A Complex Dynamic Systems Theory perspective on the Variability in Chinese EFL learners’ Listening development

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This 3-year longitudinal study tracked 3 Chinese EFL undergraduates and analyzed the collected data through CDST techniques, including min-max graphs and Monte-Carlo analyses. Our results confirm flux developmental processes of L2 listening, depict divergent patterns of intra-individual variability and highlights the significance of variability in SLD in the Chinese context.

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CDST is a theory of change that seeks to explain language use and development which are emergent, complex, interconnected, dynamic, self-organizing, context-dependent, open, adaptive, and nonlinear systems (Larsen-Freeman 2019). Variability in SLD, from a CDST perspective, provides important insights into the developmental dynamics that traditionally have been ignored. Intra-individual variation as a stimulus for growth recognizes learners’ uniqueness in L2 learning (Verspoor et al. 2008). Within a CDST framework, our longitudinal study tracked 3 Chinese EFL undergraduates for 3 years to investigate: 1) What are the developmental processes and the degree of variability of these listeners’ listening development? 2)What are these EFL learners’ intra-individual variability patterns? We analyzed data by resorting to CDST techniques, including using min-max graphs to trace the average minimum and maximum scores on the EFL learners’ listening developmental indices over time. Regression and Monte-Carlo analyses were applied to gauge and test for degrees of variability. Results suggest that: 1) Min-max graphs depict flux developmental processes of learners’ L2 listening; 2) Degrees in variability are displayed in the form of bandwidths, the larger the bandwidth of scores, the higher the degree of variability; 3) Occurrence of unanticipated patterns (e.g., attractors) confirm the significance of the variability because it can initiate a phase shift or a developmental jump in learners’ language development, which may result in bifurcation. Our results indicate that variability is a pattern characteristic of CDST, and it can inform us of how Chinese EFL listeners’ language developed. This study highlights CDST as a necessary approach that makes possible visualization of variability in SLD in the Chinese context. We conclude our presentation by discussing the implications of our study for other similar contexts, especially for those researchers and practitioners who are concerned with students’ development toward higher levels of proficiency in their foreign language learning.

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Chongqing University
The University of Auckland

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AILA Symposium
Dr. Yo-An Lee
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