The Central Component Of Language English Language Essay

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English is the first language of over 300 million people in the world. 230 million of English native speakers are from United States and the other 54 million are from United Kingdom (Greenbaum, S. & Nelson, G., 2010). Besides that, English is also the most widely taught, read, and spoken language that the world has ever known. This is because English has been widely spread through emigration, colonization and globalization (Kuo, 2006).

English has been acquired as a first language (L1), a second language (L2), and even a foreign language (FL) in some other countries, including Canada, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, India, South Africa, New Zealand and other countries (Kuo, 2006). In this sense, English is not only the central language of technological and political development, but also the main language of global discussion of education, intercultural communication and the growth in international relations (Crystal, 1997; 2003).

However, though English language plays such multiple and important roles in different nations for different purposes, learning English language could be a challenging issue for non-native speakers. These non-native speakers are also known as L2 or FL learners, such as Chinese, Malay, Indian and so forth. In addition, it is notify that different ethnic has different cultural background and language style which indirectly lead them having some difficulties learning L2. For example, students from Asia are struggling to make English sentences because their native languages have very few English cognates. As we can see, Chinese, Japanese and Korean speakers tend to leave off plurals in English, as in "Many good book". This is because there is no such thing as "plural forms" in Chinese, Japanese or Korean languages (5 Non-native Speakers in the English Classroom, n.d.). In other words, it means that plural forms in Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages are totally different than English.

Moreover, according to Guo (2008), Chinese speakers are also always confused among singular or plural noun, subject-verb agreement, verb tense, omitting or inserting articles and other problems. In Chinese, 'verb conjugation to denote tenses' does not exist. "Verb conjugation to denote tenses can be defined as the context that is used to distinguish between past, present, future, and all the other various tenses" Guo (2008). For instance, there is only a single word indicating run in Chinese, such as 'I run' to indicate present tense, and 'Yesterday I run' to denote past tense or 'Tomorrow I run' to signify future tense.

Furthermore, Guo (2008) also admit that verb conjugation is one of the most difficult parts of the English language for native Chinese speakers to master. This is not only because of English has many different tenses, but each tense can only be properly used in selected situations. Although, Chinese speakers are aware not to always use present tense of English verbs but frequently their attempts at switching up the tenses lead to incorrect and funny-sounding sentences.

As such, this study aims to examine the mistakes and the underlying factors that made by Chinese educated background students who learn English as their second language (ESL) when forming English past participle. In order to achieve these aims, the researcher first introduces the background of study, follow by the statement of the problem, and then the researcher provides evidence for the purpose of the study. Then, the two research questions and the definition of key terms as well as the scope of the study are described by the researcher. Lastly, the researcher explains the significance and the outline of the study is presented at the end of this chapter.


Merriam-Webster (2012) defines grammar as "The study of the classes of words, inflections, functions and relations in the sentence". Greenbaum and Nelson (2010) describe that every language possesses its own distinctive grammar regardless whether it has been codified or written down in the grammar books. Figure 1.1 shows an illustration by Greenbaum and Nelson (2010) to explain that grammar is the central component of language where it mediates between the system of sounds or of written symbols and the system of meaning at the same time.





Figure 1.1: Grammar is the central component of language.

As stated above, "Every language possesses its own distinctive grammar", this claim can be applied to English language as well. McCaskill (n.d.) assert that English grammar rules are actually originated in ancient periods over centuries. While, the usages of English grammar rules have changed accordingly even until today, it is still changing. This "keep on changing" phenomenon has confused most of the English speakers, including native speakers, L2 and FL learners. A research conducted by Dr Ewa Dabrowska points out that sadly, basic elements of core English grammar had not been mastered by some native speakers (Many English Speakers Cannot Understand Basic Grammar, 2010). Meanwhile, McCaskill (n.d.) comment that grammatical rules may change and may inconsistent but they usually have a functional basis. This functional basis referred as a consistent and correct set of grammatical rules and punctuation rules need to follow while using English language.

However, English tenses, aspects, verbs and other grammatical rules are play important role to acquire English language perfectly. Kosur (2011) declare that some grammarians identify between 12 and 16 English tenses, 19 finite or conjugated, however, verb forms in English are actually express more than just tense. Alzaidi (n.d.) comment that in English, verbs have different forms to indicate time, continuousness and completeness. As of time, it can be expressed by tenses whether it is present, past or future tense. Next, continuousness can be expressed by progressive aspect of verb, and completeness can be signified by perfective aspect of verb. Alzaidi (n.d.) further clarify that "Tense refers to the "correspondence" between the form of the verb and time, while aspect is related to "the manner" in which the verb is considered "complete" or "in progress"". In shorts, English has two simple tenses which are present tense and past tense, and two "marked" aspects which are progressive aspect and perfective aspect. In fact, features of tense and aspects are interrelated and even sometimes both tense and aspect are cannot be separated (Alzaidi, n.d.).

Therefore, in order to investigate the mistakes made by Chinese ESL students when forming English past participle sentences, perfect tense is the one that the researcher would like to look into. Leimkuhler (2010) define that perfect tense is used to refer back in time to prior events or time periods. To be more specific, perfect tenses are generally referred to actions that began sometimes in the previous time frame and continue up to or into the subsequent one. For example, 'I have eaten' uses present perfect tense to show the action of the verb has been completed in past, but it still has connection to the present. While, 'I had eaten' uses past perfect tense to indicate an action was completed prior to another action that took place in the past (Tense and Conjugation, n.d.).

However, the perfect tense in English is always related to English past participle regardless the perfect tense is presented as present perfect tense or past perfect tense. According to Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary (2012), participle in English is a lexical form that is category-neutral between an adjective and a verb. Participle is also used to indicate present or past action, depending on the construction in which it is used. On the other hand, past participle is rather a form of a verb which typically indicates past or completed action or time. This means that past participle is traditionally one of the principal parts of verbs and is traditionally used in English in the formation of perfect tenses in active voice and passive voice (Past Participle, 2012).

Hurford (1994), on the other hand state that past participle in English is a form of verb used for either of two purposes. Firstly, past participle uses with auxiliary have to express the perfect, as in 'I have written three letters this week' or 'He had eaten pizzas last night'. Secondly, it uses with auxiliary be to express the passive, as in 'The gift has been mailed by me' or 'The movie had been directed by Steven Spielberg'. In a nutshell, past participles of verbs in English are formed in various ways. The most regular way is to add a suffix -ed or -d at the end of the base form of regular verbs. For example, 'fix - fixed' and 'waste - wasted'. Another method is also to add a suffix -en or -t to the irregular verbs that possibly will also change its vowel. For example, 'take - taken' and 'learn - learnt'. In addition, past participle can also be used as an adjective like 'He had a broken arm' (Hurford, 1994).


Fisher (2005) claim that Chinese-speaking students have always missed of had + past participle, also known as past perfect tense in English. For example, 'I had worked every summer in Hong Kong at my father's business' shows the student may be confused between present perfect tense and past perfect tense. The student sees worked as past tense and think that they should insert the verb had to obtain a past meaning for the sentence. However, the combination of have + past participle also indicates past in meaning, despite the auxiliary have is still in the present tense, which is why the tense is called present perfect tense.

Besides that, it is observe that Chinese ESL learners do not use proper grammatical rules while forming sentences during their conversation with friends and/or in their written assessments. Chen (2009) comments that Chinese ESL learners always have great difficulty producing 'past-tense marking' correctly as they tend to omit it in both speech and written language. Table 1.1 shows Chinese ESL students are having difficulties in learning past tense which indirectly implies that Chinese-speaking has difficulty in forming past participle as well. This is because one of the way to construct English past participle is adding a suffix -ed or -d to the base form of regular verbs.

Table 1.1: Past tense learning difficulty for Chinese ESL population (Chen, 2009).

Author (Year)

L1 Population

L2 Proficiency




Krashen & Pon (1975)

Chinese adult

Received bachelor's degree in the USA

Three-week longitudinal case study


Error of irregular past tense verbs

Aaronson & Ferres (1987)

Chinese undergraduate students

Attended New York University

Case study


Wrong past tense forms

Bean & Gergen (1990)

Chinese adult

Admitted to an US university

Interview Picture-description & Spoken morpheme Test


No application of the suffix '-ed'

Bayley (1991)

Chinese adult

550 TOEFL score for graduate students

Below 500 TOEFL score for ESL students

Eight-month longitudinal study


Errors including a base verb, overgeneralization, past participle, and number morpheme of third person singular

Wei (2000)

Chinese adult

Received bachelor's and master's degree in the USA

19 years longitudinal case study


Low percent usage (34%) of past tense marking in the required context

Chinese adult

Below 350 TOEFL score



12% of correctness for past tense usages

Jia & Fuse (2007)

Chinese elementary and high school students

Attended New York public school

Spontaneous conversations


Errors including base forms (95.6% for regular and 92.3% for irregular) and erroneously inflected verb

(Adopted from Chen, 2009)

The table above proves the statement made by Chen (2009) is true, in which Chinese ESL learners are having great difficulties in producing past tense marking correctly. Additionally, Chinese-speaking ESL students are also not sensitive to certain types of grammatical marking and they have poor inflectional comprehension, although they have the knowledge of past tense forms and appropriate contexts usages of English (Chen, 2009).

Therefore, the present research focuses on what the mistakes are made by Chinese ESL learners and what are the underlying factors that caused them having difficulties in forming English past participle sentences.


There are two purposes for this research paper. Firstly, the researcher intends to investigate the mistakes made by Chinese educated undergraduates majoring in English language in UTAR when forming English past participle sentences. Next, the researcher also aims to find out the underlying factors, such as grammatical rules of Mandarin, learner's family background, school environment and so forth that have caused them making mistakes when forming past participle.


This study aims to answer the two Research Questions as stated below:

To what extent the mistakes made by Chinese educated students majoring in English Language in UTAR are influenced by their Chinese mother tongue when they form past participle in English?

What are the underlying factors of Chinese educated students having difficulties in forming English past participles?


There is only one target group with a total of 15 Chinese educated final year undergraduates majoring in English Language in UTAR, Perak campus are taken into account for this research paper. The study is conducted through the survey design in which it has been divided into two sections.

First of all, Section A deals with personal details and background information regarding the respondents in which the researcher would like to understand the participants better for the detailed discussion in Chapter Four, data analysis.

Next, Section B is further divided into two parts to enable the researcher to know what the mistakes are that the respondents made in forming past participle sentences in English by using Elicited Production Task. Elicited Production Task is a list of questions that requires respondents to fill in the blanks with the correct answer. In addition, in order to obtain more in-depth information, participants are required to translate three sentences from Mandarin to English in the second part of Section B. It aims to examine the underlying factors of Chinese educated students having difficulties in forming English past participles.


By investigating the mistakes made by Chinese ESL learners and the underlying factors of them having difficulties in forming English past participles, this research paper serves guidance to other researchers to find out the most suitable and effective methods for Chinese-speaking to learn English past participles. Furthermore, teachers in school or university level would be more understanding to their Chinese ESL students about the mistakes made by them when forming English past participles. Therefore, this research paper could help teachers to be aware and apply suitable methods when teaching past participles to Chinese ESL students.


This section mainly provides definitions of some key terms that are important and may come into sight throughout this study.


First language (L1) is a language that a child acquires from birth which is also known as native language or mother tongue (Jones, 2010).


Second language (L2) plays an institutional and social role in the community. For instance, it functions as a recognized means of communication among members who speak some other language as their mother tongue. For example, English as a L2 is learnt in United States, United Kingdom and countries in Africa, such as Nigeria and Zambia. In addition, sometimes a distinction is made between a 'second' and a 'third' or even a 'fourth' language. However, the term 'second' is commonly used to refer any language other than L1 (Xiao, 2007).


Foreign language (FL) takes place in settings where the language plays no major role in the community and is primarily learnt only in the classroom. For example, France and Japan learnt English as their FL (Xiao, 2007).


Perfect tense is an aspect of verb showing an action that began in past, and has recently been completed that is called past perfective; or the action has continued into the present, known as present perfective. The past perfect is form by combining had with a past participle, while the present perfect is constructed by combining has or have with a past participle (Nordquist, 2012).


Nordquist (2012) defines past participle as "The third principal part of a verb, created by adding -ed, -d, or -t to the base form of a regular verb." For instance, the past participle forms of regular verbs are looked (look), wasted (waste), and wished (wish) which are also identical to the past tense. The past participle forms of irregular verbs, on the other hand, have various endings, including -d (said, from the base form of say), -t (slept, from the base form of sleep), and -n/en (broken, from the base form of break).


Passive voice is used when the focus is on the action that is used to describe the whole process of certain event from the patient's point of view. It is also a marked form of voice. Typically, passive could be classified into two categories. Firstly, passive with agent or agentive passive, as in "My bicycle was stolen". Secondly, passive without agent or non-agentive passive, as in "A letter has been written by Rita".


This study covers five chapters namely introduction of the study, literature review, research methodology, data analysis and conclusion.

Chapter One briefly explains the background to this study, the statement of problems, the purpose, the scope and the significance of the study, the two research questions as well as the definitions of the key terms of the study. It would be relevant to review the study of English tenses and aspects that have been done by other researchers in the next chapter.

Chapter Two is the stage which examines more on perfect aspect in Chinese and English, passive voice and language transfer theory that ESL learners endure. Next, the researcher targets on issues which are related to Chinese educated background students who learn English as their second language (L2) in forming past participle and the underlying factors of them have difficulties in forming English past participles.

Chapter Three provides greater insight for method of analysis that are discussed in detail such as research design, Elicited Production Task, translation strategy, sampling and advantages of using research design.

Chapter Four basically consists of data analysis for this study. Complete tables and graphs are included for the discussion. Later, the findings of the analysis are examined in this study to answer the two research questions.

Finally, Chapter Five as the conclusion for this research paper presents the summary of this study. Contribution of the study as well as some suggestions and recommendations for future research are included in this chapter.


Having briefly explained the Chapter One, it is relevant to review the study of past participle and passive voice journals that were done by other researchers. The platform examines more on tense and aspect, passive voice, language transfer, relationship and differences between English and Chinese languages from the aspect of perfect form. In a nutshell, the researcher intends to find out the answers for both the research questions as stated previously.




In this chapter, the researcher examines past researches and focuses on literature as well as theories relevant to explain the mistakes made by Chinese ESL students in forming past participle sentences in English. In the past studies, it proves that not only Chinese ESL learners facing difficulties when learning English. In fact, the scenario of having difficulties when learning English is increasingly common in these days as the population diversifiers to include native speakers, ESL students and even children with special needs (Graves, 1999).

Shoebottom (1996 - 2012) claimed that there are tremendous differences between English and Chinese language. Firstly, Chinese does not have an alphabet but uses a logographic system for its written language. In logographic systems, symbols represent the words themselves and are not made up of various letters as in English alphabetic systems. Secondly, from the aspect of phonological system, unlike English, Chinese is a tone language where Chinese uses the pitch (high or low) of a phoneme sound to distinguish word meaning. English, on the other hand, changes in pitch are used to emphasize or express emotion and not to give a different word meaning to the sound.

Next, in terms of grammar, verbs play an important role through the use of 'auxiliaries' (be, is, are, were and so on) and 'verb inflections' (eat, eats, ate, eaten and so forth) to convey significant information in English language. On the contrary, Chinese is an uninflected language and conveys meaning through word order, adverbials or shared understanding of the context. Meanwhile, the concept of time in Chinese also does not handle through the use of different tenses and verb forms as it is in English. As we can see, combined with irregular verbs in English uses 'I go, I went, I will be going' and so forth to express the issue of verb tense which is particularly challenging for Chinese students. Hence, for all these reasons, it is not surprise that Chinese ESL learners having trouble with the complexities of English verb system.

Therefore, this chapter focuses on both Chinese and English languages, specifically grammatical structures from the aspects of verb system, tense, aspect, word structures and so forth that caused Chinese ESL students struggling in mastering English grammar. This chapter also aims to examine challenges of Chinese ESL learners in forming past participle sentences in English. Thus, in order to obtain more in-depth information, a theory of language transfer is discussed in this chapter to explain more on why Chinese ESL learners have difficulties in forming past participle of English.


There are lots of differences and factors, such as difference from the aspect of time between English and Chinese, non-inflected nature of Chinese language and others have been identified as the barrier to learn English tenses and aspects among Chinese (Man-fat, 2007). The claim is also supports by Jinting (2010), "There are basically two tenses, namely present tense and past tense; two marked aspects, namely progressive aspect and perfect aspect in English. However, the issue of tense and aspect system in Chinese has been controversial with English." In this sense, it means Chinese ESL would definitely having great difficulties during English learning process because both Chinese and English language structures are very much different than one another. That is why some Chinese ESL students failed or take very long time to master English grammatical rules.

Xiao and McEnery (2002) points out that English is primarily a tense language, whereas Chinese is exclusively an aspect language. Both tense and aspect provide temporal information but they are actually two different concepts. As cites by Xiao and McEnery (2002), "Tense is deictic in that it indicates the temporal location of a situation, i.e., its occurrence in relation to a specific reference time. Aspect is non-deictic in that it is related to the temporal shape of a situation, i.e., its temporal structures and ways of presentation, independent of its temporal location".

Jinting (2010), on the other hand, further elaborates that tense is a deictic category locating situation in time that usually concerning the present moment and also with reference to other situations. Aspect is not concerned with relating the time of the situation to any other time-point but with the internal temporal constituency of one situation. Hence, the main difference between these two terms is that aspect reflects situation-internal time, while tense reflects situation-external time.

In contrast, Chinese does not have grammatical category of tense as in English. In fact, the concept denotes by tense is indicated by content words like adverbs of time or it is implied by context in Chinese language. For example, zuo-tian means yesterday, ming-tian indicates tomorrow, jin-tian denotes today, xian-zai entails now, and so forth.

Furthermore, in Chinese, verbs do not handle the concept of time as the way they do in English through the use of past and present tense. Combined with the irregular verbs, English uses 'I go, I went, I have gone, I will be going' and so forth (Interlanguage Chinese ESL, 1996 - 2012). While "Mandarin's irregular verbs are indicated by the changing of word orders" says Wang (2000) as shown below:

wo-qu (I go)

wo-qu-le (I went)

wo-yi-jing-qu-le or wo-qu-le (I have gone)

wo-jiang-hui-qu or wo-jiang-qu (I will be going)

In conclusion, issue of verb, tense and aspect in English is particularly challenging for Chinese ESL students as we can see from the above instances in which the structures for both languages are totally different from one another.


Different language has different rules. Hence, it is not surprise that different language has also their own ways in forming perfect aspects. In English, "Completeness can be express by the perfective aspect of the verb" (Alzaidi, n.d.). Chinese, on the other hand, expresses completeness through the usage of Chinese aspect marker le (Liu, 2004). However, before discuss in detail of what those terms are, it is crucial to consider perfect forms in both English and Chinese languages.

First of all, perfect aspect in English explains the order of things (Auxiliary Verb, 1996 - 2012). English perfect can be defined as a viewpoint aspect which is different from other aspects as it relates a previous situation to the present. While, Chinese is totally controversial to English as Chinese does not have perfect constructions. This can be explained by the Chinese aspect marker le. The change-of-state (COS) le does denote current relevance state (CRS) in Chinese, however, it is not restricted to the present. Rather the COS le can indicate current relevance relative to past, present or even future time reference. When a sentence takes both the actual -le and the COS le, it is translatable by the English perfect as the COS le in combination with the actual -le denotes a previous situation continuing into the present (Xiao and McEnery, 2002:9).

As of now, due to so much differences between both English and Chinese languages, Çakir (2011) found out that perfect in English create problems for both elementary and advanced learners, especially L2 learners. The reasons lie behind the statement is because of differences between perfect tenses are complicated, difficult to analyse, and the rules given in grammars are not always very clear and accurate. Marzuki and Zainal (n.d.) proves that undergraduates from University Technology Malaysia (UTM) in Malaysia regardless Malay, Chinese, Indian or Indigenous ethnic groups having difficulties in constructing English past participles of perfect tenses. For instance, (i) … but the number had falled down to 15 students in the year 2000 and (ii) As a former British Coloni, English had became one of the major language used in Malaysia. Marzuki and Zainal (n.d.) identifies that undergraduates in UTM have overgeneralized the rules of perfect tense. The students seem to know that the verb 'have' should be followed by a participle form, such as 'have reported', 'have studied' which comes in -ed form. However, the students failed to internalise the other irregular participles, such as 'drawn', 'shown', 'chosen', and so on as shown by the above two sampled. This is the reason why past participle mistakes are occurred among the undergraduates.


According to Jing (2006), Chinese language does not use inflections to realize the grammatical functions. Instead, Chinese uses word orders or functional words to realize yhe grammatical roles. For instance, the character le is used to indicate an action has been completed. This le in Chinese is similar to the perfect tense or past tense in English as in, zuo-tian-wo-qu-le-Zhong-shan-Gong-Yuan means 'I went to Zhongshan Park yesterday'.

Besides that, Aspects-Perfectives-Imperatives-Reduplication (n.d.) states that Chinese language has only two perfectives, (1) le, to express perfective and (2) guo, to express experiential perfective. For example, wo-dang-le-bing can be translated as 'I became a soldier' and ta-kan-le-san-chang-qiu-sai means 'He watched three ballgames' or indicates he probably has watched many ballgames during his lifetime. Such usage often used in a time-delimited context as in today or last week in Chinese language. Next, guo, as in wo-dang-guo-bing means 'I have been a soldier before' but no longer a soldier now or the other instance, ta-kan-guo-san-chang-qiu-sai means 'He has watched three ballgames' but that is the total of all ballgames he has ever watched. In this sense, the usage of guo in Chinese employs in the context of action like "watch" or "take part" which can easily be repeated and does not have the same connotation of the first usage le, but merely denotes that the action was in the past and describes the state of affairs up to now.


As with the Chinese language, English addresses perfect forms in a few ways. English is a language in which inflectional morphemes are used to show grammatical relationships (Jing, 2006). Basically, there are three main perfect tenses in English. Firstly, present perfect tense explains what has happened up until now. Secondly, past perfect tense expresses what had happened in the past before something else happened in the past. Lastly, future perfect tense tells what will have happened up to a certain point in the future. All these three perfect tenses have a similar point that they use at least one auxiliary verb "have". For example, 'I have visited Stockholm many times' express present perfect tense; 'He had seen many cathedrals, but none so grand as that one' shows past perfect tense, whereas, the future perfect tense not only uses auxiliary verb "have" but also employs modal verb "will" as in "We will have travelled to every country in the world after this trip" express the future perfect tense (Auxiliary Verb, 1996 - 2012). Particularly, every perfect tense has a form of has or have and a past participle (the third form of the verb). Table 2.1 shows the formation, uses and examples of perfect tense in English. Table 2.2, on the other hand, indicates some examples of English irregular verbs and uses of past and participle forms (-ed).

Table 2.1: The formations, uses and examples of perfect tenses in English.

Present Perfect Tense Past Perfect Tense Future Perfect Tense


Something has happened or is finished in the past and it has a connection to the present.

Action started in the past and continues up to the present.

Mostly when two actions in a story are related to each other; the action which had already happened is put into past perfect, the other action put into simple past.

The past of the present perfect.

Something will already have happened before a certain time in the future.


has/ have + past participle

*(infinite + -ed) or (3rd column of table of irregular verbs)

had + past participle

*(infinite + -ed) or (3rd column of table of irregular verbs)

will + have + past participle

*(infinite + -ed) or (3rd column of table of irregular verbs)


I have worked.

He has worked.

I have gone.

He has gone.

I had worked.

He had worked.

I had gone.

He had gone.

I'll have worked.

He'll have worked.

I'll have gone.

He'll have gone.

(Adopted from English Learning Online)

Table 2.2: Examples of irregular verbs of simple past tense and past participle forms (-ed) in English.


Simple Past

Past Participle


was/ were





















































wake up

woke up

woken up




(Adopted from English Learning Online)


As stated previously by Hurford (1994) in chapter one, English past participle is not only used with auxiliary have to express the perfect but also used with auxiliary be to express the passive. Yuanying (2010) says that "Passive voice is the outcome of people's different meaning expression that describes the whole process of certain event from the patient's point of view. It is a marked form of voice and there are three markers in passive voice, be, -ed and by which has its meaning and significance respectively." Fat (2007) also points out that English passive has been extremely difficult for ESL learners, particularly to Chinese-speaking ESL learners because in Chinese, despite a wide range of devices (e.g., bei, rang, jiao, ai, shou, zao) are employed to express passive meaning and very often the devices are not explicit.

Thus, this has created some extent of confusion for Chinese ESL learners in understanding the meaning of passive, lexical and syntactic properties in English. Fat (2007) then comments that "Chinese form of passive voice is usually used to express unfavourable meanings and the syntactically marked passives are closely linked to aspect. More specifically, the researchers found Chinese passive in the predicate position are typically interacting with aspect 'bei' …'le' that in English can be described as perfect tense.

On the contrary, English form of passive voice is used to mark objectivity and formal style that are not found in Chinese passive. Hence, in order to express passive in English, interaction is not so apparent and all English sentences and clauses are formally marked by combined tense-aspect markers. This difference is related to the intimate relationships between English passive, tense and aspects. However, more importantly, past participle plays a role in forming passive voice as every formation of passive voice involved a past participle. Table 2.3 demonstrates every pattern for passive form in different tenses in English are in relation to past participle.

Table 2.3: The patterns for passive form in different tenses in English.

(a) Pattern for passive form of simple present tense: am/ is/ are + past participle

(b) Pattern for passive form of simple past tense: was/ were + past participle

(c) Pattern for passive form of present continuous (progressive) tense: am/ is/ are + being + past


(d) Pattern for passive form of past continuous (progressive) tense: was/ were + being + past participle

(e) Pattern for passive form of present perfect tense: have/ has been + past participle

(f) Pattern for passive form of past perfect tense: had been + past participle

(g) Pattern for passive form of future perfect tense: will + have been + past participle

(h) Pattern for passive form of future tense with WILL: will + be + past participle

(i) Pattern for passive form of future tense with GOING TO: is/ are going to + be + past participle

(j) Pattern for passive form of present or future modal: *modal + be + past participle

(k) Pattern for passive form of past modal: *modal + have been + past participle

(Adopted from Mallory, (n.d.),. Active and Passive Tenses Chart)

*modal: modal words (e.g., will/ will not, can/ cannot, may/ may not, should/ should not, must/ must not, and so on).

As such, many studies notice that Chinese and Cantonese ESL learners having problems in understanding and forming passive voice in English. Hinkel (2002) in Fat's (2007) research has conducted several experiments and gathered evidence for the reasons of learning English passive difficulties among non-native speakers (NNSs). Based on Hinkel's evidence, knowledge on English transitivity (i.e., write, eat, want, and so forth) is essential for successful acquisition of English passive. However, English transitivity poses problems for Chinese learners. In a study on analyzing errors on transitive verbs made by senior secondary school students in Hong Kong, Chan (1991) claims that the errors were due to a direct translation of Cantonese as well as some Chinese sentences into English. In fact, Chan argues that both transitive and intransitive verbs exist in grammar of both Chinese and Cantonese. Direct translation may lead to errors, especially in writing complex sentences. In this sense, direct translation is one of the reasons that caused Chinese and Cantonese ESL learners unable fully acquire English passive successfully.

In addition, Marzuki and Zainal (n.d.) shows that passive construction proved to be the most difficult category for undergraduates in UTM regardless Malay, Chinese, Indian or Indigenous ethnic groups to comprehend. This is because most of the students do not understand how passives are form as they do not apply the knowledge of past participles when forming passives. Table 2.4 below shows the passive errors and acceptable version of errors made by ESL students in UTM.

Table 2.4: Passive errors and acceptable version of errors made by ESL students in UTM.

Passive Errors

Acceptable Version

1) *The highest rate of the student is among Malay, follows by Chinese, Indians and Indigenous.

… followed by…

2) *It is ranking no. 1.

It is ranked…

3) *Students should exposed to more materials and book in English such as English new paper and story book to improve their language.

Students should be exposed to …

4) *The drastic step need to take for increase

… step needed to be taken…

or should be taken…

5) *The facilities in rural area should add by the government.

The facilities … should be added by …

6) *Suitable text books also have to offer for rural school.

Suitable text books also have to be offered …

* denotes flawed sentences

Marzuki and Zainal (n.d.) further point out that students failed to understand passive voice that uses past participle for its construction. For instance:

A study was carry out …

All the factors at these problems was already shows …

Extra classes should be carry out for those students who weak in English.

In sentences (1) and (2), the use of past participle of the verbs 'carry' and 'shows' is not observed. While in example (3), students produce such sentence structure shows that they fail to understand the rules of passives and the differences between actives and passives.

In conclusion, Chinese learners whoever does not acquire knowledge on passive voice and past participle would definitely find difficulties in learning English's passives as the formation of passive voice is interrelated to the usage of past participle.


Jing (2006) cites that "Learning, including learning a second or foreign language is influenced by students' prior knowledge." One of the reasons that Chinese ESL learners have difficulties in learning English language is because of the language transfer. Hsieh (2009: 46) indicates language transfer is actually the outcome of learners' L2 learning that has been influenced from learners' L1 or prior linguistic knowledge. Language transfer can be recognized as positive or negative transfer. Chou (2000) defines language transfer as "a constraint on the nature of the hypotheses language learners are inclined to make about the L2 (second language)".

Additionally, in the book of Rediscovering Interlanguage, written by Selinker (1992) mentions that language transfer is not only plays an essential role in interlanguage theory but also constructing learners' L2 system. Wong (2009) claims in cases where target language differed from L1 would result in interference or known as negative transfer. Negative transfer is the use of L1 patterns or rules that leads to errors or inappropriate forms in L2. While, in cases where patterns of L1 and target language were similar, positive transfer would occur. In shorts, L1 could either slow down or ease the acquisition of one's L2 learning process.

Surprisingly, it is common to see the learners' establish or extend their L1 systems into L2 patterns. For instance, in Marzuki and Zainal's (1990) study with Malaysian learners claims that transfer errors depict by the students' writing samples. The samples have shown the problems of learning English which is due to frequent interference of L1 structures. Thus, it can be said that the students are heavily relying on their L1's pattern and structure in learning L2.

In fact, many studies show that negative transfer is prevalent among Chinese ESL learners, especially in cases of adding affixes to the base forms, such as the formation of English plurals as well as the misuse of singular and plural forms (Jing, 2006). This phenomenon may due to different morphological and syntactic features between Chinese and English language. However, from the grammatical aspect, Chinese language is basically not as complex as English language. It is just that Chinese language is an uninflected language in which word order, participles, and prepositions carry most of the grammatical roles. On the contrary, English possesses inflectional morphology, such as prefixes and suffixes that play a significant grammatical role in English.


In conclusion, English language plays a very significant role for Malaysians as it has changed from being a medium of instruction in schools to a second language where it is used mostly in informal context.

As time goes by, the role of English language becomes extremely crucial to enhance the reputation and image of Malaysia to pursuit the target of being an industrialized nation by the year 2020 to compete with other countries. One of the benefits of acquiring English language is the ability to adapt oneself swiftly to new circumstances and people. Meanwhile, the former Minister of Education commented that Malaysians are advised to have good command of English, especially if we want to be a global player in this high technology society because English language is actually pulling in the other direction towards being the international means of communication (Gill, 2002).

In the following chapter, Chapter Three, the researcher intends to focus on the methodology and procedures to address the two Research Questions as proposed in Chapter One.




This study aims to examine the mistakes made by Chinese ESL learners in forming past participles of English and the underlying factors of them having difficulties in constructing English past participles. This chapter focuses on the methodology and procedures to address the two Research Questions:

To what extent the mistakes made by Chinese educated students majoring in English Language in UTAR are influenced by their Chinese mother tongue when they form past participle in English?

What are the underlying factors of Chinese educated students having difficulties in forming English past participles?

For Research Question One, the researcher would like to find out to what extent the mistakes made by English major students are influenced by their Chinese mother tongue when forming English past participle. Next, for Research Question Two, the researcher intends to examine the underlying factors of Chinese educated undergraduates having difficulties forming English past participle sentences by looking at whether it deteriorates by their Chinese mother tongue or other factors.

The methodology divides into five main sections which are: (1) Research Design, (2) Elicited Production Task, (3) Translation Strategy, (4) Sampling, and (5) Advantages of using survey design.


In actual research, responses from the participants of the study were only examined through survey design.


As defines by Creswell (2008), "A survey design provides a quantitative or numeric description of trends, attitudes, or opinions of a population by studying a sample of that population. It includes cross-sectional and longitudinal studies using questionnaires or structured interviews for data collection, with the intent of generalizing from a sample to a population". This simply means that it is possible for a researcher to claim about a particular population from the outcome obtained from the survey design.

As such, the researcher solely focused on Year Three, Chinese educated background undergraduates majoring in English Language in UTAR. The researcher intends to find out English proficiency among Chinese ESL students as lecturers are always expected better English proficiency among English majors. The definition of the term 'language transfer' is provided for the participants to understand the meaning before they answer the questionnaire.

The questionnaire is basically divided into three sessions, Section A, Section B and Section C. Section A is mainly about the participants' personal details and background information. There were seven questions to help researcher to understand the participants better for more detailed analysis in Chapter Four. Options were given in each question to facilitate the participants by saving their precious time in answering the questions.

After that, the participants were required to proceed to Section B. Two parts are found in Section B. The first part in Section B consists of 10 statements in the format of Elicited Production Task, which is similar to the task of "fill in the blanks". It requires the participants to provide their own answers by referring to the base form that have been given in every sentence as shown in Appendix 1. The purpose of words are given in every sentence is to avoid participants by giving other or synonym words when answering the statements. Such action could make the researcher fails to collect and analyze a reliable and valid result. The sample of Frequency Count for Elicited Production Task in the questionnaire has shown in Appendix 2 (Table 4.6). Then, continues with the Translation Strategy in the second part of Section B with the three short Chinese sentences for the participants to translate them into English sentences. The sample of Frequency Count for this section in the questionnaire is then shown in Appendix 3 (Table 4.7).

Furthermore, in order to obtain more in-depth information, participants were required to answer four open-ended questions in Section C with the choices "Yes" or "No" for the participants to select. The questions allow the participants to provide concrete reasons for their answers in order to examine the underlying factors that caused them making mistakes in forming past participle sentences in English. The sample of Frequency Count for this section in the questionnaire is then shown in Appendix 4 (Table 4.8).

There is only a set of result to obtain from a group of students to form justification. The results were then calculated in the form of percentages, which are shown in Chapter Four (Tables 4.6, 4.7 and 4.8) for detailed analysis. The percentages were derived by using the following formula:

Percentage = Number of students on the particular statement X 100

Total number of students that answer the questionnaire

For example: Percentage of students answer correctly on statement one = 5 X 100


= 50%


As defines by Thornton (n.d.), 'Elicited Production' is a trial technique design to reveal children's grammars by having them produce targeted sentences in the planned set of structures. The task seems to be the techniques that specially designed for children; however, in fact, the elicited production task can be modified and revised to achieve the goals of a particular experiment. In other words, Elicited Production Task is suitable to be used for both children's and adults' experiments. Therefore, the researcher has applied Elicited Production Task to the present study as it claims that the data collects through Elicited Production Task is more directly reflect and truly uncover someone's grammatical knowledge. Moreover, it also allows respondents to provide their points of views or answers.


According to Choomthong (2011), translation strategy is part of cognitive learning strategies by transferring one language to another language and converting a target language into the native language or vice versa. As such, the researcher has adopted translation method into current study to see whether the participants could perform past participle of English correctly.


It is always crucial to identify the size of population in the study. In this research paper, the researcher would like to look into the aspect of sampling of the study that solely in English Language Course before discussing advantages of using questionnaire.


There was only a group of students participate in the survey design or the study. The participants were solely Chinese educated background undergraduates majoring in English Language in UTAR. Sadly, there are only 15 English Language majors in year three have been chosen by the researcher to contribute to the questionnaires. The participants must possess at least primary and/or secondary Chinese educated background to participate in this research paper. All participants are in their 20s respectively without gender differentiation.


Since quantitative research has its own advantages, the researcher decides to adopt survey design in carrying out this study. The researcher would like to reiterate Creswell (2008) states that, "A survey design provides a quantitative or numeric description of trends, attitudes, or opinions of a population by studying a sample of that population." The statement well explains the method used. It proves that survey design is the most appropriate method uses to investigate different perspectives among Chinese ESL majors towards the formation of past participle in English.

In fact, survey design is normally used to examine problem in real life settings. It can be conducted anytime and anywhere as long as the researcher finds appropriate and available data. At the same time, it always provides greater insight if it works hand-in-hand with interviews. Thus, there were open-ended questions in the questionnaire of this study to enable the participants to provide their opinions regarding questions that being asked to obtain more details information.

Generally, the cost of conducting survey design is considered reasonable and affordable. The researcher did not need to spend a large amount of money to get the information. On the other hand, with the small amount of money, it allowed the researcher to collect large amount of data targeting on both research questions to investigate different answers that provided by participants.


To maintain objectivity in the research, the researcher would not provide any personal opinion to the participants before and after they finish answering the questionnaires. The researcher went through the definition of the term and the three parts of the questions with the participants at different period of time to show equal fairness. The participants were given estimated 15 minutes to answer the questionnaire and they were advised to read all the questions at least once before they answered.

The sample of questionnaire can be found in Appendix 1. The evidence in language use will be first noted to prove to what extent the mistakes made by Chinese educated students majoring in English language are influenced by their Chinese mother tongue when forming English past participles. From this discussion, greater insight about individual language used and their perspectives towards past participle in English would emerge. The findings of the study are discussed in detail in the following chapter, data analysis.