The role of first language transfer and second language proficiency in the writing of Chinese learners of English as a second language

Fred Jyun-Gwang Chen, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

The role of first language (L1) knowledge and its relationship to second language, (L2) proficiency have been important issues in the field of second language acquisition (SLA). To contribute to an understanding how SLA is affected by L1 knowledge and L2 proficiency, this study investigated two patterns frequently found in the L1 and L2 writing of Chinese learners of English. Previous researchers have claimed that these two patterns, which are target-like in the L1 (Chinese) but are non-target-like when used in the L2 (English), are a result of L1 transfer. Therefore, this study first investigated to what extent non-target-like L2 patterns in the writing of Chinese learners of English can be a function of L1 transfer. In terms of the relationship between L1 transfer and L2 proficiency, prior research has yielded conflicting claims. This study further examined to what extent non-target-like L2 patterns, if they were found to be a function of L1 transfer, were also related to L2 proficiency. ^ Three L1 groups comprised of 56 American, Chinese, and Spanish U.S. graduate students participated in this study. Employing a cross-linguistic comparison with Chinese participants as the experimental group and Spanish participants as the control group, the study examined L1 and L2 English writing from all three groups to establish L1 baseline and L2 research data. The Chinese and Spanish groups were further divided into three English proficiency levels. All participants completed sentence-combining and discourse task types to compare their writing at the sentence and discourse levels. ^ There were two major findings. First, L1 transfer was generally found to occur in the Chinese learners' L2 writing. Second, L1 transfer was mitigated by L2 proficiency. Overall, the results support the research view that L1 transfer appears primarily at the early stages and decreases as the learners' proficiency increases. However, the findings of the intermediate Chinese learners were inconsistent across distinctive task types. ^ The results of this study point to the complexity of L1 transfer as a process of SLA and its interaction with L2 proficiency. This study also points to the distinctiveness of task types concerning the study of L1 transfer data. ^

Subject Area

Education, Language and Literature|Language, Rhetoric and Composition

Recommended Citation

Fred Jyun-Gwang Chen, "The role of first language transfer and second language proficiency in the writing of Chinese learners of English as a second language" (January 1, 1999). Dissertations available from ProQuest. Paper AAI9937709.
http://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI9937709

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