Unpacking the Concept of Complexity in Instructed SLA Research: Towards an Acquisitional Definition

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Ji-Yung Jung


Over the past few decades, the field of second language acquisition (SLA) has seen a remarkable increase of interest in the study of instructed second language acquisition (ISLA), which “investigates second language (L2) learning or acquisition that occurs as a result of teaching” (Loewen, 2014, p. 2). The ISLA literature shows that there is an array of pedagogical options that can be used to facilitate adult L2 learning, ranging from implicit to explicit techniques. Furthermore, the effectiveness of an instructional treatment seems to depend largely on the nature of the L2 feature (e.g., Ellis, 2002; Spada & Tomita, 2010). However, extant empirical studies have yielded rather mixed findings on the issue regarding which type of L2 feature benefits more from which type of instruction, rendering it difficult to provide straightforward guidance to L2 classroom teachers. There are several reasons for the disparities in research findings, such as differences in study designs, settings, learner characteristics, etc., but above anything else, the inconsistent findings can primarily be attributed to the varying conceptualizations of complexity. With an aim to enlighten future research in this line of inquiry, the present discussion emphasizes the need for a more integral definition of complexity. 

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