How does tblt affect the Emergence of Complexity? : Usage-based Analysis of Written Production of an efl learner

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How does TBLT Affect the Emergence of Complexity? :Usage-based Analysis of Written Production of an EFL Learner

  • Tomoko Tode (Niigata University of Health and Welfare)
  • Hideki Sakai (Shinshu University)

This Study…

  • the purpose = to explore how a task-based language teaching (TBLT) affects interlanguage development
  • a case study of one learner receiving TBLT
  • Time-series analysis was conducted in the framework of a usage-based theory of second language acquisition

A Usage-based Model of Language (Langacker, 2000)

  • Grammar = a network of exemplars and their schemas that emerge from actual usage
  • Transfer V NP NP
  • send NP NP give NP NP
  • send me a package send you an e-mail give her a lift
  • Emphasize the importance of semantics
  • No clear boundary between lexicon and grammar

Children’s early language is item-based

  • Verb-Island Hypothesis (Tomasello, 1992)
    • __ kick __. Brush ___.
  • “… the best predictor of this child’s use of a given verb on a given day was not her use of other verbs on the same day, but rather her use of that same verb on immediately preceding days.” (Tomasello, 2003, pp. 117-118)

Children produce novel utterances by usage-based syntactic operations

  • a longitudinal case study of a child (Lieven et al. 2003)
    • Data was collected five days per week for six weeks.
    • The child’s creative utterance was based on previously learned item-based constructions, on which small modifications were made via usage-based syntactic operations.
  • I want a __. I have some toast.
  • I want a paper. I want a knife.
  • I want a toast.

Abstraction occurs gradually through frequent experience

  • input
  • Where’s the W?
  • Where’s your W?
  • Where are they?
  • This is my cup.
  • (exemplars and low-level schema)
  • output
  • Where’s my cup?
  • The network is gradually complexified through frequent experience of exemplars.

L2 acquisition is basically usage-based.

  • L2 knowledge of beginning or false-beginning EFL learners is item-based. (Tode, 2003; Tode, submitted for publication)
  • item-based constructions → schematization (e.g., Mellow, 2006; Zyzik, 2006)


  • various factors specific to L2 acquisition (e.g., cognitive development; L1 transfer; explicit instruction)
  • Complexity Theory: need for in-depth longitudinal case studies (De Bot et al. 2007; Larsen-Freeman, 2006; Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008)

Underlying Principles

  • TBLT (Willis & Willis, 2007)
  • Usage-based theory
  • Language is learned through use.
  • Grammar emerges from actual usage.
  • Start with meaning → Focus on language
  • Emphasis on semantics and form-meaning connections
  • Early communication is primarily lexical.
  • Early language is based on item-based constructions.

The Language Use Cycle of EFL Learners Receiving TBLT

  • FFI
  • Explicit knowledge
  • Input
  • Item-based constructions
  • (a network of exemplars and low-level schemas)
  • Output
  • FFI

Research Questions

  • How does the participant produce novel language during the period of the TBLT?
  • How does the TBLT affect the interlanguage development of the participant?

the Participant Taro

  • a freshman majoring in speech, language and hearing sciences
  • taking a required EFL class for freshmen of a university
  • English proficiency: false-beginning level
  • He volunteered to participate in the data collection of this study.

the EFL class Taro took

  • 90-minute class; once a week (14 meetings)
  • Instruction period: October 1, 2008 – January 7, 2009
  • the teacher = the first researcher of the study
  • The teacher designed tasks based on the coursebook, which is not task-based by itself.
  • Coursebook used: a collection of reading material on the topic of health & social welfare issues


  • topic
  • disability sports
  • child abuse
  • care plan
  • task
  • writing a script to present the history and roles of Paralympics
  • taking an interview exam to be admitted to a child-welfare department of a university
  • hours
  • 4.5 hours
  • 6.5 hours
  • 4.5 hours

the Cycle of Pretask-Task-FFI: the case of the unit of disability sports

  • Pretask 1
  • Reading a passage about Paralympics
  • Pretask 2
  • Mini-lectures (A & B) on different aspects of Paralympics
  • - Half of students attend Lecture A
    • - The other half attend Lecture B
  • Students who have attended different lectures make groups of four and convey what they have heard to each other.
  • Task
  • Writing a script for a presentation titled the history and the roles of Paralympics.
  • FFI
  • Feedback to the whole class and each group by the teacher
  • Modifying the scripts based on the feedback
  • Reproducing

Data Collection

  • Main data: English essays
    • Written in the first researcher’s office on an individual basis
    • 5 times during the study period (twice per month)
    • Under the same title “My Role as a QOL Supporter”
    • Without consulting anything
  • Subordinate data: Stimulated recall responses, collected immediately after writing the essay
  • Instructional data: instructional log, teaching material, written production the participant made in the classroom etc.

RQ1:How does Taro produce novel language?

  • Analyses and Results

Method of Analysis

  • Sources of novel language in each essay except the first essay were identified.
    • similar expressions or subschema in previous essays (←previous essays, SR)
    • pedagogical intervention that seems to have affected the novel language (←instructional data, SR)
    • explicit knowledge learned in middle or high school (←SR)


  • previous essays
  • TBLT
  • explicit knowledge
  • undetected
  • 2nd
  • 0.50
  • 0.23
  • 0.14
  • 0.27
  • 3rd
  • 0.43
  • 0.38
  • 0.10
  • 0.33
  • 4th
  • 0.70
  • 0.17
  • 0.13
  • 0.17
  • 5th
  • 0.57
  • 0.22
  • 0.26
  • 0.17

Previous essays

  • 1st: So, I study hard every day. ⇒2nd : I’m studying every day in Niigata University of Healthy because I want to ST in the future.
  • 1st : ST is speech, language and hearing Therapy. ST is very important. ⇒Subschema: ST is __. ⇒2nd: ST is ‘never give up’ heart.
  • 4th: Now, I think that I wish I had spoken with him. ⇒ 5th: I like speaking with my friends.

TBLT example of enable and encourage

  • Input from the text: They’re about enabling and encouraging disabled people to take part in sport….
  • + FFI: encourage (a person) to do
  • ⇒ 2nd essay: I’m enable and encouraging him/her to speech and hear.

TBLT example of communicate

  • Production by Taro & his partner : Therefore, he can’t communication ….
  • ⇒Teacher’s written feedback: “communication is a noun. The verb is communicate.”
  • ⇒Reproduction: Therefore, he couldn’t communicate….
  • ⇒5th essay: I can’t speak and communicate with patient well.

Previous essay + TBLT example of that Clause

  • 2nd essay: I’m interesting aphasia… that disabled people can’t do communication well.
  • ⇒Input from text: The abuse should be reported…so that proper measures can be taken to help and protect the victim.
  • ⇒Input from text: The local health department requests …so that the burden on his wife may be reduced.
  • ⇒4th essay: I’m challenge that I don’t repeat mistake. (meaning I’ll challenge so that I will not repeat making mistakes.)

Explicit knowledge

  • 5th essay: I like speaking with my friends.
  • (SR: First I wrote I like speak…. Then I modified it into I like speaking, because I knew that two verbs cannot be used together.)

Summary of the Results

  • Taro created utterances based mainly on expressions produced in previous essays.
  • He also actively made use of exemplars or slot-and-frame patterns experienced in the TBLT (e.g., encourage [a person] to do).
  • Explicit knowledge learned in middle and high schools was also drawn on, but not so often.

RQ2: How does the TBLT affect Taro’s interlanguage development?

  • Analyses and Results

Methods of Analyses

  • To examine how accuracy and complexity changed
  • To examine how the same meaning is expressed before and after relevant TBLT intervention
  • To examine how the same meaning is expressed in more than 1 essay without any relevant TBLT intervention

Definitions of Accuracy and Complexity

  • Accuracy score
    • Proportion of accurate clauses to the total number of clauses plus independent sub-clausal unit
    • accurate in terms of word order, verb argument structures, the usage of conjunctions, etc.
  • Complexity score
    • average number of clauses per AS-unit

a) Results

  • Change in accuracy
  • Change in complexity

Analysis b)

  • 【inaccurate】→Output, FFI, Reproduce→【accurate】
  • relative clause
  • Input, Output, FFI→【inaccurate】→Input, Output→【accurate】
  • Because __. → __ because __
  • 【simple, complex】→Output, FFI, Reproduce→【complex】
  • Communication
  • as a verb →
  • communicate
  • 【inaccurate】→Output, FFI, Reproduce→【accurate】→【inaccurate】
  • The most important is
  • Input→【inaccurate】→Output, FFI→【inaccurate】→Input、FFI→【inaccurate】

Example) to be a speech therapist

  • 1st essay: My dream is ST. ⇒2nd essay: I want to ST in the future.
  • Output (in class, not in the elicitation writing task) : I want to be child welfare facility. ⇒FFI: I want to work for child welfare facility. + My dream is to be child welfare specialist in the future.⇒Reproduce: I want to work for child welfare facility.
  • ⇒3rd essay: My dream is to be ST in the future.
  • ⇒4th essay: I want to be ST in the future.
  • ⇒5th essay: I will be ST in the future.

Analysis c)

  • I study
  • 【accurate】→【inaccurate】→【accurate】→【inaccurate】→【inaccurate】
  • ST is …
  • 【accurate】
  • →【inaccurate, accurate】
  • →【accurate】
  • →【accurate, inaccurate】
  • I am interested in …
  • 【inaccurate】→【inaccurate】

Example) I study…

  • 1st essay: I study hard every day.
  • 2nd essay: I’m studying every day in Niigata University of Healthy.
  • 3rd essay: I study hard every day in Niigata University of Health.
  • 4th essay: I studying hard in Niigata University of Health.
  • 5th essay: I’m studying hard every day.

Summary of the Results

  • A trade-off between accuracy and complexity development was observed.
    • At first, very complex, but not accurate
    • Later, more and more accurate
  • In some cases, experience in the TBLT contributed to Taro’s improvement in accuracy, but, in other cases, did not.
  • There was no evidence that accuracy improved without pedagogical intervention.

Answer to RQ1

  • Taro produces new language, based on exemplars or subscema, which drive from his previous experience consisting essay-writing and TBLT.
  • = use of usage-based syntactic operations
  • He also draws on explicit knowledge.

Answer to RQ 2

  • TBLT has impact on Taro’s interlanguage development.
  • TBLT
  • complex but inaccurate → more accurate
  • TBLT consisting of input, output and FFI may have contributed to his accuracy improvement.
  • The way TBLT affects the development seems to be a complex process.
    • Sometimes it has an effect, but at other times, no change at all. Performance waxes and wanes.


  • It is not clear what aspects (reading activities [input], production activities [output], FFI) of the TBLT have contributed to his development in what ways.
  • Repetition of essay writing as a data collection method may have motivated Taro to pay more focused attention to classroom input than usual.


  • De Bot, K., Lowie, W., & Verspoor, M. (2007). A dynamic system theory approach to second language acquisition. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 10. 7-21.
  • Langacker, R. W. (2000). A dynamic usage-based model. In M. Barlow & S. Kemmer (Eds.), Usage-based models of language (pp. 1-63). Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.
  • Larsen-Freeman, D. (2006). The emergence of complexity, fluency, and accuracy in the oral and written production of five Chinese learners of English. Applied Linguistics, 27, 590-619.
  • Larsen-Freeman, D. & Cameron, L. (2008). Complex systems and applied linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Lieven, E., Behrens, H., Speares, J., & Tomasello, M. (2003). Early syntactic creativity: a usage-based approach. Journal of Child Language, 30. 333-370.
  • Mellow, J. D. (2006). The emergence of second language syntax: A case study of the acquisition of relative clauses. Applied Linguistics, 27. 645-670.
  • Tode, T. (2003). From unanalyzed chunks to rules: The learning of the English copula be by beginning Japanese learners of English. IRAL, 41, 23-53.
  • Tode, T. (submitted for publication). Schematization and sentence processing by classroom foreign language learners: A reading-time experiment and a stimulated-recall analysis.
  • Tomasello, M. (1992). First verbs: A case study of early grammatical development. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Tomasello, M. (2003). Constructing a language: A usage-based theory of language acquisition. MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Willis, D. & Willis, J. (2007). Doing task-based teaching. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Zyzik, E. (2006). Transitivity alternations and sequence learning: Insights from L2 Spanish production data. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 28, 449-485.

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