LACUS 2009

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Syntax and English Language Acquisition (presentation)


Elicited imitation (EI) has provided helpful insight into the process of language acquisition and language testing. EI is an oral test in which the subject hears a string of words, forms a cognitive model, and then produces a string of words according to that model (Bley-Vroman & Chaudron 1994, 245). Graham et all (2008) demonstrated that currently acceptable methods of language acquisition testing, including oral proficiency interviews (OPI’s), have produced test results that are so broadly defined that learner progress over time is difficult to determine. Previous EI research in EI suggests that results are influenced by sentence length, but also that other syntactic structures have a profound effect on subjects’ ability to reproduce the elicitation. EI theory asserts that a person’s ability to reproduce a sentence is connected with that person’s knowledge of the structure of the language. So far, the precise syntactic structures that are most problematic for English language learners have not been determined.

Tense, aspect and third-person singular appear to be highly problematic for English language learners (DeKeyser & Goldschneider 2005, 29). However, because of extraneous factors it has been difficult to determine the degree of effect that these factors have on existing data. This paper reports on efforts to engineer and administer a 60-item test focusing strictly on these factors with strict specifications on syllable length, lexical complexity, and other factors that can affect language proficiency. After grading these tests and scoring them, we analyzed which factors were most difficult overall. Following that analysis we determined which factors were difficult for each previously designated language learning level.


[Malena Weitze and Deryle Lonsdale]