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Volume 16 Number 2, Summer 2019, Pages 448-767   


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L2 Learners' and Professionals' Perceptions of Cognitive Task Complexity: Towards Developing an Index of Task Difficulty

    Anas Awwad


This paper attempts to broaden our understanding on how cognitive task complexity (TC) contributes to L2 learners' and language professionals' perceptions of task difficulty (TD). This study was conducted to allow a deeper investigation of the extent to which manipulating TC can influence perceptions of TD, what TC-factors contribute to perceptions of TD, and whether there is a perceptual match between L2 learners and language professionals. The study employed a mixed-method design in which 68 students and 26 language professionals evaluated the TD of two video-based narrative tasks. The students, who were L2 learners of English at a Jordanian secondary school, performed two tasks with increased TC manipulated by intentional reasoning (IR) demands. Data on learners' perceptions of TD were collected qualitatively and quantitatively using a retrospective questionnaire. The language professionals, who were researchers with a TESOL background, read the tasks instructions and watched the two clips before deciding which task would be considered more difficult and why. Results showed a match between learners and language professionals on their perceptions of TD. Both groups rated the more complex task (+IR) as more difficult. Two categories of higher cognitive demands imposed by IR requirement, i.e. task-induced and task-inherent, were found to be the major contributors to the perceptions of TD. The findings have significant implications for the development of an index of TD, which is considered a priority for language teaching, testing and syllabus design.

Keywords: task complexity, task difficulty, second language, speech performance, task-based language teaching