Complexity, accuracy, and fluency as dimensions of L2 performance, proficiency, and development have been measured through a small number of measures that researchers arbitrarily choose. L2 performance is never a simplistic structure that can be captured through the reduction of one or two elements. Reductionism practice has overlooked perspectives of how each measure interacts and changes. The current study attempts to describe dynamic relations between various linguistic features, investigate how each element is intertwined, and explore which linguistic features play a central role in L2 oral performance, based on the complexity theory using network analysis. Spoken data were drawn from the NICT JLT Corpus, which comprises English transcriptions uttered by Japanese learners, and were attached their individual proficiency. Two networks of each proficiency group (i.e., low and high) were delineated, and centrality measures were calculated. The results reveal that the network structures in L2 oral performance change to be dependent on the learner’s proficiency. Furthermore, linguistic features that play a central role in the network structure also change with learner’s proficiency. These results are highly suggestive toward L2 oral performance and the relationship among various linguistic features. The significance of the network analysis is also discussed.
In the field of language teaching research, the importance of meaningful interactions and oral communication activities have been pointed out repeatedly. In English language teaching in Japan, this importance has also been recognized by some teachers, although gradually. In this study we analyzed 3 textbooks used in Japanese junior high schools, referring to task criteria (e.g., Ellis, 2003; Ellis & Shintani, 2014) that were developed for the purpose of promoting authentic meaningful communication. There were 4 task criteria: (a) the focus is on meaning, (b) there is a gap, (c) the learners rely on their own linguistic or nonlinguistic resources, and (d) learners’ language use is not used to assess achievement. We examined whether or not the oral-communication-oriented activities in the textbooks met these criteria. The textbook analysis indicated that the majority of the activities presented did not meet the task criteria. Among the four criteria, (c)—the learners rely on their own resources—was met the least. In most of the cases, linguistic resources such as conversation examples and lexical items were provided for the students, and the only thing the students needed to do was to use those resources. On the other hand, almost half of the activities met (b)—there is a gap—and this was the most easily satisfied criterion. We gave careful consideration to what kind of learner language proficiency development can be expected if classroom teachers use these communication-oriented activities as they appear in the textbook. In doing so, we considered the results obtained from previous SLA research. The fact that most of the activities in the textbooks did not meet the task criteria means that, if they are not modified appropriately, they would prevent language learners from engaging in voluntary grammatical encoding and negotiation of meaning. For example, as most of the activities did not meet criteria (c), the students can hardly experience grammatical encoding because they do not need to think about what linguistic form they should use to convey the meaning. Also, the fact that the focus of the task was not on meaning would result in a serious lack of meaningful negotiation, and therefore the students would miss precious opportunities to get comprehensible input through negotiation of meaning. In sum, the activities presented in the textbooks we analyzed were not enough to guarantee that the students would participate in negotiation of meaning and experience necessary cognitive processing during speaking, both of which are the essence of SLA. We do not propose that the activities should not be used or that they are useless. Rather, we believe that it is worthwhile to think of the communication-oriented activities with task criteria in mind in order to ensure the development of learners’ language proficiency. In addition, teachers should modify the activities to enable the students to focus on meaning and to communicate using their own resources. The results of this study provide useful insights for teachers who want to make their classes more communicative and to have the students engage in meaningful conversation.
Fukuta, J., Tamura, Y., Kurita, A. (2017). Analysis of oral communication-oriented activities in junior high school textbooks: Focusing on task criteria proposed by second language research. JALT Journal, 36, 165–182 [Full Article]
Syntactic complexity has traditionally been measured by “macro-perspective measures,” which provide a paucity of angles from which to examine how learners actually elaborate a sentence. Mixing up a large variety of clauses with only “the number of clauses” or “subordination ratios” could lead to overlooking desired relationships between complexity and proficiency or task manipulation and linguistic performance. The current study attempted to capture the features of writing syntactically complex sentences through “micro-perspective measures,” such as clause types (main clauses, coordinate clauses, adverbial clauses, relative clauses, complement clauses, and non-finite clauses), and differences in learner proficiency levels. Participants were 28 Japanese EFL learners. Proficiency was operationalized via argumentative essay scores. To elicit syntactic knowledge, we offered the participants a specialized task that restricted the number of sentences in describing a plot consisting of six related illustrations. The results revealed that coordinate clauses, relative clauses, and non-finite clauses are more frequently produced in elaborating syntactic structures, irrespective of the writer’s proficiency level. Our findings also indicated that non-finite clauses are a more practical expedient for proficient learners than less proficient ones. Some pedagogical implications are also discussed.
Nishimura, Y., Tamura, Y., & Hara, K. (2017). How do Japanese EFL learners elaborate sentences complexly in L2 writing? Focusing on clause types. Annual Review of English Language Education in Japan, 28, 209–224. [Full Article]
This study explored the word frequency effects of plural and singular nouns in second language (L2) word processing. Although previous studies have pointed out the influence of word frequency in accessing L2 words and their corresponding concepts or the first language (L1) translations (e.g., Habuchi, 2005), they have not taken up the frequency dominance in singular and plural forms as done by Baayen, Dijkstra, and Schreuder (1997). Thus, the present study conducted two types of matching task to investigate the associations linking the L2 word, L1 translation, and the concepts of singular-dominant words (e.g., cat, photo; k = 12) and plural-dominant words (e.g., sock, bean; k = 12) on the basis of the revised hierarchical model (RHM) (Kroll & Stewart, 1994). Thirty-two Japanese learners of English participated in the study. In the experiment, the target L2 words were presented, either in singular or plural forms, on a computer screen followed by either their L1 translation (L1 matching) or a representative picture (picture-matching), and the participants were asked to judge whether the L2 word matched the L1 translation or picture. Reaction times for each trial were recorded and analyzed. The results revealed a significant interaction between the frequency dominance and word form, indicating that singular-dominant words and plural-dominant words were processed differently.
Tamura, Y. & Nishimura, Y. (2016). L2 word processing of singular- and plural-dominant nouns in English. Journal of the Japan Society for Speech Sciences, 17, 17-37.
Among foreign language teachers and researchers, it has been widely acknowledged that grammatical knowledge of a foreign language comprises two types of mental storage. One of the two, explicit knowledge, is quite likely linked to adjectives such as “slow” and “conscious,” whereas the other, implicit knowledge, is associated with words such as “fast” and “unconscious.” The present study challenges this conventional and popularized view, by addressing the consciousness and speed dimensions of Japanese EFL learners’ (N = 24) knowledge about tough movement. We conducted a grammaticality judgment task adopting two experimental paradigms: (a) a subjective measure of consciousness known as the meta-knowledge criterion, and (b) response time modeling. The participants judged the grammaticality of the stimuli under the two conditions, (a) control and (b) tough movement, and described their mental state during judgments (explainable vs. intuitive) trial by trial. We analyzed the dynamics among the recorded judgment responses, reaction times, and responses on the subjective measure. The results supported the hypothesis that the consciousness and speed dimensions intersect obliquely. This means that unconscious knowledge does not entail faster grammatical performance. Some pedagogical implications, particularly in light of English grammar teaching in Japan, are also discussed.
Tamura, Y., Harada, Y., Kato, D., Hara, K., & Kusanagi, K. (2016). Unconscious but slowly activated grammatical knowledge of Japanese EFL learners: A case of tough movement. Annual Review of English Language Education in Japan, 27, 169–184. [Full Article]
This study aimed to develop and validate a scale to measure the Grammatical Carefulness (GC) of foreign language learners. GC, by its definition, refers to psychological, behavioral, and meta-cognitive traits of a learner, and it entails highly controlled, cautious, analytical, and time-consuming language use. By conducting a set of questionnaire surveys targeting Japanese junior high school, high school, and university students (N = 2,288), a Foreign Language Grammatical Carefulness Scale (FLGCS) with 14 items, written in Japanese, was developed and tested for its factorial structure, reliability, convergent, content, and criterion validity. The results demonstrated that FLGCS yields three factors: (a)phonological, (b) lexical-syntactic, and (c) pragmatic carefulness, with a high reliability for each. The factorial validity was also supported by using both xploratory and confirmatory factor analyses. Further, a set of analyses confirmed various types of validity. The evidence for the validity is as follows: (a) the linguistic experts (n = 10) consistently judged that all the items properly referred to each factor in an appropriate linguistic sense, (b) FLGCS showed correlations with learner beliefs, consistent with theoretical expectations, and (c) FLGCS correlated to the scores of a C-test, and with the time to finish the C-test. The applicability of FLGCS in EFL teaching and research will also be discussed.
Kusanagi, K., Fukuta, J., Kawaguchi, Y., Tamura, Y., Goto, A., Kurita, A., & Murota, D. (2015). Foreign Language Grammatical Carefulness Scale: Scale development and its initial validation. Annual Review of English Language Education in Japan, 26, 77–92.
The purpose of the present study is to investigate whether or not the notional number attraction phenomenon is evident during L2 learners’ online processing of subject–verb agreement. L2 sentence processing studies have frequently reported the L2 learners’ online insensitivity to number mismatches, and it has been claimed that L2 learners have difficulty in representing grammatical number features, or they have a tendency to fail to access the number features in online tasks. L2 learners’ sensitivity to “notional number”, however, has not been considered by researchers. Hence, this research conducted a self-paced reading study targeting highly proficient Japanese learners of English (N = 28). The participants read the three types of sentences; (a) control (e.g., everyone in the room was/were…), (b) notional attraction (e.g., everyone in the team was/were…), and (c) grammatical attraction (e.g., everyone in the halls was/were…). In order to examine the participants’ sensitivity to number attractions, the differences in the reading times between the number matched and the mismatched verbs (was/were) were compared among the attraction types. The observed reading time differences in the grammatical and notional attraction condition were different than in the control condition, indicating that both attraction phenomena were evident. L2 learners’ imperfect representation of number features, which we call representation vulnerability, was discussed.