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Acquisition of «be» by Cantonese ESL Learners in Hong Kong- and its Pedagogical Implications

Mable Chan

The present study examines grammaticality judgment data, production data and acceptability judgment data from 243 Cantonese second language learners and a control group of 12 native English speakers. Research areas concern (a) the role of the first language in the acquisition of be by Cantonese second language learners; (b) the question if properties associated with be remain persistently problematic for Cantonese speakers; (c) developmental stages of the acquisition of be; (d) the relationship between morphology and syntax; and (e) pedagogical implications.
No published L2 research has attempted an in-depth theoretical and empirical treatment of both acquisition and teaching subject matters in one single work. This work helps bridge the gap between acquisition theory and language pedagogy research, benefitting not just language learners but language teachers around the world, and all those who would like to witness a collaboration between second language acquisition theory and second language teaching practice in general.
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Chapter 1 Introduction: Knowledge, Classroom Input and Performance in the Development of Second Languages



Findings from 30 years of empirical research into second language acquisition (SLA) have highlighted the importance of distinguishing the L2 knowledge developed in the mind of the learner from the input the learner is exposed to, and the use that a learner makes of that knowledge. Learners do not always learn what they are taught or encounter in input, and their production of L2 may not be an accurate reflection of what they know, as

there may sometimes be a breakdown in the relationship between one part of the grammar and another, such that the learner cannot always access the relevant morphology even when it has been acquired. (White 2003: 179)

Two other factors that may facilitate our understanding of SLA are: the role of the L1 and the extent to which knowledge from a universal faculty of language (i.e. Universal Grammar) is involved.

The present study about the acquisition of be by Cantonese ESL learners in Hong Kong aims to investigate the relationship between knowledge, the role that classroom input plays in the development of that knowledge, and learners’ use of the L2 knowledge they acquire (i.e. their performance). Be is an exponent of two fundamental properties of sentence structures in English: tense and subject verb agreement. Neither of these properties is realised overtly in Cantonese and therefore Cantonese ESL learners have to acquire these properties from scratch.

Be has its own characteristic distribution. It is...

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