Second language task difficulty: Reflections on the current psycholinguistic models

Zhengdong GAN

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


One of the unresolved issues currently being debated not only in the area of second language (L2) pedagogy but also in language testing and assessment community is what makes an L2 task difficult or complex. This paper serves three purposes. It first presents a review of historical perspectives on task difficulty, and discusses the recent developments in the testing and assessment field’s understanding of a psycholinguistic approach to characterizing task difficulty proposed by some second language pedagogy researchers. The paper then makes the case that this psycholinguistic approach to the investigation of task difficulty focuses mainly on the cognitive processing of a given task, obscuring the role of linguistic demand and social dimensions in defining task difficulty and developing tasks for the L2 classroom. The paper points out that what is lacking in the literature is how interpersonal dynamics and affective dimensions of a given task may influence the cognitive processing of the task. The paper ends by suggesting that future research needs to examine how different psycholinguistic factors, linguistic demands, learner attributes and social conditions interact to make a given task more or less ‘difficult’ for different learners through use of different research methods. Such research will be useful as it is in line with the central objective of language teaching to produce learners who are able to communicate effectively in the target language of a particular speech community. Copyright © 2011 ACADEMY PUBLISHER Manufactured in Finland.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)921-927
JournalTheory and Practice in Language Studies
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011


Gan, Z. (2011). Second language task difficulty: Reflections on the current psycholinguistic models. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 1(8), 921-927.


  • Task
  • Task difficulty
  • Task-based language teaching
  • Psycholinguistic models


Dive into the research topics of 'Second language task difficulty: Reflections on the current psycholinguistic models'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.