Task Condition and EFL Learners’ Individual Differences: The Mediation of Tolerance of Ambiguity and Self-efficacy

Document Type: Research Paper

Authors

Kharazmi University, Department of Foreign Languages

Abstract

Drawing on Robinson’s cognition hypothesis, the study attempted to examine how task conditions influence EFL learners’ oral performance and whether learners’ individual differences in terms of tolerance of ambiguity and self-efficacy mediate the effects of such conditions. To this end, 62 Iranian intermediate EFL learners from private language institutes in Tehran performed four dyadic decision-making tasks manipulated along task conditions of information distribution and goal orientation. Their performance was measured through complexity, accuracy and fluency (CAF) indices. Their tolerance of ambiguity and self-efficacy were assessed using separate questionnaires. The results indicated that information distribution and goal orientation could significantly impact the participants’ performance on the tasks. As to the CAF indices, it seemed that Skehan’s (2016) trade-off hypothesis was a better fit than Robinson’s (2015) cognition hypothesis since trade-offs were found between complexity and accuracy/fluency. The results of the correlations revealed that there were a number of significant positive relationships between tolerance of ambiguity and the CAF indices on the one hand and self-efficacy and the CAF indices on the other. While the former relationships did not confirm the specific prediction of the cognition hypothesis, the latter relationships did. Overall, the findings contribute to Robinson’s hypothesis concerned with the effects of task conditions on oral performance and the mediating role of individual differences, and have implications for task sequencing and task-based teaching.

Keywords


Allan, D. (2004). Oxford Placement Test. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.
Bong, M., & Skaalvik, E. M. (2003). Academic self-concept and self-efficacy: How different are they really? Educational Psychology Review, 15, 1–40.
Brown, R. (1991). Group work, task difference, and second language acquisition. Applied Linguistics, 21, 1-12.
Budner, S. (1962). Intolerance of ambiguity as a personality variable. Journal of Personality, 30, 29-50.
Chapelle, C. & Roberts, C. (1986). Ambiguity tolerance and field independence as predictors of proficiency in English as a second language. Language Learning, 36, 27-45.
Dörnyei, Z. (2005). The psychology of the language learner. Mahwah NJ: Erlbaum.
Dörnyei, Z., & Kormos, J. (2000). The role of individual and social variables in oral task performance. Language Teaching Research, 4, (3), 275-300.
Doughty, C. and Pica, T. (1986) “Information gap” tasks: Do they facilitate second language acquisition? TESOL Quarterly, 20, 305-325.
Ehrman, M. E., Leaver, B. L., & Oxford, R. L. (2003). A brief overview of individual differences in second language learning. System, 31, 313-330.
El-Koumy, A. S. A. (2000). Differences in FL reading comprehension among high-, middle-, and low-ambiguity tolerance students. Paper presented at the National Symposium on English Language Teaching in Egypt, Cairo.
Ellis, R. (1994). The study of second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
Ellis, R. & Barkhuizen, G. (2005). Analyzing learner language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ely, C. M. (1989). Tolerance of ambiguity and use of second language strategies. Foreign Language Annals, 22, 437-445.
Ely, C. M. (1995). Tolerance of ambiguity and the Teaching of ESL. In J. M. Reid (Ed.), Learning styles in the ESL/EFL classroom (pp. 87-95). Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.
Foster, P. (1998) A classroom perspective on the negotiation of meaning. Applied Linguistics 19, 1-23.
Foster, P. & Skehan, P. (1996). The influence of planning and task type on second language performance. Studies in Second Language Acquisition18, 299-323. 
Foster, P. & Skehan, P. (2013). Anticipating a post-task activity: The effects on accuracy, complexity, and fluency of second language performance. Canadian Modern Language Review69, 249-273.
Foster, P., Tonkyn, A., & Wigglesworth, G. (2000). Measuring spoken language: A unit for all reasons. Applied Linguistics, 21, 354-375.
Gass, S.M. and Varonis, M. (1985) Task variation and non-native/non-native negotiation of meaning. In S. M. Gass and C. G. Madden (Eds.), Input in Second Language Acquisition (pp. 149-161). Boston, Heinle and Heinle.
Gilabert, R., Barón J. & Levkina, M. (2011). Manipulating task complexity across task types and modes. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Second language task complexity: Researching the Cognition Hypothesis of language learning and performance (pp. 105-138). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Iwashita, N. (2001). The effect of learner proficiency on interactional moves and modified output in nonnative-nonnative interaction in Japanese as a foreign language. System, 29, 267-287.
Julkunen, K. (1990). Open and closed vocabulary tasks in foreign language learning. In Tommola, J. (Ed.), Foreign language comprehension and production (pp. 7-25). Turku, Finland: Finnish Association of Applied Linguistics.
Kazamina, V. (1999). How tolerant are Greek EFL learners of foreign language ambiguities. Leeds Working Papers in Linguistics, 7, 69-78.
Kim, Y. & Tracy-Ventura, N. (2011). Task complexity, language anxiety, and the development of the simple past. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Second language task complexity: Researching the Cognition Hypothesis of language learning and performance (pp. 287-306). Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Kormos, J. & Dörnyei, Z., (2004). The interaction of linguistic and motivational variables in second language task performance. Zeitschrift für Interkulturellen Fremdsprachenunterricht. 9, (2),19-40.
Kormos, J., & Trebits, A. (2012). The role of task complexity, modality and aptitude in narrative task performance. Language Learning, 62, 439-472.
Lambert, C. P. & Engler, S. (2007). Information distribution and goal orientation in second Language task design. In M. P. Garcia-Mayo (Ed.), Investigating tasks in formal language learning (pp. 27-43). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Long, M. (2015). Second language acquisition and task-based language teaching. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.
Long, M.H. (1989) Task, group and task-group interactions. In S. Anivan (Ed.) Language Teaching Methodology for the Nineties (pp. 31-50). Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre.
Mannheimer, R. (1993). Close the task, improve the discourse. Estudios de Linguistica Aplicada 17, 18-40.
McLain, D. L. (1993). The MSTAT-I: a new measure of an individual’s tolerance for ambiguity. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 53, 183-189.
Nourzadeh, S. (2015). Investigating individual differences in narrative task performance through the CAF model: The case of working memory, foreign language anxiety, willingness to communicate, and learner age. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Allameh Tabataba’i University, Tehran, Iran.
Oxford, R. (1992). Who are our students? A synthesis of foreign and second language research on individual differences with implications for instructional practice. TESL Canada, 9, 30-49.
Oxford, R. & Ehrman, M. (1992). Second language research on individual differences. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics13, 188-205. 
Qian, L. (2014). Get it right in the end: The effects of post-task transcribing on learners’ oral performance. In P. Skehan (Ed.), Processing Perspectives on task performance (pp. 129-154). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Rahimpour, M. (2009). Impact of task condition on L2 learners’ oral performance. Journal of Faculty of Letters & Humanities, 51, 13-23.
Rankin J. (1990).A case for close-mindedness: Complexity, accuracy and attention in closed vs. open tasks.University of Hawaii (mimeo).
Rankin J. (1995). The effects of task design on accuracy and self-monitoring. American Association of Applied Linguistics (mimeo).
Robinson, P. (2007). Task complexity, theory of mind, and intentional reasoning: Effects on L2 speech production, interaction, uptake and perceptions of task difficulty. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 45, 237-257.
Robinson, P. (2011). Second language task complexity, the Cognition Hypothesis, language learning, and performance. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Second language task complexity: Researching the Cognition Hypothesis of language learning and performance (pp. 3-37). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Robinson, P. (2015). The Cognition Hypothesis, second language task demands and the SSARC model of pedagogic task sequencing. In M. Bygate (Ed.), Domains and directions in TBLT: Plenaries from a decade of the international conference (pp. 87-122). Amsterdam: JohnBenjamins.
Shehadeh, A. (2001). Self- and other-initiated modified output during task-based interaction. TESOL Quarterly, 35, 433-457.
Skehan, P. (1991). Individual differences in second language learning. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 13, 275-298.
Skehan, P. (1996). A framework for the implementation of task based instruction. Applied Linguistics 17, (1), 38-62.
Skehan, P. (1998). A cognitive approach to language learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Skehan, P. (2014). The context for researching a processing perspective on task performance. In P. Skehan (Ed.), Processing Perspectives on Task Performance (pp. 1-26). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Skehan, P. (2016). Tasks versus conditions: Two perspectives on task research and their implications for pedagogy. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics36, 34-49. 
Skehan, P., & Foster, P. (1997). Task type and task processing conditions as influences on foreign language performance. Language Teaching Research, 1, 185-211.
Trebits, A. (2016). Sources of individual differences in L2 narrative production: The contribution of input, processing, and output anxiety. Applied Linguistics, 37, 155-174.
Wang, C. (2004). Self-regulated leaning strategies and self-efficacy beliefs of children learning English as a second language. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Ohio State University. Ohio, USA.
Wang, C., Kim, D. H., Bai, R., & Hu, J. (2014). Psychometric properties of a self-efficacy scale for English language learners in China. System, 44, 24-33.
Wang, C., Wang, L., & Li, Y. (2007). Chinese secondary school self-regulated learners of English. Paper presented at TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) 2007 convention. Seattle, WA.
Zimmerman, B. J. (1995). Self-efficacy and educational development. In A. Bandura (Ed.), Self-efficacy in changing societies (pp. 202-231). New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.