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Publications of Interest

Instructed Second Language Acquisition, Vol. 3, No. 2 (2019)

Dr. Diego Cortés Velásquez (CSULB) serves as an assistant editor for the journal of Instructed Second Language Acquisition. Recently, the journal published a special issue on Linguistic Complexity and Instruction in Second Language Acquisition. For your convenience, see below for the list of articles published in this issue:

Effects of task type on morphosyntactic complexity across proficiency: evidence from a large learner corpus of A1 to C2 writings

by Marije Michel, Akira Murakami, Theodora Alexopoulou, and Detmar Meurers


This study investigates the effect of instructional design on (morpho)syntactic complexity in second language (L2) writing development. We operationalised instructional design in terms of task type and empirically based the investigation on a large subcorpus (669,876 writings by 119,960 learners from 128 tasks at all Common European Framework of Reference for Languages levels) of the EF-Cambridge Open Language Database (EFCAMDAT; Geertzen, Alexopoulou and Korhonen 2014).

First, the 128 task prompts were manually categorised for task type (e.g. argumentation, description). Next, developmental trajectories of syntactic complexity from A1 to C2 were established using a variety of global (e.g. mean length of clause) and specific (e.g. non-third person singular present tense verbs) measures extracted using natural language processing techniques. The effects of task type were analysed using the categorisation from the first step. Finally, tasks that showed atypical behaviour for a measure given their task type were explored qualitatively.

Our results partially confirm earlier experimental and corpus-based studies (e.g. subordination associated with argumentative tasks). Going beyond, our large-scale data-driven analysis made it possible to identify specific measures that were naturally prompted by instructional design (e.g. narrations eliciting wh-phrases). We discuss which measures typically align with certain task types and highlight how instructional design relates to L2 developmental trajectories over time.

Beginning L2 complexity development in CLIL and non-CLIL secondary education

by Bram Bulte and Alex Housen


The present study analyses the impact of a bilingual Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) programme vis-à-vis a regular monolingual programme on the development of different aspects of L2 learners’ linguistic (syntactic, morphological and lexical) complexity. Five pupils enrolled in a Dutch–English CLIL programme in a secondary school in the Netherlands are compared with five peers following the mainstream programme with English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teaching. The longitudinal development of these ten pupils’ linguistic complexity in L2-English is investigated by means of six complexity measures calculated for each of eleven writing tasks collected over a period spanning their first nineteen months of secondary education. Linear mixed models are used to estimate the effects of time and programme type on the pupils’ L2 complexity. The results indicate that both groups of learners significantly increase the complexity of their L2 writing over the course of the study. Surprisingly, only limited effects of programme type (CLIL vs non-CLIL) are found, despite considerable differences in the quantity and quality of instructional exposure to the target language, suggesting that for these pupils increased and more varied instructional exposure to the L2 in the CLIL programme did not lead to significantly different L2 productions in terms of linguistic complexity. Several possible explanations for these findings are considered and the implications for CLIL research are discussed.

Structure-based or dynamic usage‑based instruction: long-term effects on (morpho)syntactic and lexical complexity in writing samples

by Audrey Rousse-Malpat, Rasmus Steinkrauss, and Marjolijn Verspoor


This classroom study aims to explore the instructional effects of structure-based (SB) or dynamic usage-based (DUB) instruction with free response, communicative writing tasks after three years of L2-French instruction on linguistic complexity measures in (morpho)syntax and lexicon. We investigated data from forty-three young high school beginner learners of L2-French after three years of instruction with similar amounts of L2 exposure. The SB treatment included a traditional focus on explicit grammar; the DUB group was taught using the Accelerated Integrated Method, a highly communicative, meaningfocused method without explicit instruction, but with a great deal of exposure and repetition to induce frequency effects. Results after three years show that DUB instruction leads to more linguistic complexity in terms of various (morpho)syntactic and some lexical measures (multi-word sequences coverage). On other lexical measures (such as Guiraud index and average word length), no differences were found. The results are discussed using insights from the dynamic usage-based perspective.

Differential contribution of oral and written modes to lexical, syntactic and propositional complexity in L2 performance in instructed contexts

by Olena Vasylets, Roger Gilabert, and Rosa Maria Manchón


Complexity of L2 output during oral or written task performance has been associated with the process of restructuring; that is, a qualitative change of the internal L2 system by which interlanguage becomes more elaborate and more efficient in communication. While online pressures may restrain the occurrence of restructuring in oral production, the availability of time and visibility of output in writing might create optimal conditions to deploy more complex linguistic structures, with the concomitant interlanguage development. To test these claims, we conducted a study in which we explored if and how the manifestation of lexical, syntactic and propositional L2 complexity was moderated by the mode in which the task was performed. Our participants were 290 instructed L2 learners. They performed orally and in writing a narrative video-retelling task. The analysis revealed moderating task-modality effects on L2 complexity. We found that the written texts displayed higher scores on all the sub-dimensions of syntactic and lexical complexity. Differences were also observed in the way speakers and writers conveyed the propositional content of the task. We interpret these findings as evidence of the facilitating conditions for restructuring during written production in instructed settings and, accordingly, of the language-learning-potential of L2 writing tasks.

Investigating teachers’ perceptions of syntactic complexity in L2 academic writing

by Folkert Kuiken and Ineke Vedder


This paper aims to investigate how L2 teachers perceive syntactic complexity in L2 writing, and to what extent teachers’ judgements are related to current theoretical views. The main reason for conducting the study is that the majority of studies that have investigated the development of syntactic complexity in L2 have been grounded in hypothesis-testing research; few studies, however, have explored whether teachers’ perspectives on syntactic complexity reflect the development of syntactic complexity as hypothesised in the SLA literature. Two groups of language teachers (eleven of L2-Dutch and sixteen of L2-Italian) were asked to evaluate individually the syntactic complexity of a sample of argumentative texts written by L2 university students of, respectively, Dutch and Italian. In the panel discussion that followed, teachers discussed their motivation behind their assigned scores and the feedback they had proposed. The results revealed that teachers tended to focus primarily on accuracy and comprehensibility. When their comments were concerned with syntactic complexity, both similarities and differences (related to target language and writing context) emerged between Dutch and Italian. Teachers’ reflections appeared to be only partly aligned with existing theoretical views on syntactic complexity.

You’ve got to crack a few eggs to make an omelette. Linguistic complexity and instruction in SLA: what’s in it for language teaching?

by Rick de Graaff


In this epilogue, I take a teaching practice and teacher education perspective on complexity in Instructed Second Language Acquisition. I take the stance that it is essential to understand if and how linguistic complexity relates to learning challenges, what the implications are for language pedagogy, and how this challenges the role of the teacher. Research shows that differences in task complexity may lead to differences in linguistic complexity in language learners’ speech or writing. Different tasks (e.g. descriptive vs narrative) and different modes (oral vs written) may lead to different types and levels of complexity in language use. On the one hand, this is a challenge for language assessment, as complexity in language performance may be affected by task characteristics. On the other hand, it is an opportunity for language teaching: using a diversity of tasks, modes and text types may evoke and stretch lexically and syntactically complex language use. I maintain that it is essential for teachers to understand that it is at least as important to aim for development in complexity as it is to aim for development in accuracy. Namely, that ‘errors’ in language learning are part of the deal: complex tasks lead to complex language use, including lexical and syntactical errors, but they are a necessary prerequisite for language development.