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Applied Linguistics 24/1: 127

# Oxford University Press 2003

The Eects of Pre-Task Planning and


On-Line Planning on Fluency,
Complexity and Accuracy in L2
Monologic Oral Production
1

Fangyuan Yuan and 2Rod Ellis

University of Pennsylvania and 2University of Auckland


Research to date lends general support to the claim that pre-task planning
impacts positively on language production, especially where uency and
complexity are concerned. However, mixed results have been found for
accurate language use (e.g. Ellis 1987; Crookes 1989). One reason for these
variable results may be that studies have diered in whether the task conditions
allowed time for or encouraged careful on-line planning (i.e. formulation and
monitoring of speech plans). The present study was designed to investigate the
eects of both pre-task and on-line planning on L2 oral production. The results
show that pre-task planning enhances grammatical complexity while on-line
planning positively inuences accuracy and grammatical complexity. The pretask planners also produced more uent and lexically varied language than the
on-line planners. These ndings help to further our understanding of the
interrelationship between planning and L2 oral output and are also of obvious
pedagogic relevance, as they indicate the task conditions needed to promote
accuracy, complexity and uency in monologic speech production.

INTRODUCTION
Over the past decade or so, a number of studies have investigated the impact
of planning on language production (e.g. Crookes, 1989; Ellis, 1987; Foster
and Skehan, 1996; Mehnert, 1998; Ortega, 1999; and Wendel, 1997). These
studies, either explicitly or implicitly, draw on information processing theory,
which claims that humans possess a limited processing capacity and, as a
result, are not able to attend fully to all aspects of a task (Anderson, 1995;
Newell and Simon, 1972). Second language (L2) learners, especially those
with limited prociency, nd it dicult to attend to meaning and form at the
same time and thus have to make decisions about how to allocate their
attentional resources by prioritizing one aspect of language over others
(Anderson, 1995; Skehan, 1996; VanPatten 1990). However, when they have
the opportunity to plan the linguistic and propositional content of an
upcoming task, they can compensate for these processing limitations and, as
a result, the quality of their linguistic output is enhanced (Skehan, 1996).
In a series of publications, Skehan has distinguished three aspects of

2 EFFECTS OF PRE-TASK PLANNING AND ON-LINE PLANNING

linguistic performance. Fluency `concerns the learner's capacity to produce


language in real time without undue pausing or hesitation' (Skehan 1996:
22). Various ways of measuring this have been devisedspeech rate (e.g.
number of syllables per minute of speech), length of run, pause length,
silence, false starts, repetitions and reformulations). Complexity `concerns the
elaboration or ambition of the language that is produced' (Skehan 1996: 22)
and reects, Skehan suggests, learners' preparedness to take risks and to
restructure their interlanguages. Measures of complexity are generally based
on the extent to which subordination is evident (e.g. number of clauses per Tunit or c-unit). In some studies, lexical complexity has been assessed (e.g. by
means of typetoken ratio). Accuracy concerns the extent to which the
language produced conforms to target language norms. Researchers have
varied in how this is measured. Some (e.g. Crookes 1989; Wigglesworth 1997)
have preferred to examine how accurately specic grammatical features (e.g.
articles) are used while others have elected to use more generalized measures
such as percentage of error-free clauses (Skehan and Foster 1997). According
to Skehan (1998), these three aspects of performance need to be distinguished
because they are dierentially aected by the particular type of processing a
learner adopts. Skehan suggests that under certain conditions learners will
elect to draw on their lexicalized knowledge of language, in which case
uency is enhanced, while under others they will be able (or even forced) to
refer to their rule-based system, in which case greater complexity and/or
accuracy may ensue. Among the conditions that Skehan identies as
inuential in this respect is the opportunity for planning.
Research to date lends general support to the claim that planning in
advance impacts positively on language production, especially where uency
and complexity are concerned (see Ortega 1999 for a general survey of the
ndings). Studies by Crookes (1989), Foster and Skehan (1996), and Wendel
(1997), among others, report that pre-task planning results in increased
uency. In Foster and Skehan (1996) both guided1 and unguided planning
had a positive eect. Mehnert (1998) investigated dierent lengths of
planning time (none, 1 minute, 5 minutes, and 10 minutes) and found that
uency improved with each increase in planning time. Clearly planning helps
learners to access linguistic material from memory more easily and rapidly.
Most studies also report a positive eect for planning time on the complexity
of learners' productions. Crookes (1989), Foster and Skehan (1996), Wendel
(1997), Mehnert (1998), and Ortega (1999) all report that pre-task planning
results in greater complexity of language. Mehnert found that the length of
planning time was a factor in her study; greater complexity was only evident
in the group given 10 minutes to plan.
In contrast, mixed results have been reported for accuracy. Ellis (1987)
found that planning had a positive eect on the accuracy of regular, rulegoverned past tense forms such as `worked', but not on the accuracy of
irregular past tense forms such as `went'. However, Crookes (1989) found no
eect on the use of articles while Wendel (1997) failed to nd a signicant

FANGYUAN YUAN AND ROD ELLIS

dierence in a general measure of linguistic accuracy between ten-minute


planning and no-planning groups. Foster and Skehan (1996) found that pretask planning had an eect on general linguistic accuracy when the planning
was unguided but not when it was guided. Skehan and Foster (1997) found
that the type of task inuenced whether planning had an eect on accuracy;
planning led to increased accuracy in the case of a personal and a narrative
task, but not in a decision-making task. Mehnert (1998) found that increased
accuracy was evident with learners who were given just 1 minute to plan but
that allowing more time (5 minutes or 10 minutes) did not result in any
additional gains in accuracy. Wigglesworth (1997), in a study of the eects of
planning in a language testing situation, found no statistically signicant
dierences on either plurals or verb morphology between a group that was
given planning time and one that was not, although in the latter high
prociency participants given planning time consistently outperformed those
without. Ortega (1999) in her study of Spanish learners found positive
accuracy eects for planning on noun-modiers but not on articles. These
studies suggest that a number of factors inuence whether pre-task planning
leads to increased accuracythe type of planning (unguided planning favours
accuracy), the grammatical feature involved (planning may enhance accuracy
on features for which there is a clear rule), the complexity of the task (an easy
task predisposes attention to accuracy), the length of planning time allocated
(learners channel attention to accuracy if given limited time), and the
prociency level of the learners (learners with higher prociency seem better
equipped to benet from planning opportunities). However, the evidence in
support of some of these generalizations remains meager while simply listing
the factors involved tells us little, as we know nothing of how they interact. It
should also be pointed out that the studies to date provide very little
information about what participants did while they were performing the task.
It would be helpful, for example, to know how much time they spent on task
and to what extent they were monitoring their production. This, as we shall
see, is a potentially important factor.
Another issue of importance concerns trade-o eects. With limited
processing capacity, learners need to prioritize what to attend to. Thus,
dierent aspects of language vie for attention. But what exactly is traded o?
Skehan and Foster (1997) propose a trade-o eect between complexity and
accuracy. In the narrative task (based on a cartoon picture), they argue that
the planners did not need to devote much attention to encoding the
propositional content because of the clear inherent structure of the task and
so were able to use the planning time to attend to accuracy. On the other
hand, in the decision-making task, which was inherently unstructured, they
used the planning time to sort out how to express complex ideas, and, as a
result, little capacity was left to attend to accuracy in this task. This study
shows that task characteristics play an important role in `channeling the
eects of planning towards accuracy or complexity (Skehan and Foster 1997:
48). Mehnert's (1998) results can also be explained in terms of a trade-o

4 EFFECTS OF PRE-TASK PLANNING AND ON-LINE PLANNING

between complexity and accuracy. However, as we have seen, she found that
the length of time was the crucial factor that determined where the planners
directed their attention. With 1 minute to plan, the learners gave priority to
accuracy; with 10 minutes planning time, they allocated their attentional
capacity to more complex language use, to the exclusion of further
improvement in accuracy.
In contrast, Wendel (1997) argues that the trade-o involves accuracy and
uency. He suggests that whether or not learners attend to uency or
accuracy depends on the type of planning. Drawing on comments his
participants made in post-task interviews, Wendel claims that the opportunity
to plan in advance predisposes learners to attend to organizing and encoding
propositional content and this results in greater uency during actual task
performance, as the results of his study demonstrated. In contrast, he
proposes, accuracy depends on the moment-by-moment decisions that
learners make while they are actually performing the task. In such a case,
he claims, production becomes more accurate as learners access their full
linguistic repertoire but is less uent. Thus, he distinguishes strategic planning
(pre-task planning) and on-line planning (the moment-by-moment planning
during the process of task performance). It should be noted, however, that
Wendel did not actually investigate on-line planning and his proposal is,
therefore speculative. Also, Wendel does not comment on the eect of on-line
planning on complexity.
Up till now, studies have only investigated pre-task planning. An exception,
however, is Ellis (1987), although this study was not originally designed to
distinguish the two types of planning. Ellis asked learners to perform a
narrative task under three conditions. In the rst condition, they were shown
a set of pictures and then were given an hour (i.e. plenty of time) to write a
story about it. In the second condition, they were asked to retell the same
story orally but without access to their written version. The learners were
allowed to record the story twice, but only the second retelling was
transcribed and analyzed (i.e., the participants had the opportunity to prepare
for the performance). In the third condition, the learners were given another
set of pictures and asked to immediately retell the story orally. These
conditions can be distinguished in terms of whether they allowed for pretask planning, on-line planning or both, as shown in Table 1.
The results of the study showed that learners in condition 1 outperformed
the other two groups in accurate use of the regular past tense but that there
was no statistically signicant dierence between the learners in conditions 2
and 3. Relating these results to the planning conditions shown in Table 1, it
would seem that the crucial factor inuencing accuracy was the opportunity
to plan on-line and not pre-task planning. Also, on-line planning only
aected learners' accuracy in the case of a rule-based structure, not in an
item-based structure (irregular past tense forms), possibly because learners
were able to access explicit knowledge of the rule-based structure. Crookes
(1989) has pointed out that a problem with Ellis' study is that it confounds

FANGYUAN YUAN AND ROD ELLIS

Table 1: Ellis' task conditions


Task

Pre-task planning

On-line planning

1
2
3

+
+

planning and modality conditions (i.e. condition 1 involved a written task


while conditions 2 and 3 involved oral tasks). It should be noted, however,
that writing is distinguished from speaking precisely because it aords more
opportunity for on-line planning and is less taxing on working memory.
To sum up, there is ample evidence to show that pre-task planning helps
learners to produce language that is more uent and more complex when
they perform the task. However, it is less clear whether pre-task planning
promotes greater accuracy and, if it does, under what conditions. One
possibility is that accuracy is more dependent on the opportunity for on-line
planning. However, the research to date has focused almost exclusively on
pre-task planning. Thus, the eects of on-line planning remain unknown.
Further, uncertainty exists as to the nature of the trade-o between uency,
complexity, and accuracy when learners with limited processing capacity are
required to perform a task. Are they faced with a choice between attending to
complexity or accuracy as proposed by Skehan and Foster (1997) or uency
and accuracy as proposed by Wendel (1997)? Clearly, what is needed is a
study that compares the eects of the two types of planning on the uency,
complexity, and accuracy of learners' performance of the same task.

ON-LINE PLANNING
Underlying our view of planning and its role in oral task performance is the
distinction between pre-task planning and on-line planning. Pre-task
planning is a clearly understood construct, guring in a number of previous
studies. On-line planning, however, is a new construct in planning studies
and thus requires explication.
We theorize `on-line planning' as involving a particular kind of speech
production that incorporates both `careful' production (as opposed to `rapid'
production) and `monitoring'. Both of these production processes can be
understood in terms of Levelt's (1989) well-known and generally accepted
model of speech processing. This model posits three interactive and overlapping stages of speech processing. The rst phase involves conceptualization, where the conceptual and pragmatic content of a speech is planned. This
stage encodes the message into propositions. The second stage consists of
formulation. This involves drawing on the `lexicon' to construct an internal
grammatical and phonological coding of the propositional content of the

6 EFFECTS OF PRE-TASK PLANNING AND ON-LINE PLANNING

message. It involves accessing both lexical items and grammatical features,


with the latter attended to later in the planning process. Finally the internally
formulated utterances are given phonetic shape and articulated. An important
feature of Levelt's model is that the internal speech plans can be returned to
the conceptualizer for monitoring how successful the plan for the speech act is
in meeting the intentions of the speaker. This can lead to the speaker
amending the initial speech plan by adjusting its conceptualization,
formulation, and/or articulation. In this case, then, monitoring occurs before
the actual production of the speech act. In addition, as Krashen (1981),
among others have pointed out, learners can also monitor their output after
production. In this case, monitoring is manifest discoursally in eorts at selfcorrection.
Thus, we dene `on-line planning' as follows:
On-line planning is the process by which speakers attend carefully to
the formulation stage during speech planning and engage in preproduction and post-production monitoring of their speech acts.

On-line planning is, of course, required in all speech. In this article, however,
we are using the term to refer to the careful and deliberate eort that results
in what Ochs (1979) has called `planned language use'. In this type of
language use the speaker has the chance to plan and replan both the
conceptual content and formulation of the message. `On-line planning', then,
contrasts with ``rapid planning'', which involves greater improvisation and
becomes evident in Ochs' `unplanned language use'.2 The psycholinguistic
basis of this distinction is to be found in models of working memory (WM).
Baddeley and Hitch (1974) and Baddeley and Logie (1999) identify three
components of WM; the central executive or supervisory attentional system,
the phonological loop, and the visual spatial sketchpad. It is the rst of these
that concerns us here. The central executive system governs the relationship
between WM and long-term memory (LTM), allocating attention to specic
LTM systems. However, the central executive system is limited in capacity,
and the extent to which it can attend to a specic system in LTM (e.g.
grammar) will depend on the other demands that are being made on it. When
learners have the opportunity for on-line planning they are better able to
access their LTM systems via the central executive. We hypothesize that this
will assist the formulation stage of speech processing and, in particular, the
planning of grammatical features, which, as noted above, are typically
accessed later than lexical items in the planning process. Thus, when speech
production is pressured, as it is in Ochs' `unplanned language use', learners
make use of the limited processing time available to them to search mainly for
lexical material but when it is unpressured, as in Ochs' `planned language
use', they are better able to search their LTM for grammatical information,
especially morphology.
Thus, time is of obvious importance for the planning and execution of a
speech act during performance. From the point of view of the present study,

FANGYUAN YUAN AND ROD ELLIS

allowing learners more time to complete a task is hypothesized to assist the


planning and production of speech acts in the following ways:
1
2
3

It allows the speaker to search his/her linguistic resources, especially


grammatical, during the formulation stage more thoroughly.
It facilitates the process of pre-production monitoring.
It encourages the process of post-production monitoring.

One would expect, then, that messages that have been carefully planned
and monitored in this way will display greater linguistic complexity and
grammatical accuracy. On-line-planning, however, will have a detrimental
eect on uency.
How does on-line planning dier from pre-task planning? One possibility is
that pre-task planning is directed primarily at the rst stage of Levelt's
modelconceptualizationwhile on-line planning allows time to attend
more closely to formulation. In the case of pre-task planning, learners plan
propositional content and isolated chunks of language to encode it. Even if
they do make an attempt at more detailed formulation, it is unlikely they will
be able to remember the pre-planned forms when they are performing and
thus will be obliged to formulate on-line. Just as readers tend to remember
the propositional content of what they have read, not the linguistic encodings
(Anderson and Pearson 1988), so pre-task speech planners will recall what
they want to say (i.e. the schema they have activated) rather than how to say
it. It follows that pre-task planning does not greatly assist formulation,
especially of grammatical morphology. Thus, the linguistic correlate of eort
put into conceptualizing what to say is enhanced complexity and uency
rather than accuracy. In contrast, on-line planning, as we have argued above,
allows time for the central executive of WM to operate and thus enables
learners to search their LTM for grammatical encodings. Of course, on-line
planners must also engage in conceptual planning, the rst stage in Levelt's
planning process. Thus, on-line planning leads to both enhanced complexity
and accuracy.
Finally, it is important to understand that the distinction between on-line
and rapid language use is continuous rather than dichotomous and that the
extent to which the formulation and monitoring processes referred to above
actually occur is likely to be highly variable, depending on both the amount of
time available to the learner and a host of individual learner factors such as
whether the learners are norm- or functionally oriented (Meisel, Clahsen, and
Pienemann 1981).

RESEARCH QUESTIONS
The study described below addressed the following research questions.
1

What eects do pre-task planning and on-line planning have on the


uency of L2 learners' production in an oral narrative task?

8 EFFECTS OF PRE-TASK PLANNING AND ON-LINE PLANNING

In accordance with the preceding discussion, it is predicted that pre-task


planning will enhance uency (i.e. the pre-task planning group will
perform the narrative more uently than the no-planning group). The
eects of on-line planning can be expected to impede uency.
What eects do pre-planning and on-line planning have on the complexity
of L2 learners' production in an oral narrative task?
Again, pre-task planning is expected to result in greater complexity of
language use, as indicated in several of the studies referred to in the
introduction. The eects of on-line planning on complexity, however, are
uncertain as no previous study has investigated this.
What eects do pre-planning and on-line planning have on the accuracy of
L2 learners' production in an oral narrative task?
Previous studies have reported mixed results for the eects of pre-task
planning on accuracy. It is predicted that no eect will be found in this
study because the pre-task planning group had limited opportunity to
engage in on-line planning. In contrast, following Ellis (1987), on-line
planning is expected to enhance accuracy.

THE STUDY
Design
This study is a single-factor between-participants design with three levels of
planning conditions (no planning, pre-task planning, and on-line planning).
Forty-two participants were administered a pre-test to ensure that the three
groups had equivalent English prociency at the outset of the study. Each
group performed an oral narrative elicited by means of a set of related pictures
in one of the three conditions.

Participants
The participants in the study were 42 full-time undergraduate students who
were English majors in the International Business Department of a Chinese
university. They were between the ages of 18 and 20 years old. At the time
when the data of the present study were collected, most of these learners had
been learning English as a foreign language in Chinese schools for eight years,
rst at elementary school and middle school and then in college. None of
them had ever been to an English-speaking country and they had had little
opportunity to use English for communicative purposes outside the classroom.
Their scores in their Higher Education Bureau Examination were between
100 and 120 (maximum possible = 150), with grades between A and B+ in the
oral component of this examination. The participants can be considered to
constitute a fairly homogeneous group of students in terms of their learning
history and English prociency.
As college students, they had six hours of English each week, four hours for
reading and writing and two hours for listening and speaking. Every two

FANGYUAN YUAN AND ROD ELLIS

weeks, they had a one-hour oral English class from a native speaker of English
from Canada.
All the students in two rst-year classes were invited and agreed to
participate in the study. In fact, they responded enthusiastically to the
opportunity. They were told that the test and tasks they would complete were
for the purposes of research but were not told the precise purpose and they
were assured that the information collected would not be used towards their
course grades.
The students were divided randomly into three groups, with 14 in each
group. The gender composition of each group was as follows: the No Planning
Group consisted of 8 males and 6 females, the Pre-Task Planning Group
consisted of 6 males and 8 females, the On-Line Planning Group consisted of 5
males and 9 females. No participants withdrew from the study.

Pre-test material
The pre-test material was a version of the TOEFL (i.e. Test 1 from Reading for
TOEFL Workbook published by the Educational Testing Service). The total test
scores and the scores of the listening section were calculated and entered into
one-way ANOVAs with the alpha set at .05. The listening section scores were
examined separately on the grounds that they provided an indicator of the
participants' on-line processing ability and thus were likely to be related to
their spontaneous language production (Hale, 1989). The results of the
ANOVAs revealed no signicant dierences across the three treatment groups
in either overall TOEFL scores (F = .39; p = .95) or listening scores (F= .464; p
= .63). Thus, it can be concluded that the three groups were equivalent in
their English prociency. Descriptive statistics are shown in Table 2.

Task
The task required participants to narrate a story orally based on a picture
composition from Heaton (1975). An oral narrative task was chosen for a
number of reasons. First, similar tasks have been used in other studies of
planning (e.g. Wendel 1997; Foster and Skehan 1996) and thus comparison
with the results of these studies would be easier. Second, because oral
narratives are monologic rather than dialogic they aord a basis for deriving
measures of learner performance that are not inuenced by interactional
variables. Third, we wished to ensure that the task was reasonably demanding
on the participants and previous research (e.g. Skehan and Foster 1999)
indicates that this can be achieved by selecting a picture story that requires
interpretation on the part of the learners.
The story was about three boys who couldn't get on a bus because four big
boys had pushed in front of them. They had to wait half an hour for another
bus. However, they later passed the rst bus, which had broken down on a
hill. The three boys laughed at the four big boys as the bus passed. The task

10

EFFECTS OF PRE-TASK PLANNING AND ON-LINE PLANNING

Table 2: Descriptive statistics for TOEFL scores across groups


Group I

M
Mdn
SD
Range
Min
Max

Group II

Group III

Total

Listening

Total

Listening

Total

Listening

446.71
440.00
35.34
137.00
373.00
510.00

42.79
42.00
3.68
14.00
36.00
50.00

447.78
446.50
27.84
113.00
407.00
520.00

42.36
42.50
3.65
14.00
36.00
50.00

460.86
458.50
26.57
104.00
416.00
520.00

43.64
44.00
3.46
13.00
36.00
49.00

Notes: M = mean; Mdn = median; SD = standard deviation; Min = minimum; Max =


maximum

can be considered demanding given that it was necessary for the participants
to distinguish the two sets of boys and the two buses. Also, a number of
learners commented in the post-task interview that the last two pictures were
not entirely clear suggesting that the pictures lacked a clear structure.
The task instructions were given in Chinese. All the participants were
required to begin their oral narratives by saying `This morning, Tom, George,
and Bill . . . '

Task conditions
In this study, planning was operationalized at three levels: (a) no planning
(NP), (b) pre-task planning (PTP), and (c) on-line planning (OLP). The actual
instructions given to the participants in each group are provided in
Appendix A.
A small pilot study was carried out to establish a time limit for task
completion by the participants in the no-planning and pre-task planning
groups. The participants in the pilot were ve rst-year students from another
department in the same university. These students took between 3.5 and 5
minutes to complete the task, with a mean of above 4 minutes. It was decided,
therefore, to allow 5 minutes for task completion by learners in the noplanning and pre-task planning groups in the main study (i.e. the maximum
time spent by any of the participants in the pilot study). We recognized that
this was probably longer than most of the participants would actually take but
we felt that it was important to ensure that all the participants had sucient
time to complete the task and we believed that simply setting the no-planners
and pre-task planners a time limit would create pressure during performance
of the task and thus inhibit their on-line planning.
The participants performed the task in a language laboratory during a

FANGYUAN YUAN AND ROD ELLIS

11

listening and speaking class with only the researcher present. They were
seated separately and did not interact with each other. Their oral narratives
were audio-recorded.

1 No planning (NP)
In this condition, participants were required to perform the task immediately
after studying the pictures for a very short time (0.5 minute) and had to
complete the task within a limited time (5 minutes), so that they had almost
no time for planning the task in advance and were pressured to perform the
task thus restricting opportunities for on-line planning. To further increase a
sense of pressure on the participants, they were required to produce at least
four sentences for each of the six pictures.

2 Pre-task planning (PTP)


For the pre-task planning condition, participants were given 10 minutes to
plan their performance of the task. The choice of planning time was based on
Crookes (1989), Foster and Skehan (1996), and Wendel (1997). Mehnert's
(1998) study showed that only when 10 minutes planning time was provided
were there measurable eects on all three aspects of language useuency,
accuracy, and complexity. No detailed guidance was provided but the
participants were asked to plan their narratives in terms of content,
organization, and language. This again followed Crookes (1989), Skehan
and Foster (1997), and Wendel (1997). The participants were given a sheet of
paper to write notes on but they were told not to write out the whole story.
The notes were taken away before they started the task. This achieved two
purposes. First, removing the notes ensured that the language elicited by all
the tasks was oral, thus avoiding the problem in Ellis (1987), where planning
and modality were confounded. Second, the notes could be used as evidence
regarding how individual students undertook the planning and could be
referred to in the post-task interview. As in the no-planning condition,
participants were requested to produce four sentences for each of the six
pictures within 5 minutes. In this way, the participants were given time for
pre-task planning but were pressured to perform the task with limited
opportunities for on-line planning.

3 On-line planning (OLP)


As in the other two conditions, the on-line planners were required to produce
at least four sentences for each of the six pictures. As in the no-planning
condition, they were required to carry out the task after seeing the pictures for
only 0.5 minute, but they were given unlimited time to enable them to
formulate and monitor their speech plans as they performed the task. This
operationalization of on-line planning was guided by the denition of this

12

EFFECTS OF PRE-TASK PLANNING AND ON-LINE PLANNING

construct provided earlier. Thus, the participants in this condition had limited
time for pre-task planning but ample time for on-line planning.
The task conditions are summarized in Table 3.

Table 3: Task conditions


Task condition

Pre-task planning

On-line planning

No planning (NP) n = 14
Pre-task planning (PTP) n = 14
On-line planning (OLP) n = 14

0.5 minute
10 minutes
0.5 minute

Limited
Limited
Unlimited

N = 42

Questionnaires and interviews


Participants were asked to ll out a questionnaire in Chinese immediately
after completing the task. The questionnaire (see the English version in
Appendix B) consisted of open-ended questions relating to how the
participants felt about the tasks and how they made use of the planning
time (i.e. whether they attended to grammar, lexis, or discourse). In addition,
ve participants were randomly selected from each group for a retrospective,
in-depth interview in Chinese with the researcher. The notes made by the
pre-task planners and all the participants' written responses to the
questionnaire served as a basis for the questions asked in the interview. The
data collected from the questionnaire and interview were used to help
interpret the ndings of the statistical analysis.

Measures
Measures of accuracy, uency, and complexity were developed to evaluate
the quality of the participants' oral production. These measures were largely
the same as those used in other studies (i.e. in Crookes (1989), Foster and
Skehan (1996), and Wendel (1997) ). In addition, to determine whether the
participants in the on-line planning group engaged in signicant on-line
planning compared to the other two groups, the length of time taken and the
number of syllables produced by the participants in all three groups were also
calculated. In this way it was possible to determine whether the participants
had performed the tasks in accordance with the stipulated planning
conditions.

Planning: independent variable


1

Length of time: the total number of seconds on task was counted for each
subject.

FANGYUAN YUAN AND ROD ELLIS

2
3

13

Syllables A: the number of syllables produced by each subject was


counted. This provided a measure of productivity.
Syllables B: the total number of syllables minus all syllables that were
subsequently repeated, reformulated, or replaced (cf. Mehnert 1998). This
provided a measure of meaningful productivity.

Dependent variables
Fluency measures: Fluency was measured in terms of number of syllables per
minute. This was chosen as a general measure of uency used in a number of
other studies (e.g. Wendel 1997) that takes into account both the amount of
speech and the length of pauses. There were two measures:
1
2

Rate A (number of syllables per minute): the number of syllables within


each narrative, divided by the number of seconds used to complete the
task and multiplied by 60.
Rate B (number of meaningful syllables per minute): as in Rate A but with
all syllables, words, phrases that were repeated, reformulated, or replaced
excluded.

Complexity measures:
1

Syntactic complexity: the ratio of clauses to T-units in the participants'


production. T-units rather c-units3 were used as the task performance was
monologic and contained few elided utterances (see Foster, Tonkyn, and
Wigglesworth (2000) for a discussion of the relative merits of using Tunits or c-units).
Syntactic variety: the total number of dierent grammatical verb forms
used in the task. Grammatical verb forms used for the analysis were tense
(e.g. simple past, past continuous), modality (e.g. should, have to), and
voice (e.g. passive voice in the past).
Mean Segmental TypeToken Ratio (MSTTR). The participants' narratives
were divided into segments of 40 words and the typetoken ratio of each
segment calculated by dividing the total number of dierent words by the
total number of words in the segment. The MSTTR (Richards and Malvern
2002) was computed for each participant by adding the mean scores for
his/her segments and dividing the total by the total number of segments
in his/her narrative. This procedure was followed to take account of the
eect of text length on the typetoken ratio as recommended by Richards
and Malvern (2002).

Accuracy measures:
1

Error-free clauses: the percentage of clauses that did not contain any
error. All errors relating to syntax, morphology and lexical choice were
considered. Lexical errors were dened as errors in lexical form or
collocation; e.g. I was waiting you.

14

EFFECTS OF PRE-TASK PLANNING AND ON-LINE PLANNING

Correct verb forms: the percentage of accurately used verbs in terms of


tense, aspect, modality, and subjectverb agreement.

Data analysis
A series of one-way ANOVAs4 were performed on all the measures followed
by post-hoc Schee tests. The alpha for achieving statistical signicance was
set at .05.

RESULTS
Planning: independent variables
The means for the independent variables are shown in Table 4. They reveal that
the on-line planning group (OLP) group took longer to complete the task
(mean = 243.6 seconds) than the participants in the no planning (NP) group
(mean = 189.3 seconds) and those in the pre-task planning (PTP) group (mean
= 186.4 seconds). In contrast, the mean lengths of time spent by the NP group
and PTP group were very close to each other. A one-way ANOVA shows that
the dierence in time taken to complete the task across the groups is statistically
signicant although the Schee Test failed to nd a statistically signicant
dierence between any one pair of groups. One reason for the failure to nd a
statistically signicant dierence between the OLP group and the other two
groups in the length of time taken to complete the task is the considerable
variance within the OLP group itself (i.e. SD = 78.96).
For both Syllables A and B there is an overall statistically signicant
dierence among the three groups. The Schee results show that the PTP
group produced signicantly more syllables than the NP group. None of the
other comparisons were statistically signicant although the two means of the
OLP group were close to those of the PTP group and higher than those for the
NP group. Thus, the dierence between the PTP and OLP groups was
negligible.
In general, then, these results indicate that, as intended, the OLP group
could be distinguished from the PTP and NP groups in terms of the amount of
time spent on task. Also, the two planning groups could be distinguished from
the NP group in terms of the amount of speech produced. With regard to time
on task and quantity of speech, therefore, the three groups functioned
dierently.

Dependent variables
As indicated earlier, three aspects of language use were examined to see how
the participants in the three treatment conditions performed the oral task. The
results of one-way ANOVAs will be reported separately for uency, complexity, and accuracy.

Table 4: Statistics related to independent variables


Means (SD)
NP

Locations of Signicance
PTP

OLP

Length of
time
(Sec)
186.43 (68.62) 189.29 (39.99) 243.57 (78.96)
Syll. A
194.36 (44.86) 242.50 (47.95) 235.50 (54.63)
Syll. B
173.71 (39.51) 227.00 (43.21) 210.36 (43.42)

F-value

Sig.

NP-PTP

NP-OLP

PTP-OLP

3.474
3.886
5.585

.041*
.029*
.007**

.993
.046*
.009**

.077
.101
.093

.098
.932
.598

Means (SD)

Rate A
Rate B

Locations of Signicance

NP

PTP

OLP

F-value

Sig.

NP-PTP

NP-OLP

PTP-OLP

67.16 (17.01)
60.04 (17.29)

76.23 (15.20)
71.08 (15.12)

61.73 (17.41)
55.34 (16.18)

2.737
3.412

.077
.043*

.359
.247

.690
.691

.081
.048*

Note: NP = no-planning group, PTP = pre-task planning group, and OLP = on-line planning group

FANGYUAN YUAN AND ROD ELLIS

Table 5: Dierences in uency according to the three planning conditions

15

16

EFFECTS OF PRE-TASK PLANNING AND ON-LINE PLANNING

Fluency
The PTP group obtained the highest uency score, more than 76 syllables per
minute for Rate A and 71 syllables per minute for Rate B. Thus, the preplanners spoke faster than both the no-planners and on-line planners. The NP
group achieved higher means for both Rate A and Rate B than the OLP group.
In other words, the OLP group spoke the slowest and reformulated or
repeated the most and the PTP group spoke the fastest and reformulated the
least when performing the task. The results of the one-way ANOVA shown in
Table 5 show that the dierence in the groups for Speech Rate A is not
statistically signicant (p = .077). In the case of Speech Rate B (where
repeated, reformulated, or replaced syllables were excluded), the overall
dierence in the treatments is statistically signicant (p = .043). The post hoc
test shows, however, that there is no signicant dierence between either the
NP and OLP groups or between the NP and PTP groups. However, the
dierence between the PTP and OLP (p = .048) for Rate B did prove to be
statistically signicant. Thus, there is some evidence to suggest that the PTP
group performed more uently than the OLP group.

Complexity
Three variables were assessed to measure the complexity of language used in
the participants' oral narratives; syntactical complexity, syntactical variety,
and lexical variety (i.e. Mean Segmental TypeToken Ratio). Results are
shown in Table 6.
Somewhat dierent results were obtained for syntactical complexity and
lexical variety. In the case of syntactical complexity both the planning groups
outperformed the non-planning group, the dierences being statistically
signicant (i.e. p = .007 for the NPPTP comparison and p = .008 for the NP
OLP comparison). However, the language produced by the two planning
groups was equally syntactically complex (p = .997). Similar results were
obtained for syntactical variety although here none of the comparisons were
statistically signicant. In the case of lexical variety, the PTP group
outperformed both the NP and the OLP group, although the dierences
reached statistical signicance only with the OLP.
Overall, these results show that pre-task planning has a positive inuence
where grammatical complexity is concerned, as reported in the previous
studies (e.g. Foster and Skehan 1996; Wendel 1997). Pre-task planning also
resulted in greater lexical variety although the dierence between the PTP
and NP groups was not statistically signicant. On-line planning works just as
well as pre-task planning where grammatical complexity is concerned but it
does not contribute to lexical variety. This appears to increase when learners
are required to perform under the pressure of time if they also have the
opportunity to plan beforehand.

FANGYUAN YUAN AND ROD ELLIS

17

Accuracy
Accuracy was measured in two ways; error-free clauses and error-free verb
forms. Table 7 shows the results for this aspect of production.
The OLP group had the highest mean on both measures, with the NP group
the lowest and the PTP intermediate. The ANOVA shows that there are overall
statistically signicant dierences for both error-free clauses and error-free
verb forms. The post hoc test shows that statistical signicance is located
between the no-planning group and on-line group in both cases.
It is concluded that whereas the PTP group did not produce more accurate
language than the NP group, the OLP group did. Thus, on-line planning had a
positive eect on accuracy. However, no statistically signicant dierences
were found between the two planning groups.

DISCUSSION
This study sought to examine the dierent eects of pre-task planning and online planning on the uency, complexity, and accuracy of adult Chinese
learners' oral production in a narrative task. We will begin by considering to
what extent the dierent task conditions were met, addressing in particular
whether on-line planning as a task condition was successfully operationalized.
We will then compare the eects of the dierent conditions on the
participants' uency, complexity, and accuracy, examining dierences
between (1) the PTP and NP groups, (2) the OLP and NP groups, and (3)
the PTP and OLP groups.

Operationalizing the planning conditions


We have seen that the on-line planners spent much longer on task than the
pre-task planners (about 29 per cent more time, a dierence that approached
statistical signicance) but produced less overall speech (a dierence that was
statistically signicant). As a result, the OLP's speech rate was much slower
than the PTP's. In addition, the OLP group reformulated and self-corrected
more than the PTP group. The former reformulated about 25 syllables out of
235 on average (11 per cent) while the latter only reformulated 15 out of
243 (6 per cent). Overall, the slower production rate and more frequent
reformulations and self-corrections on the part of the on-line planners can
be taken as an indication that the OLP group were engaged more fully in
searching their linguistic repertoires and in monitoring their speech
production (i.e. it was engaged in more on-line planning than the PTP
group).
Compared with the no-planning group, the on-line planners had the
advantage of unlimited time to complete the task. Neither group, it should be
noted, was given the opportunity to prepare in advance; thus, any dierences
between the two groups can be put down to the availability of on-line
planning time. The OLP group spent about 31 per cent more time on task than

NP
Syn
Complex
Syn
Variety
Lexi
Variety

1.33 (.14)
8.71 (3.25)
0.63 (0.66)

Locations of Signicance
PTP

1.62 (.22)

OLP

1.61 (.28)

11.00 (2.60) 11.00 (3.42)


0.68 (.058)

0.61(.071)

F-value

Sig.

NP-PTP

NP-OLP

7.480

.002**

.007**

.008**

2.523

.093

.164

.164

4.439

.018

.103

.811

PTP-OLP

.997
1.00
.025

Note: NP = no-planning group, PTP = pre-task planning group, and OLP = on-line planning group

Table 7: Dierences in accuracy according to the three planning conditions


Means (SD)
NP
Correct
Clauses
Correct
Verbs

Locations of Signicance
PTP

OLP

F-value

Sig.

NP-PTP

NP-OLP

PTP-OLP

45.29 (18.71) 54.71 (11.38) 63.29 (13.46)

5.152

.010**

.256

.010**

.322

48.93 (18.12) 54.21 (12.72) 64.29 (9.15)

4.45

.018*

.604

.020*

.170

Note: NP = no-planning group, PTP = pre-task planning group, and OLP = on-line planning group

EFFECTS OF PRE-TASK PLANNING AND ON-LINE PLANNING

Means (SD)

18

Table 6: Dierences in complexity according to the three planning conditions

FANGYUAN YUAN AND ROD ELLIS

19

the NP group, and as a result, spoke more slowly, monitoring and editing their
language production more extensively. This again indicates that on-line
planning was successfully operationalized as a task condition in this study.
The two groups who were required to perform the task within a time limit
did not take full advantage of the time available to them. The mean times for
both the NP and the PTP groups were under 5 minutes. However, this does
not mean that the task conditions for these groups were not met. The aim was
not to ensure that the participants used the full 5 minutes but rather to place
them under pressure to perform the task more rapidly than the OLP group.
The results in Table 4 suggest that this was achieved.
We can conclude, therefore, that overall the groups performed their tasks in
line with the dierent conditions specied by the researcher. However, it is
noted that the dierences between the OLP group and the other two groups
did not reach statistical signicance and that the on-line planners diered
considerably in the time they took to complete the task. This suggests that the
extent to which learners engage in on-line planning when they have the
opportunity to do so is subject to considerable individual variation.

Pre-task planning vs. no-planning


The results show that the pre-task planners were no more uent than the noplanners. This runs counter to the results of previous studies (e.g. Foster and
Skehan 1996; Mehnert 1998; Wendel 1997), almost all of which have
reported that pre-task planning leads to more uent language use. It is,
therefore, a surprising result. It should be noted, however, that the pre-task
planners in the present study did obtain higher means for the uency
measures than the participants in the no-planning condition (76.23 vs 67.16
in Rate A and 71.08 vs 60.04 in Rate B).
What explanation is there for the dierence in results for uency between
this study and the previous studies? It should be noted that in this study
both the pre-task planning and no-planning conditions required the learners
to perform the narrative under time pressure. In previous studies, however,
no such time restriction was imposed; participants were free to take as long
or as little time as they chose. The time pressure may have had an equalizing
eect on the two groups where uency was concerned. The need to tell the
story within the time limit and to produce a minimum number of sentences
per picture may have caused the no-planning learners to speak more rapidly
than they would have done had they been free to complete the task in their
own time. Thus any advantage gained by the pre-task planners was
minimized.
The results of this study indicate that pre-task planning had a strong eect
on syntactic complexity. Thus, this study replicates the ndings of almost all
the previous studies (e.g. Crookes 1989; Foster and Skehan 1996; Wendel
1997). However, pre-task planning was not found to have a statistically
signicant eect on the other two complexity measures, syntactic variety and

20

EFFECTS OF PRE-TASK PLANNING AND ON-LINE PLANNING

lexical variety (Mean Segmental TypeToken Ratio), although in both cases it


did result in larger mean scores. In the case of syntactic variety, most of the
previous studies have shown an eect for pre-task planning but it should be
noted that measures of lexical variety have produced mixed results.
Wendel (1997) has suggested that language complexity can be viewed as a
general index of language use, since it involves the linguistic means needed
to coordinate and/or subordinate ideas. If this is correct, it can be expected
that pre-task preparation for language use will play a major role in
enhancing complexity. Further evidence to support Wendel's claim comes
from the notes made by the pre-task planners and from the questionnaires
and interviews. The notes revealed that eight out of 14 participants wrote an
outline for the story, four wrote out part of the story, one wrote down some
words and phrases and one wrote out the rst sentence for each picture.
Most of the participants reported they had planned the task by rst trying to
understand the pictures and organize their narratives and then by looking
for the specic linguistic means to encode their meanings. In other words,
they used the pre-task planning time to organize the story by thinking
initially about what they wanted to say and only secondarily how they
would say it in English. In terms of Levelt's (1989) Speech Production Model
they prioritized conceptualization over formulation and articulation. This
resulted in enhanced complexity.5
The results of the present study show that pre-task planning does not aect
accuracy strongly, although the means of the PTP group were higher than
those of the no-planning condition on both of the measures of accuracy. This
accords with the results reported in a number of previous planning studies,
which failed to demonstrate any eect on accuracy (e.g. Crookes 1989;
Wendel 1997). As we noted earlier, the narrative task in this study can be
considered a demanding one. In such cases, as Skehan and Foster (1997) have
argued, learners may be predisposed to use their planning time to pay
attention to how to organize and encode the propositional content rather than
for searching their linguistic repertoire to maximize accuracy. Further,
because both the NP group and the PTP group were pressured to perform
the task rapidly they were restricted in opportunities for on-line planning
during performance and may have used the time to access their lexicons
rather than to attend to grammatical accuracy. In this respect, it should be
recalled that Levelt (1989) suggests that attention to grammatical morphology
takes second place to lexicalization during the formulation stage of speech act
processing.

On-line planning vs no-planning


There was no dierence between the OLP and NP groups in uency. The online planning group spoke less uently than the no-planning group (a mean
of 61.73 vs 67.16 in Rate A and 55.34 vs 60.64 in Rate B) but these dierences
were not statistically signicant. Again, this result is somewhat surprising.

FANGYUAN YUAN AND ROD ELLIS

21

Given that the NP group was required to perform the task within a time limit
while the OP group was not, the NP group was expected to perform with
greater uency. Perhaps the daunting nature of the task facing the NP group
limited the degree of uency they could achieve. The restricted time limit
made them comparable in uency to the PTP group (see above) but, given all
the processing demands of the task, did not result in signicantly greater
uency than the OLP group. What the results show is that asking learners to
perform a task `cold' and under time pressure is very challenging.
On-line planning has a clear eect in the case of grammatical complexity
like pre-task planning it results in the production of more complex sentences.
According to Wendel (1997), language complexity is more closely related to
the preparation that takes place during pre-task planning. However, the
participants in the OLP group only had 0.5 minute for such a preparation and
thus did not have the chance to prepare thoroughly. Thus, the results of this
study suggest that the opportunity to plan on-line is also used to attend to
complexity. In other words, both kinds of planning contribute to more
grammatically complex language use. However, on-line planning does not
seem to benet lexical variety. Somewhat surprisingly the OLP group's Mean
Segmental TypeToken Ratio was lower than that of the NP group. One
possibility, to be discussed further when the dierent eects of PTP and OLP
are discussed (see below), is that, when given time to plan on-line, some
learners switch to prioritizing grammatical accuracy over lexical searches.
The OLP group also achieved greater grammatical accuracy than the NP
group. This result contrasts with that for the PTP group, which as we saw in
the previous section, showed no eect for pre-task planning on accuracy. It
conrms Wendel's claim that accuracy arises as a result of what learners do
during performance. It is also compatible with the results of Ellis (1987), as
summarized in Table 1 and discussed above. An explanation for this result can
be found in Skehan's (1998) dual-processing model, according to which the
learner's rule-based system requires more time and attentional capacity to
access than lexically stored knowledge. In line with this and with Levelt's
(1989) model, it can be hypothesized that the greater accuracy evident in the
OLP group in this study was due to the time the participants had to access
their rule-based grammatical knowledge during performance. It is possible,
given the emphasis on formal grammar teaching in these Chinese participants'
prior language learning experiences, that they possessed ample explicit
knowledge, which they used to formulate speech plans and to monitor
their production when time permitted.

Pre-task planning vs on-line planning


No previous study has compared the eects of pre-task and on-line planning
so the results of this comparison are of particular interest. The PTP group
obtained higher scores than the OLP group in uency while the OLP did
better in accuracy. The dierences in complexity scores were mixed with no

22

EFFECTS OF PRE-TASK PLANNING AND ON-LINE PLANNING

dierences evident in grammar but a statistically signicant dierence being


found for lexical variety.
As we have seen, information processing theory proposes that attentional
capacity is limited; when learners attend to one aspect of a demanding task,
they nd it hard to spare attention for another aspect. This study supports
such a claim, showing further that the nature of the planning that learners
engage in predisposes them to prioritize dierent aspects of language.
Planning prior to performance seems to predispose learners to attend to
propositional content and its organization and this results in enhanced
uency and lexical variety. But without the opportunity to plan on-line
carefully and deliberately they cannot attend to accuracy by accessing their
explicit rule-based knowledge. Instead, they focus their search of long-term
memory on the lexicon during formulation. In contrast, on-line planning
enables learners to access their grammatical knowledge more fully with
consequential benets for accuracy. As might be expected, however, they
perform less well where uency is concerned. Also, the attention to
grammatical accuracy seems to have a negative impact on their ability to
conduct lexical searches. Thus, there seems to be a dual trade o; on-line
planning enables attention to grammatical accuracy but results in reduced
uency and induces reliance on a more basic vocabulary while pre-task
planning encourages attention to message conveyance which is reected in
both greater uency and greater lexical variety.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION


Table 8 summarizes the eects of the two types of planning (pre-task and online) on the three aspects of language production by comparing both planning
groups with the no-planning group. Thus, pre-task planning advantaged
grammatical complexity while on-line planning resulted in both greater
grammatical complexity and accuracy. Neither type of planning beneted
uency or lexical variety, although it should be noted that the PTP group was
more uent than the OLP group and used a greater variety of vocabulary.
This study investigated university Chinese learners in a foreign language
learning context. The extent to which the results obtained generalize to other
learners in dierent learning contexts remains to be investigated. Thus care
needs to be taken not to over-interpret the results. Nevertheless, the results of
the study cast some light on two important issues relating to the role of
planning in task-based performance. The rst issue concerns the eects of
planning on accuracy. The second concerns the nature of the competition
between dierent aspects of production when L2 learners' processing capacity
is strained. We will conclude by considering each issue.
Previous studies of pre-task planning have produced very mixed results
where accuracy is concerned and a number of explanations relating to the
nature of the measures used, of the learners, and of the tasks themselves have
been proposed (see Introduction). However, this study suggests that a key

FANGYUAN YUAN AND ROD ELLIS

23

Table 8: Summary of comparisons between each planning group and the noplanning group
Group

Pre-task planning
Online-planning group

Fluency

Same
Same

Complexity

Accuracy

Grammar

Vocabulary

Greater
Greater

Same
Same

Same
Greater

factor may be whether learners have the opportunity to plan on-line. We


have suggested that on-line planning enables learners to better access their L2
knowledge, especially their explicit knowledge, with resulting gains in
accuracy. Previous studies have not controlled for on-line planning. Indeed,
they provide very little information about how the participants actually
performed the tasks. We consider it quite possible that the mixed results
reect whether or not the participants were able to, or chose to, engage in online planning when they performed the task. Clearly, in future studies of
planning it will be necessary to attend carefully to the conditions under which
tasks are performed in order to control for or to manipulate on-line planning.
Future studies might also like to investigate the eects of providing
opportunity for both pre-task and on-line planning.
There is general agreement that learners with limited L2 prociency tradeo attention to one aspect of language against another when given the
opportunity to plan the performance of a challenging task. However, as we
have seen, there is some disagreement as to the aspects of language involved
in this trade-o. Skehan and Foster (1997) propose that it involves complexity
and accuracy while Wendel (1997) argues that uency and accuracy are in
competition (see Introduction). Table 8 indicates that both types of planning
favour grammatical complexity. Thus, we can conclude that no matter what
the type of planning (providing that there is sucient time for itsee
Mehnert (1998) ) learners engage in the kinds of cognitive activities that
contribute to more complex constructions. The primary competition, therefore involves uency and accuracy, as suggested by Wendel. If learners have
the opportunity to plan on-line, they attend to accuracy, but pay a price in
uency. If they are given the chance to plan before they perform the task,
they prioritize uency over accuracy when they perform the task.
There is a second trade-o evident in the results of the study reported
above. It would seem that learners with limited processing capacity also make
decisions about whether to prioritize grammatical accuracy or lexical variety.
Thus, the PLP group produced language that was more lexically varied but
tended to be less grammatically accurate than the OLP group, whereas the
OLP group produced language that tended to be more grammatically accurate
but less lexically rich. Such a trade-o is compatible with Levelt's (1989)

24

EFFECTS OF PRE-TASK PLANNING AND ON-LINE PLANNING

observation that lexicalization and grammaticalization occur at dierent


points during the formulation stage and, thus, may vary according to the
time available for speech processing at this stage.
This dual trade-o can best be understood as reecting a basic distinction
between (1) a concern for message conveyance, promoted by pre-task
planning and reected in greater uency and lexical variety, and (2) a
concern for form promoted by on-line planning and reected in greater
grammatical accuracy. It is possible, of course, that if learners were able to
both pre-plan and plan on-line, the problems of their limited capacity would
be reduced and they would be able to give adequate attention to all aspects of
language. However, this remains to be demonstrated.
Finally, we will briey consider the implications of the results of this study
for language pedagogy. We can ask rst whether there is any benet in giving
learners time to plan tasks. It can be argued that teachers (and testers) should
endeavour to ensure `situational authenticity' (Bachman and Palmer 1996).
That is, learners should be asked to engage with tasks under the same
conditions they will experience in the real world. Thus, given that there is
generally limited time available for either the pre-task or on-line planning of
real-world tasks, teachers should provide for neither. However, this is not the
position we wish to support. First, we do not see it as possible or even
desirable that the classroom (or the examination room) should mirror
situations in the real world. As Widdowson (1984) has argued, the goal of
language teaching should not be to teach language as communication but for
communication. Thus, teachers need to prepare learners to communicate by
developing their general linguistic capacity to communicate. One way of
contributing to this goal is to ensure that there is `balanced goal development'
(Skehan 1998). That is, teachers need to ensure that learners' capacity to use
the L2 is balanced with regard to the three key aspects of languageuency,
complexity, and accuracy. Skehan suggests that this balance `can best be
handled simply by manipulating the time available for planning' (p. 140).
However, Skehan's comments relate exclusively to pre-task planning. This
study suggests that manipulating opportunities for both pre-task and on-line
planning may be needed.
(Final version received June 2002)

APPENDIX A: INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN TO THE PARTICIPANTS


IN EACH CONDITION
Note: The task instructions were all given orally in Chinese to the students individually.
Below is an English translation of these instructions.

No planning
You have just seen a set of pictures. These pictures tell us a story. Now I would like you
to retell this story in English. Imagine that somebody has never seen these pictures and

FANGYUAN YUAN AND ROD ELLIS

25

this is his/her rst time to learn about the story from you. So please tell the story as
detailed as you can. In addition, you have only 5 minutes and you must produce at
least four sentences for each of the six pictures. If you like, you can produce more than
four sentences for each picture.
You can begin your story like this: This morning, Tom, Jack and George . . .
Please begin.

Pre-task planning
You have just seen a set of pictures. These pictures tell us a story. In a short while, I
would like you to retell this story in English. Before you retell the story, you have 10
minutes to plan what you are going to say. Imagine that somebody has never seen
these pictures and this is his/her rst time to learn about the story from you. So please
tell the story in as much detail as you can. To assist you to prepare, you are given a
sheet of paper and a pencil. You can use them to write some notes. But please don't
write a complete sentence either in Chinese or in English. When you begin to tell the story,
I will take the paper away. You have 5 minutes to retell the story and you must produce
at least four sentences for each of the six pictures. If you like, you can produce more
than four sentences for each picture.
You can begin your story like this: This morning, Tom, Jack and George . . . Please
prepare now.
(After 10 minutes)
It is time for you to begin. Please begin.

On-line planning
You have just seen a set of pictures. These pictures tell us a story. Now I would like you
to retell this story in English. Imagine that someone has never seen these pictures and
this is his/her rst time to learn about the story from you. So please tell the story as
detailed as you can. You can take as long time as you can when telling the story. If you
think you say something not correct or not to your satisfaction, you can correct it as
many times as you can. For each of the six pictures you must produce at least four
sentences. If you like, you can produce more than four sentences for each picture.
You can begin your story like this: This morning, Tom, Jack and George . . .
Please begin.

APPENDIX B: POST-TASK QUESTIONNAIRE


Please answer the following questions as truthfully as possible.
1 Name____________Grade _____________Department____________
2 Which group did you belong to?
(1)______ (go to Question 3)
(2)______ (go to Question 4)
(3)______ (go to Question 5)
3 When you told the story, did you think about grammar? Vocabulary? The best way
to organize your story? Give examples.
4 A. During the 10-minute planning period, how did you plan? Did you think about
gammar? Vocabulary? The best way to organize your story? Give examples.

26

EFFECTS OF PRE-TASK PLANNING AND ON-LINE PLANNING

B. When you told the story, did you think about grammar? Vocabulary? The best
way to organize your story? Give examples.
5 When you told the story, did you think about grammar? Vocabulary? The best way
to organize your story? Give examples.

NOTES
1 Guidance took the form of suggestions about
how to use the 10 minute planning time to
consider syntax, lexis, content, and organization of what they would say.
2 Ochs' (1979) distinction refers to the characteristics of the actual discourse that speakers produce. It is not intended to suggest that
some speech acts are `planned' and some are
`unplanned'.
Obviously,
planning
is
involved in the production of both planned
and unplanned discourse.
3 A c-unit is dened as an utterance that
consists of a single complete sentence,
phrase, or word and that has a clear
semantic/pragmatic meaning in the context
in which it occurs. In eect, it is the same as
a T-unit except that it includes elliptical
utterances (see Foster, Tonkyn, and Wigglesworth 2000 for a discussion of this
measure).
4 One reviewer suggested that, given the
range of dependent variables, a MANOVA

should have been performed. However, the


eects of the treatments were examined by
just three one-way ANOVAs, minimizing the
risk of a Type 1 error. Further, Keselman et
al. (1998) argue that there is very limited
empirical support for a MANOVA-univariate
data analysis strategy.
5 The question arises as to why attention to
conceptualization results in greater complexity of language use. We hypothesize that this
is because when learners have time to
conceptualize they develop propositional
plans that are more detailed and more
precise and that to encode these plans
learners need subsequently to access a
wider range of grammatical forms, especially
those forms that serve to mitigate, modify,
and clarify meaning. However, we acknowledge that this remains to be demonstrated.
In this respect studies that examine learners'
mental processing as they engage in pre-task
planning will be helpful.

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