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

Satomi Kawaguchi, Jenny Lu


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.


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

Full Text:



ABS. (2016). Cencus reveals a fast changing, culturally diverse nation. (073/2017). Australian Bureau of Statistics Retrieved from[email protected]/lookup/Media%20Release3

Andersen, R., & Shirai, Y. (1994). Discourse motivations for some cognitive acquisition principles. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 16, 133-156.

Bettoni, C., & Di Biase, B. (2015). The development path across languages. In C. Bettoni & B. Di Biase (Eds.), Grammatical development in second languages: Exploring the boundaries of Processability Theory (pp. 19-79): EURO SLA Association.

Bresnan, J. (2001). Lexical-functional syntax. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

Comrie, B. (1985). Tense (Vol. 17): Cambridge university press.

Declerck, R. (2006). The grammar of the English tense system: a comprehensive analysis. Berlin.

Di Biase, B., & Kawaguchi, S. (2002). Exploring the typological plausibility of Processability Theory: Language development in Italian second language and Japanese second language. Second Language Research, 18(3), 274-302.

Hakuta, K., Bialystok, E., & Wiley, E. (2003). Critical Evidence: A Test of the Critical-Period Hypothesis for Second-language Acquisition. Psychological Science, 14(1), 31-38. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.01415

Jia, G., & Fuse, A. (2007). Acquisition of English grammatical morphology by native Mandarin-speaking children and adolescents: Age-related differences. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research., 50, 1280-1299. 10.1044/1092-4388(2007/090)

Kim, S. H. O., Ehrich, J., & Ficorilli, L. (2012). Perceptions of settlement well-being, language proficiency, and employment: An investigation of immigrant adult language learners in Australia. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 36(1), 41-52.

Lardiere, D. (1998). Case and Tense in the 'Fossilized' Steady State. Second Language Research, 14(1), 1-26.

Lardiere, D. (2003). Second language knowledge of [±past] vs.[±finite]. Proceedings of the 6th generative approaches to second language acquisition conference (GASLA).

Lenneberg, E. H. (1969). On explaining language. Science, 164(3880), 635-643. 10.1126/science.164.3880.635

Levelt, W. J. M. (1989). Speaking: From intention to articulation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Li, C., & Thompson, S. A. (1974). An Explanation of Word Order Change SVO→SOV. Foundations of Language, 12(2), 201-214.

Li, C., & Thompson, S. A. (1989). Mandarin Chinese: A functional reference grammar: Univ of California Press.

Lock, G. (1996). Functional English grammar: An introduction for second language teachers: Cambridge University Press.

Long, M. (2003). Stabilization and Fossilization in Interlanguage Development. Language Research, 12, 335-373.

Mine, F. (2015). Japanese language development as a second language: Processability of language and thought. Tokyo: Coco Publishing Co., Ltd.

Pienemann, M. (1984). Psychological constraints on the teachability of languages. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 6(2), 186-214.

Pienemann, M. (1998). Language processing and second language development: Processability Theory. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Pienemann, M., Di Biase, B., & Kawaguchi, S. (2005). Extending Processability theory. In M. Pienemann (Ed.), Cross-linguistic aspects of Processability Theory (pp. 199-252). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Salaberry, M. R., & Shirai, Y. (2002). The L2 Acquisition of Tense Aspect Morphology (Vol. 27). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Selinker, L. (1972). Interlanguage. IRAL-International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 10(1-4), 209-232.

Shirai, Y., & Andersen, R. W. (1995). The Acquisition of Tense-Aspect Morphology: A Prototype Account. Journal of the Linguistic Society of America, 7(4),

Sugaya, N., & Shirai, Y. (2007). The Acquisition of Progressive and Resultative Meanings of the Imperfective Aspect Marker by L2 Learners of Japanese: Transfer, Universals, or Multiple Factors? Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 1, 1-38.

Wei, X. (2008). Implication of IL Fossilization in Second Language Acquisition. English Language Teaching, 1(1), 127-131. 10.5539/elt.v1n1p127

Wiedenhof, J. (2015). A grammar of Mandarin. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Xiao, R., & McEnery, T. (2004). Aspect in Mandarin Chinese: a corpus-based study. Amsterdam Philadelphia: John Benjamins

Xu, H., & Lyster, R. (2014). Differential effects of explicit form-focused instruction on morphosyntactic development. Language Awareness, 23(1-2), 107-122.

Young-Scholten, M. (2013). Low-educated immigrants and the social relevance of second language acquisition research. Second Language Research, 29(4), 441-451.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

2012-2023 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD

International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature

To make sure that you can receive messages from us, please add the journal emails into your e-mail 'safe list'. If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox', check your 'bulk mail' or 'junk mail' folders.