes during interaction, thereby facilitating L2 development. The purpose of the proposed study is to examine the role of task complexity in developing Korean language learners’ linguistic performance (complexity, accuracy, and fluency) during written and oral task performance.

Participants: Approximately 60 Korean as a Foreign Language (KFL) learners enrolled in Korean language classes at Georgia State University will be recruited to participate in the study.
Research design: The study will employ a pretest-posttest-delayed posttest design. It will be carried out over one semester in classrooms. Each class will follow task-based syllabi, and students will perform tasks with various levels of task complexity. Task complexity will be operationalized as different levels of reasoning demands and the amount of elements required for completing tasks following Robinson (2001). Multiple dependent variables are complexity, accuracy, and fluency measures of learners’ oral and written output during task performance as well as during posttests.

Instructional materials: A total of 10 communicative tasks representing two degrees of task complexity will be designed. For instance, simple tasks will ask learners to exchange information without making a decision (e.g., exchanging information about study abroad programs). For complex tasks, the learners will be asked to make a decision (e.g., deciding which study abroad programs he/she will attend).

Testing materials: In order to measure to what extent learners improve linguistic performance in terms of complexity, accuracy, and fluency, oral and written tests will be provided at the beginning and the end of the semester. For instance, students will be asked to describe pictures in Korean or will carry out oral interview with the researcher.

Data coding: First, recordings of oral task performance will be transcribed, and written task performance will be typed. Then the data will be analysed for complexity (e.g., the number of clauses in AS unit), accuracy (e.g., the number of error-free clauses), and fluency (e.g., the number of syllables per minute).

Expected Outcomes and Impact

The results of the proposed study will provide insightful information regarding materials design for language pedagogy. Furthermore, the findings are informative for training foreign language teachers in the US. The study targets Korean language learners at Georgia State University. However, the findings of the study might be applicable for various teaching contexts targeting different languages with multiple proficiency level learners.

Relevance to NFLRC Mission

The proposed study addresses the majority of NFLRC mission statements. First, it focuses on developing pedagogical methods and materials for teaching less commonly taught languages such as Korean. Also it involves analyzing learner data in terms of their oral and written performance (i.e., testing). The findings of the study will be used for teacher training purposes.

Relevance to the Research Areas of CULTR

There are a lot of Korean language schools in Atlanta. The findings of the study would be informative for language learning in K-12 schools serving underrepresented populations such as heritage Korean language learners.

Post-Project Evaluation Plan and Criteria

After completing the project, applications will be submitted for an external grant focusing on foreign language education (e.g., Spencer).