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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 4 Methodology



This chapter describes the methodology used in an empirical study which addresses the research questions outlined in 3.4. Three tasks were administered to the subjects: (1) a Grammaticality Judgment Task, (ii) a Production Task and (iii) an Acceptability Judgment Task. The grammaticality judgment task and the acceptability judgment task were designed to tap L2 learners’ knowledge of copula and auxiliary be respectively while the production task aimed to elicit contexts in free writing where forms of be would be obligatory for native speakers.


The experimental group consisted of 243 Cantonese ESL learners who were Hong Kong primary school, secondary school and tertiary students (primary two and five, secondary one, four and six, and undergraduates of years 1 and 2). The Oxford Quick Placement Test (2001) (QPT)11 was used to determine the students’ level of proficiency. Six levels of ESL learners were identified according to the results of the placement test, representing beginner, elementary, lower intermediate, upper intermediate, advanced and very advanced levels. There was also a control group ← 81 | 82 → of 12 native speakers of English, who are educated British English speakers teaching in the English Department (ENGL) or the English Language Centre (ELC) at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, as shown in the following table. More information about the subjects can be found in Appendix A.

Table 3: Background information of the Subjects


A pilot test was first conducted with a...

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