The ‘tense’ issue

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Chinese learners of L2 English tend to show variable past tense -ed marking even at an advanced proficiency level. The source of this problem has been explored and debated extensively but no conclusion has been reached (see Beck 1997; Lardiere 1998a/b; Hawkins & Liszka 2003). In this study we continue the investigation by testing two hypotheses: (a) the variable past tense marking is a reflection of the training learners have received during their university study, and (b) rigorous training discourages the ‘bad choices’ being made. Through examining the L2 English speeches of 9 advanced end-state L1 Chinese speakers who had learned English in either top-notch or non-top-notch programmes in China, we found that rigorous training programmes did indeed lead to a high level of ultimate attainment in the past-marking albeit not at the native-like level. It also inhibits ‘bad choices,’ ensuring a uniform high rate of L2 English morphological marking.


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