How difficult is it to be native-like in second language learning?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


This paper looks at the interpretability of a type of colloquial terms in Cantonese, the proposed negative wh-quantifier (‘Neg-whQ’), by adult English-speaking learners. Neg-whQs have the form [mou ‘no’ + wh-word]. Instead of a canonical SVO order, a Neg-whQobj uniquely manifests an SOV order and is variously interpreted as negative ‘nothing’ or existential ‘only a few’. The focus of this study is to test whether the functional morphology of Neg-whQs represents a ‘bottleneck’ [3]. Results suggested that learners, even achieving an advanced level, failed to attain the additional existential reading (apart from the standard negative reading) of Neg-whQs. Deficits in ultimate second language (L2) knowledge are concluded to be a result of the lack of one-to-one morphological mapping between a Neg-whQ and its closest counterpart nowhere in learners’ first language (L1) English. Only a few successful cases from advanced learners demonstrating native-like competence, suggest that it is essential to have experiences in using the L2 in a colloquial context. The results of the experimental work conducted lay insights to future second language teaching. L2 acquisition of Neg-whQs in Cantonese, as a typical colloquial language, by English speakers is problematic, since the relevant facts are neither robustly available from the L2 input, nor are they covered in Cantonese teaching materials. Perhaps, to obtain native-like second language knowledge requires more considerations on how it is talked among native speakers than taught. Future research could usefully follow the recent suggestion by Whong et al. to bring theoretical L2 research to the classroom [4], and investigate whether explicit instructions on Neg-whQs could facilitate acquisition of the different interpretations of this form.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationICT for Language Learning.
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventThe 8th ICT for Language Learning - Florence, Italy
Duration: 12 Nov 201513 Nov 2015


ConferenceThe 8th ICT for Language Learning
Internet address


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