Task Complexity and Linguistic Complexity: An Exploratory Study

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K. Philip Choong


Central to any task-based syllabus is the notion of complexity. Proponents of task-based language teaching have argued that tasks be sequenced according to their inherent cognitive complexity, partially because learner performance changes according to the complexity of the task. This exploratory study examines the effect of task complexity on the linguistic complexity of task performance. The participants in the study were a group of ten advanced-level second language English speakers, and two groups of native English speakers. Task complexity was operationalized by manipulating two independent variables – reasoning demand and contextual support – in a series of picture narration tasks. The study thus had a 2 x 2 factorial design, with participants completing the tasks under four sets of conditions. Each set provided the participants with different reasoning demands and/or contextual support. Repeated measures ANOVA were used to analyze the initial data. Subsequently, separate ANOVAs were calculated to distinguish between the types of reasoning that may have contributed to differences in task performance. It was found that contextual support had little influence on the complexity of task performance, but that reasoning demands, specifically causal and spatial reasoning, may have contributed to differences in the linguistic complexity of participants' task performance.

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