Acquisition of English cue strengths by Cantonese learners of English

Chi Wui Ng


The competition model, first developed by Bates and MacWhinney (1982), suggests that language users interpret sentences by reference to distinct cues which vary across languages. Second language learners who adopt the target language’s sentence interpretation strategies are more likely to be successful. The present study investigates the acquisition of English cue strengths (i.e. the strengths of cues naturally occurring within the language) by Cantonese learners of English at distinct levels of English proficiency. A test requiring participants to select agents of actions in 27 monotransitive sentences were distributed to 30 elementary learners, 20 intermediate learners, 21 advanced learners of English in Hong Kong (all native speakers of Cantonese), and 15 native speakers. The results suggest that the extent to which Cantonese learners of English acquire English cue strengths increases with their level of English proficiency. Although advanced learners fail to fully acquire the cue strengths of native-speakers, they achieve a native-like level. The findings are consistent with those of earlier studies associating the competition model with second language acquisition which find that second language learners tend to transfer sentence interpretation strategies from their native language when at the beginners level, exhibit a combination of native and target language interpretation strategies at an intermediate level and become more native-like in their use of sentence interpretation strategies when they reach an advanced level.


competition model; cue strength; language processing; EFL; Hong Kong

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