Will Cantonese L1 speakers in ESL learning progress in line with pienemann's teachability hypothesis?

Mui Yuen Mabel CHAN

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses


Teachability Hypothesis, a subset of Processability Theory, states that instruction is most beneficial if it focuses on structures from the next stage of the learners (that is, X+1 stage) of learners’ stage (X), and that learners cannot skip stages. After a review of past Teachability studies, it is found that the past studies have not proved that Cantonese native speakers must be at the X stage in order to be ready to learn the X+1 stage English as Teachability Hypothesis (TH) has stated. Although the processing procedures of Processability Theory were built for universal application in Second Language Acquisition (SLA), it is believed that possible interference from learners’ first language had not been attended to, and such interference could contribute to outcome or outcomes different from that of the Teachability Hypothesis (TH). It is hoped that the study can contribute to the understanding of Cantonese learners of English as a Second Language (ESL), and that the issues about typologically distant languages and first language interference to English as a Second Language (ESL) learners can be pursued further. This study aimed to investigate whether Cantonese speakers in Hong Kong will progress in line with Pienemann’s Teachability Hypothesis. In contrast to the past studies in which the first language of informants were mostly Romance languages such as German, Italian, and Spanish, the first language of informants of this study is Cantonese, which is a Chinese language dialect and is more distant to English. This study adopted the processing hierarchy of Processability Theory as the framework to measure, describe, and explain the recorded conversational data. A pretest interview was recorded followed by a 3-month period tutorial and a post-test interview. Both interviews’ data was analyzed using the Emergence Criterion method of data analysis. The analyzed data of pretest and posttest was compared for any stage gain. It was found that each of the six informants advanced to the next stage (X+1), and that each informant progressed according to his/her order of development regardless of the tutorial input, and no one skipped stage. The answer to the research question is that Cantonese speakers did progress as predicted by the result from Pienemann’s Teachability Hypothesis. The study also provided some additional insights about the first language interference in English as a Second Language acquisition. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Education
Awarding Institution
  • The Education University of Hong Kong
  • ADAMSON, Robert Damian, Supervisor
  • STAPLETON, Paul, Supervisor
Award date25 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Education, Bilingual -- Hong Kong
  • Second language acquisition
  • Processability
  • Teachability
  • ESL
  • Cantonese learners
  • English learning in Hong Kong
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ed.D.)--The Education University of Hong Kong, 2016


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