The development of oral competence: a semi-longitudinal study on English-speaking adult L2 learners of Chinese in Ireland

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Guo, Rongrong
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University College Cork
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The semi-longitudinal study explores the impact of learning environments and task type on the oral Complexity, Accuracy, and Fluency (CAF) of adult English-speaking learners of Chinese, investigating when and how the oral performance of instructed L2 learners changes in two contexts: Formal Instruction at-home (FI) and Study Abroad (SA). Moreover, the study discusses relationships between the CAF constructs and those between the sub-constructs, to assess the oral performance of instructed L2 Chinese learners. Two widely documented theoretical hypotheses on attention allocation and tasks, the Trade-off Hypothesis (Skehan, 2009; Skehan and Foster, 2012) and the Cognition Hypothesis (Robinson, 2001; 2003; 2005; 2011) are examined with data collected from ten English-speaking undergraduates from five oral tests across 28 months (including 10-month of SA experience). Our results show that during the pre-and post-SA periods, the students benefit from SA in terms of syntactic complexity (subordination and length of the unit), lexical sophistication as well as speed fluency with small deductions in dysfluency at the cost of accuracy. This is attributable to the study abroad experience as well as rehearsed monologue tasks (cf. Wright, 2020) that the participants took in the study. The SA favors oral gains in terms of speech fluidity, syntactic complexity (length and subordination), and lexical sophistication. The factor of task design must also be taken into consideration when L2 learners’ oral gains are evaluated. After coming back to the FI context for 6 months, a significant decrease, in general, is observed regarding FI at-home maintenance on those oral gains benefited from the SA experience. However, lexical variety reveals significant improvement. The findings suggest that learners in the FI context tend to concentrate on learning vocabulary and syntactic complexity via subordination at the expense of fluency and accuracy (Juan-Garau and Pérez-Vidal, 2007) as well as other complexity measures (syntactic complexity via length and lexical sophistication) in this study. Generalized from the analysis after SA, trade-off effects are observed prevailingly between CAF constructs (in particular between complexity and accuracy, between accuracy and fluency), while simultaneous improvements are present within CAF, in particular, and between speed and breakdown within fluency, and between syntactic complexity and lexical sophistication within complexity. These results confirm Skehan’s predictions that, tensions between control (accuracy) and risk-taking (complexity), and between focusing on meaning (fluency) and form (accuracy) (Skehan, 2009; Wang & Skehan, 2014). Task characteristics were attributed to the analysis because the different characteristics support different performance areas (Skehan and Foster, 2012). Pre-planning is argued to elicit greater complexity and fluency (Skehan, 2009; Skehan and Foster, 2012). For the interrelationship between CAF measures, after learners return to FI at home context for six months, the analysis, in general, supports trade-off effects between lexical diversity and syntactic complexity via length, as well as lexical diversity between fluency. The results contribute to the trade-off hypothesis that, tensions can be found between subconstructs within CAF (complexity). The prioritization of attentional resources is determined by the task types and learning contexts, revealing that vocabulary development is at the cost of syntactic complexity and fluency during FI context (Juan-Garau & Pérez-Vidal, 2007). Moreover, the study provides pedagogical implications and recommendations for the development of L2 Chinese oral performance at university levels.
Oral performance , Homogenous groups , Semi-longitudinal design , Study abroad (SA) , Formal instruction at-home (FI)
Guo, R. 2022. The development of oral competence: a semi-longitudinal study on English-speaking adult L2 learners of Chinese in Ireland. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.