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Investigating teachers’ perceptions of syntactic complexity in L2 academic writing

Issue: Vol 3 No. 2 (2019) Special Issue: Linguistic complexity and instruction in second language acquisition

Journal: Instructed Second Language Acquisition

Subject Areas:

DOI: 10.1558/isla.37977


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.

Author: Folkert Kuiken, Ineke Vedder

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