The Korean Association for the Study of English Language and Linguistics

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Korean Journal of English Language and Linguistics - Vol. 21

[ Article ]
Korea Journal of English Language and Linguistics - Vol. 21, No. 0, pp.599-616
Abbreviation: KASELL
ISSN: 1598-1398 (Print) 2586-7474 (Online)
Received 07 Jun 2021 Revised 10 Jul 2021 Accepted 25 Jul 2021

Grammatical Complexity of EFL Learners’ Casual Conversation at Different Proficiency Levels
Soyeon Yoon ; Shinjae Park
(1st author) Professor, Dept. of English Language and Literature, Incheon National University (
(corresponding author) Instructor, Dept. of English Language and Literature, Incheon National University (

© 2021 KASELL All rights reserved
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Grammatical complexity of written and spoken language of L2 leaners has been extensively studied, but casual conversation of L2 learners remains rarely explored although it is considered one of the most basic forms of speech. This study explores whether proficiency level modulates grammatical complexity in casual conversation. We examined the conversations performed by 51 Korean EFL learners of two proficiency levels (HIGH and LOW) and 21 native speakers of American English (NS). The syntactic complexity was measured for global scale complexity (e.g., production length, use of subordination) and clause complexity for fine-grained scale complexity (e.g., components within a clause). As a result, in the global scale, HIGH demonstrated complex structures more often than LOW in general, and similarly with or more often than NS. HIGH employed subordination as often as NS do, but demonstrated more complex structures for production length and complex nominals. NS used more coordination than the non-native speakers. In the fine-grained scale, HIGH produced more dependents in a clause than LOW in general. When compared with NS, HIGH employed more dependents and subordination conjunctions or similar number of clausal complements and prepositions. In short, HIGH used grammatical structures close to written compositions rather than natural conversation. The results suggest that proficient learners can readily use complex structures as often as NS do, but their conversation is not as natural as that of NS.

Keywords: syntactic complexity, clause complexity, casual conversation, second language acquisition, proficiency level, learner spoken corpus

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