DANH MỤC NGHIÊN CỨU KHOA HỌC
TỔ THỰC HÀNH TIẾNG 3
1. Nguyen Thi Bich Diep: A Pilot Study on Inter-language Variation: Copula BE
in written Vietnamese – English
2. Hoàng Thị Hồng Hải và Cấn Thuỳ Linh: Nghiên cứu về việc sử dụng giáo trình
Inside Out và nhu cầu xây dựng tài liệu bổ trợ phục vụ giảng dạy kỹ năng
Nói cho sinh viên năm thứ 3.
3. Phạm Thị Hạnh MA., Nguyễn Thúy Lan BA., Bùi Ánh Dương MA.: NGHE
HIỂU: Sinh viên năm 3 Khoa Anh đã sẵn sàng cho CAE?
4. Phạm Minh Hiền M.A,Phạm Mai Hương M.A, Lê Bạch Yến, M.A:
Tạo động lực và phát triển kỹ năng đọc hiểu cho sinh viên giai đoạn nâng cao
Khoa Sư phạm Tiếng Anh thông qua Đọc rộng
5. Nguyễn Hoàng Lan: Strategies for correcting the Sentence Structure error in
third-year Vietnamese students’ paragraph writing
6. Lâm Thị Phúc Hân. M.A; Lê Thuý Hoà. M.A, Nguyễn Thanh Giang. M.A; Lê
Phương Hoa. M.A: Motivational factors for writing
7. Th.S. Quách Ngọc Anh: Đánh giá của sinh viên về chương trình “Việt Nam
trong con mắt người nước ngoài” – Một số gợi ý nhằm nâng cao hứng thú của
sinh viên đối với chương trình phát triển kỹ năng nói cho sinh viên năm 3.
8. Trần Văn Phương : Khoa học để đi tìm tính cách một dân tộc
9. Nguyễn Thu Hiền (PPGDTA), Phạm Minh Tâm (PPGDTA), Nguyễn Thị Thúy
( Tiếng Anh 3): Một số lưu ý về việc khai thác sử dụng tài liệu thực
trong giảng dạy ngoại ngữ
10. Phan Thị Hoàng Yến M.A: NĂNG LỰC CẢM XÚC VỚI NGHỀ DẠY
VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI
UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGES AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH PEDAGOGY
A Pilot Study on Inter-language Variation:
Copula BE in written Vietnamese – English
NAME: NGUYEN THI BICH DIEP
Table of contents
2. Theoretical background
2.1 Different approaches to SLA
2.2 Methods of Sociolinguistics approaches to SLA
2.3 Inter-language variation in Asian’s English acquisition
2.4 Copula be in Vietnamese
3. Data and Methodology
3.2 Data collection and analysis method
4. Data Analysis
Second Language Acquisition (SLA) has developed as a branch of linguistics to
analyze the process that people apply actively to learn other languages (L2) in
addition to their mother tongue (L1). SLA focuses on the learners and the learning
method and only involves pedagogy if the teaching influences on the acquisition
course (Gass and Selinker 2000. 2). SLA researchers, through many approaches, try to
account for the situation where people are able to acquire L2 at different rates and
levels but their L2 can rarely be as fluent as their L1. The approaches are classified
into “three broad categories: linguistics approaches, sociolinguistics approaches and
psychological or cognitive approaches” (Towell and Hawkins 1994. 4).
Sociolinguistics approaches become more popular in recent years to concentrate
on two main themes involving learners’ attitude toward the L2 and the context in
which learners acquire the L2 (Towell and Hawkins 1994. 4). Furthermore,
sociolinguistics has examined four main fields of SLA as “inter-language variation,
cross-cultural communication, conversational phenomena and social identity” (Young
Being discussed more in the later parts of the essay, the sociolinguistics
approaches and their methods play the core role in this pilot study mainly because it is
the field that I feel secure to have a closer look with my data analysis. Besides, my
special interest in the relationship between language and society has led to the fact
that I would like to figure out the impact of the society- the context on the language
generally and the second language acquisition specifically. The most obvious field for
me to look at is inter-language variation since currently it has the strongest link with
my teaching at school.
I decided to choose Vietnamese because my native language is still “a mystery, an
unknown story” to most of my colleagues from other countries and continents except
my Chinese and Indochinese counterparts. I hope to bring my mother tongue into
more international context and for the first step I chose the simple BE in this pilot
1.1 Aim and scope
The research investigates to be in pieces of writing by young Vietnamese students
learning English at elementary level with two different backgrounds. This is not an
error analysis but the study surveys the errors that those two groups made with the
verb to be to identify the inter-language variations that the learners may have when
acquiring English with distinguishing points in their motivation and language input.
The first group have a passion for learning English plus a dream of studying overseas
and hunt for chances to communicate with native speakers while the second one lack
of the motivations and only talk to their native speaker teacher after being pushed to
talked during the class time.
In short, the essay attempts to answer two research questions 1) which group of
young Vietnamese students have more BE errors in their writing? and 2) what are the
possible reasons for the variations?
2. Theoretical Background
2.1 Different approaches to SLA
To understand a certain kind of approaches such as sociolinguistics ones, it is
necessary to see the “whole picture” of SLA by reviewing briefly other approaches.
Linguistics approaches base mainly on the assumption that people are born with
the ability to ‘take’ their L1 naturally and when they learn L2s, they just “transfer the
forms and meanings, and the distribution of forms and meanings of their native
language and culture to the foreign language and culture” (Lado 1957. 2 in Gass and
Selinker 2000. 65). The combination of this early approaches and behaviorism in
1950s resulted in the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis emphasizing on the ‘positive’
or ‘negative’ language habit transfer from L1 to L2 and identifying the ‘potential
errors’ in language comparison (Gass and Selinker 2009. 96). Then, SLA was realized
not to be just the habit formation and transfer; moreover, the number of errors found
was too small in comparison with the number made by L2 learners. Gradually the
attention was shifted to the “staged development and systematicity’ and Natural Order
Hypothesis lying in morpheme studies were developed (Towell and Hawkins 1994.
18-23). Later, Krashen denied the order of grammatical structures in SLA and gave
the Input hypothesis and Affective Filter hypothesis which discussed the L2 input and
‘affective variables’ that could affect learners’ L2 acquisition (Schutz 2007).
Cognitive approaches show the achievements of psychology linguistics who
depend on qualitative analyses to use the description of how the brain works to
process information to explain L2 acquisition. Naturally, everything we know about
the world is meaningfully arranged and connected and the new things we learn are
influenced by ‘our perceptual apparatus and our perceptual history’ and so is
language. Specifically, cognitive linguistics pay the most attention to syntax and
syntax building in learners’ ‘experience’ and ‘embodiment’ during their whole life of
acquiring second languages (Ellis 1999. 25). Chomsky, basing on child language
acquisition, launched the theory of Universal Grammar (UG) about the common
grammar aspects shared by all kinds of language. UG has recently been applied in
SLA with the inter-language grammar access (White 2009. 9) and more developed
with a reference to language diversity to reduce the influences of ‘ethnocentrism’ - the
major number of cognitive linguistics researchers can only use some European
languages sharing many similar points in structure (Evans and Levison 2009. 430).
Sociolinguistics approaches represent the relationship between social context and
SLA, one of which is Tarone’s approach in 1980s. Tarone considered the L2 acquired
by learners as the “continuum of grammar” from the lowest to the highest level (from
“vernacular style” to careful style” as she called in the following diagram) and
variability can be observed through the “style shifting” along the capability
continuum (Towell and Hawkins 1994. 34-36).
Various elicitation task:
sentence combining etc.
Figure 2.1 Inter-language capability continuumw
(Tarone 1988. 41 cited in Towell and Hawkins 1994. 34)
Another approach was raised by Ellis who did not share the same idea with
Tarone. Through his study of Zambian English, Ellis discussed the “free and
systematic variation” allowing much more variable rules which can only be found in
L2 learners’ grammar and cannot be found in TL grammar. The free variation
includes the rules occurring randomly in all kinds of contexts while the systematic
one refers to the rules that can come only in certain contexts; and none of them follow
the “capability continuum” (Towell and Hawkins 1994. 36-37). This is also the
particular approach implemented in this essay for the analysis of to be in Vietnamese
2.2 Methods of Sociolinguistics approaches to SLA
According to Young (1999. 107-109), two main methods have been applied to
analyze the interaction between context and SLA. The first way bases on quantitative
approach with “enough set of data” to identify the “likelihood of co-occurrence of a
variable form and any one of the contextual features we are interested” (Young and
Bayley 1996. 253 cited in Young 1999. 107). This method is traditionally used with
many studies on inter-language variation. The second way was called “hermeneutic
approach” implementing on not only quantitative analysis but also “learner’s diaries
and case studies” involving the experiences that the researchers themselves have
collected in their whole life as L2 learners. Recently, this method has been regarded
as the major trend for researches in sociolinguistics approaches to SLA, especially in
“discourse analyses of cross-culture communication” (Young 1999. 108).
2.3 Inter-language variation in Asian’s English acquisition
About the researches on English acquisition by Asian, Rau, Chang and Torone
(2009) focused on the inter-dental fricative
was chosen as the best substitute for
by Chinese students to find out that [s]
by both Taiwanese and Chinese learners (Rau
et 2009. 582). Also, the result constructed a hypothesis that “immediate phonetic
environment and speech style accounted for the accurate production of
”; the high
level students with good pronunciation of the inter-dental fricative implemented the
“monitoring strategies” while their lower level counterparts relied on “phonetic
salience strategies” (Rau et 2009. 581). Besides, another study was conducted by
Bayley (1996) on the cutting of final [t] and [d] in English by Chinese inhabitants in
California. Its result showed that the frequency of final [t/d] deletion among the
speakers involving themselves in “mixed Chinese and American social network” was
much less regular than among those who communicated mainly with other Chinese in
their community (Bayley 1996 cited in Young 1999. 110).
Despite their dominance in inter-language variation researches, phonetic and
phonology are not the only fields that language variables can be found (Plat et 2007:
217). In lexicology and syntax, variables in English language acquisition by Asian
learners have been and will also be identified with this study as an example.
2.4 Copula be in Vietnamese
The most important copula in Vietnamese is “ ” usually translated as “be” in English
and “ ” and mainly used in “as the copula verb with nominal predicate and as a
complementizer-like element” (Duffield 2009).
While “be” is compulsory in non-verbal clause in standard English, “ ” can
rarely be found in adjectival predicate, and be replaced with “ ” in locative predicate.
The normal structure for Vietnamese copula is NP -
- NP to show the equal or
identificational relationship between subject and predicate (Clark 1995. 7)
a genius (nominal predicate)
free (adjectival predicate)
in Japan (locative predicate)
3. Participants, Data and Methodology
This pilot study put an emphasis on the written grammar in English acquisition by
young Vietnamese students. To serve the purpose, the data were collected from a
small cohort of two classes with 10 students in each class. In comparison with the
second class, the first class consisted of students with much higher level in English
basing on their performance in continuous assessment. Besides, the first group also
has much stronger desire for English language, more active in communication with
the native speaker teachers, and holds a dream of studying overseas.
The brief information about two groups of students participating in the pilot study
can be described as the following tables.
Class-contact hours per week
With native speaker
teachers to focus on
teacher to focus on
Table 3.1.1 Similarities in background information of participant
Passion for English
Other motivation like
studying overseas, better
with native speakers
Yes (Very strong)
Table 3.1.2 Differences in background information of participant
In the secondary education, all the learners spent about two hours every week in
five years in learning English with the same program and textbook designed and
controlled by the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), employing the
grammar-translation pedagogy approach. Most of the interaction among teachers and
students were in Vietnamese and all the tests were mainly on grammar.
The learners entered the upper-secondary school for four months where they have
had class-contact of six hours a week and the common textbook highlighting grammar
and four language skills. There the communicative approach is implemented since the
native speaker teachers are involved and beside the grammar tests ordered by the
MOET, every month, the students take the English competence test in the form of the
International English Language Test System (IELTS).
3.2 Data collection and analysis method
The data consist of the English copula to be mistakes that the students in their
writing about the same topic and under the same conditions of time, space and task
requirement. Since this essay serves as the pilot investigation in variables in
Vietnamese English by young learners, the qualitative method is suitable for the
limited number but still able to give the “detail description of phenomenon” (Nelson
and Damico 2006: 635).
The data are then presented with tables and charts to compare the level of copula
to be accuracy made by two groups of students with a reference to verb and general
mistakes, as well as the total length of writings.
4. Data Analysis and Result
4.1 Copula to be errors in young Vietnamese learners’ writing
All the errors in young Vietnamese students’ writings were counted and classified into
different categories as copula BE, verbs and others shown in the following table.
Group Errors in
Table 4.1.1 Vietnamese students’ errors in written English
Generally, under the same condition and topic, group 1 tended to write as twice as
long as group 2 whereas making less mistakes. For both groups, most of the errors
were found in the use of verbs and copulas, which were 63% and 58.5% for group 1
and group 2 respectively. In terms of copula BE, group 2 exceeded group 1 in both
number and percentage.
To highlight the comparison between the two groups, the data are then presented
with the bar chart showing the number of errors. While the numbers of mistakes of
Verbs and Others are rather equal (38-34, 24-36), a very clear distinction can be seen
in copula BE. The whole groups 1 made only 3 errors but their counterparts in group
2 made 17 ones.
Copula to be
Chart 4.1.1 Differences in the number of errors in young Vietnamese learners’ writing
Chart 4.1.2 Differences in the percentage of errors in young Vietnamese learners’ writing
The pie charts illustrate the percentage of each kind of errors found in the writing
of the two groups. Among all the mistakes, copula BE accounts for only 4.6% in
group 1 and 19.50% in group 2. For the first group, Verbs covers the majority with
58.4% then Others contributes 37%; for the other group, these figures are rather equal
with 39% and 41.5% accordingly.
4.2 Result and discussion
The data analysis has answered the two research questions mentioned in the earlier
part of this essay. More errors in copula BE were made by the second group of
students with lower level in English competence, lack of passion for English and less
activeness in communicating with their native speaker teachers. For both groups, the
inflectional morpheme mistakes predominated in writing.
The reasons for the phenomena can be explained with the basic difference
between Vietnamese and English. Vietnamese is an isolating language which lacks of
“all the inflectional affixes of person, number, tense, and aspect as well as systematic
word derivation process” (Evans and Levison 2009. 434); as a result the young
Vietnamese learners find it very difficult to give the correct forms of the verbs and
copulas they use. Most of the times, the students of group 2 cannot give the correct
form of the singular third person verbs and the mistakes like “my mother is always
love me” (Group 2, student 2) can be easily found. Moreover, in Vietnamese, people
normally do not put copulas between subject and adjectival predicate (Clark 1995. 7)
so the low level students, being influenced by their mother tongue, make many
mistakes like “she always beautiful, she thin” (Group 2, student 4).
Then, the results of other studies investigating variations in English acquisition by
Asian learners confirmed the hypothesis that the students can get rid of copula BE
errors (and other kinds of errors as well) when they improve their English competence
and have more input from communication with native speakers. According to Rau,
Chang and Torone (2009), the Chinese students with higher English proficiency and
“more consistent input on a single norm from native speakers” produced more
and limited their variants to [s] while the Taiwanese students made much
more variants of
, [d] and deletion) due to their lower level
in English and the language input from peers “whose output contains a range of
errors” (Rau et 2009. 602-603).
Another contribution of this essay is proving the importance of students’ passion
for English (as a subject at school) and their motivation to learn the L2. Even when
both groups of students have the same class contact with the same native speaker
teachers, which means the same quality of language input, the lower level and less
motivated group 2 still have many errors generally in their writing and particularly in
copula BE. Furthermore, the better language input cannot assure an improvement in
either students’ writing or their performance if the students are not willing to play
active roles in communicating with their native speaker teachers.
By answering the two research questions, the essay has fulfilled the role of identifying
inter-language variation in written Vietnamese - English by focusing on the copula
BE as one of the most effective indicators of Vietnamese students’ levels in English
acquisition. For pedagogy purposes, the analysis puts the copula BE and inflectional
morphemes into consideration of both Vietnamese and international teachers working
in this particular context to help their young local learners overcome the negative
transfer of their isolating mother tongue. Also, the teachers should concentrate on
building the students’ learning motivation and activeness, which seems to be the key
point in their success in L2 acquisition.
The essay can be considered a pilot study- the first step that will be farther
developed in the future with a deeper and wider examination basing on quantitative
method and the help of SPSS. It provides me the confidence to conduct some future
researches to discover the inter-language variants in Vietnamese English in
morphology, lexicology, phonetics, phonology, syntax, and discourse analysis to
fulfill my dream of putting my Vietnamese into more international context.
Clark, M. 1995. Conjunction as copula in Vietnamese. 1- 7 December 21 2009 <
Duffield, N. 2009. The Copula Verb
. Vietnam Online Grammar. December 20
Dwight, A. 2010. Colloquium – Alternative approaches to second language
Teaching. 43(1). 96-98.
Elaine, T. 2010. Second language acquisition by low-literate learners: An understudied population.
Language Teaching. 43(1). 75-83.
Ellis, N. 1999. Cognitive Approaches to SLA. Annual Review of Applied Linguistic.
Evans, N. and Levinson, S.C. 2009. The myth of language universals: Language
diversity and its
importance for cognitive science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 32. 429-492.
Eve, Z., and Clara, A. Word class distinction in Second Language Acquisition.
Studies in second
language acquisition - reprod. by the Indiana university linguistics club.
Gass, S. M, and Selinker, L. 2000. Second Language Acquisition: An introductory
Lawrence Erlbaum. London.
Gass, S. M, and Selinker, L. 2008. Second Language Acquisition: An introductory
Routledge Taylor and Francis Group. New York and London.
Jourdenais, R. 2005. A philosophy of Second Language Acquisition. Studies in
Acquisition. 02722631. 27(4). 629-630.
Jordan, G. 2004. Theory Construction in Second Language Acquisition. John
Company. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia.
Hawkins, R. 2008. The nativist perspective on second language acquisition. Lingua.
Liceras, J. 2007. A "linguistic approach" to the idiosyncratic nature of second
Monosyllabic place-holders and morpheme orders. Bilingualism. 13667289.
Mackey, A. 2004. Cognition and Second Language Acquisition. Studies in Second
Acquisition. 02722631. 26(3). 473-474.
Peccei, J. 1999. Child Language. Routledge. New York.
Plag, I., Braun, M., Lappe, S., Schramm, M. 2007. Introduction to English
Linguistics. Mouton de
Gruyter. Berlin and New York.
Rau, V.D, Chang, H.A, Tarone, E.E. 2009. Think or Sink: Chinese Learners’
Acquisition of the
English Voiceless Interdental Fricative. Language Learning. 00238333. 59(3).
Sabourin, L. 2009. Neuroimaging and research into second language acquisition.
Research. 25(1). 5-12
Simon, E. 2010. Phonological transfer of voicing and devoicing rules: evidence from
L1 Dutch and
L2 English conversational speech. Language Sciences. 03880001. 32(1). 6386.
Segalowitz, N. and Lightbown, P. M. 1999. Psycholinguistic Approaches to SLA.
Annual Review of
Applied Linguistics. 2671905. 19. 43-63.
Steinhauer, K., White, E. J., Drury, J. E. 2009. Temporal dynamics of late second
acquisition: evidence from event-related brain potentials. Second Language
02676583. 25(1). 13-41.
Schutz, R. 2007. Stephen Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition. English
Brazil. December 20 2009 < http://www.sk.com.br/sk-krash.html>
Towell, R. and Hawkins, R. 1994. Approaches to Second Language Acquisition.
Matters. Avon. December 8 2009 <
Van de Craats, I. 2009. The role of is in the acquisition of finiteness by adult Turkish
Dutch. Studies in second language acquisition - reprod. by the Indiana
club. 02722631. 31(1). 59-92.
White, L. 2009. Universal grammar in Second Language Acquisition: The nature of
representation. 1- 13. December 8 2009
Waber, K. and Czendlik, W. 2002. Second Language Acquisition and Theories of
Grammar. Hacken, P.t. 2002. Seminar Language Acquisition and Universal
December 10 2009