Item Details

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?

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.39398


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.

Author: Rick de Graaff

View Full Text

References :

Council of Europe (2018) Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: learning, teaching, assessment. Companion volume with new descriptors. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. Retrieved on 19 October 2019 from

Crossley, S. A. and McNamara, D. S. (2014) Does writing development equal writing quality? A computational investigation of syntactic complexity in L2 learners. Journal of Second Language Writing 26: 66–79.

DeKeyser, R. and Prieto Botana, G. (2019) Current research on instructed second language learning. A bird’s eye view. In R. DeKeyser and G. Prieto Botana (eds) Doing SLA Research with Implications for the Classroom: Reconciling Methodological Demands and Pedagogical Applicability 1–8. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Duijm, K., Schoonen, R. and Hulstijn, J. H. (2018) Professional and non-professional raters’ responsiveness to fluency and accuracy in L2 speech: an experimental approach. Language Testing 35(4): 501–27.

Graus, J. and Coppen, P. (2016) Student teacher beliefs on grammar instruction. Language Teaching Research 20(5): 571–99.

Housen, A., Kuiken, F. and Vedder, I. (2012) Complexity, accuracy and fluency: definitions, measurement and research. In A. Housen, F. Kuiken and I. Vedder (eds) Dimensions of L2 Performance and Proficiency: Complexity, Accuracy and Fluency in SLA 1–20. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Kuiken, F., Vedder, I. and Gilabert, R. (2010) Communicative adequacy and linguistic complexity in L2 writing. In I. Bartning, M. Martin, I. Vedder and G. Pallotti (eds) Communicative Proficiency and Linguistic Development: Intersections between SLA and Language Testing Research, EUROSLA monographs series, No. 1, 81–99.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2015) Research into practice: grammar learning and teaching. Language Teaching 48(2): 263–80.

Lightbown, P. (2000) Classroom SLA research and second language teaching. Applied Linguistics 21(4): 431–62.

Pallotti, G.(2009) CAF: Defining, refining and differentiating constructs. Applied Linguistics 30(4): 590–601.

Pallotti, G. (2017) Applying the interlanguage approach to language teaching. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching (IRAL) 55(4): 393–412. doi:10.1515/iral-2017-0145

Piggott, L. (2019) First meaning then form: a longitudinal study on the effects of delaying and reducing explicit form-focused instruction for young adolescent EFL learners. LOT Dissertation series. Utrecht University, Netherlands.

Piggott, L., van der Ploeg, M., Tribushinina, E., van den Bergh, H. and de Graaff, R. (submitted) Effects of explicit and implicit form-focused instruction on L2 writing: a two-year classroom-based study.

Piggott, L., Tribushinina, E. and de Graaff, R. (in press) The icing on the cake? Effects of explicit form-focused instruction after two years of implicit EFL learning.

Richards, J. C. and Rodgers, T. S. (2014) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (3rd edn). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spada, N. (2019) Discussion: balancing methodological rigor and pedagogical relevance. In R. DeKeyser and G. Prieto Botana (eds) Doing SLA Research with Implications for the Classroom: Reconciling Methodological Demands and Pedagogical Applicability 201–16. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.