Development of English among Older Chinese Migrants in Australia: A Case of Tense and Aspect

Satomi Kawaguchi, Jenny Lu

Abstract


Language barrier among older migrants affects various areas of their life such as physical and mental well-being and participation in the community. However, little is known about their actual language attainment. This study investigates the development of tense and aspect (TA) in English through focused instructions among older Chinese migrants in Australia. TA is expressed through morphological and syntactic means in English, while in Chinese, tense is expressed lexically, and aspect via contextual cues and aspect markers. These typological contrasts create learning difficulties among Chinese learners in acquiring English TA. The Aspect Hypothesis (Andersen & Shirai, 1994) claims that the acquisition of aspect is related to verb semantics and, for instance, acquisition of progressive starts with action verbs then extends to Accomplishment and Achievement (Sugya & Shirai, 2007). From a morphosyntactic viewpoint Processability Theory (PT, Pinemann 1998) hypothesises a universal sequence of second language development where V-ing and V-ed are acquired at the category-procedure stage, followed by verb phrase agreement between auxiliary and lexical verb and finally subject-verb agreement on the verb at sentence procedure stage. We broach whether the older migrant learners would be able to learn TA in English. Seven Chinese migrants aged 60-69 who arrived in Australia at the age of between 35 and 60 participated in this study. They received four-week focused instruction on TA following the stages described in PT, and their speech production data were collected before and after the instruction. Analyses indicated that the participants improved their markings of TA after the instruction, and their PT developmental stage was a crucial factor in acquiring TA. The study emphasises the importance of continuous language training for older migrants to encourage their language development, especially for those learning a typologically different language from their first language. Thus, this paper addresses a research gap in older migrants’ second language learning and highlights the importance of research with adult migrants to gain insight into their bilingualism.

Keywords


English as a Second Language, Adult Learner, Aspect Hypothesis, Tense and Aspect, Processability Theory

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.10n.5p.18

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