Chinese EFL Learners’ Constructs of L2 Past Time

Published: 27 December 2023| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/nhhcm56gjw.1
Jiao Xiao


This study aims to investigate whether the mechanisms by which Chinese EFL learners use English to construct past time concepts are consistent with those of native English speakers. Experiment 1 collected eye-movement indicators from 80 Chinese learners when reading English sentences. The results of data analysis showed that adverbs of past time had an enhancing effect on Chinese learners’ construction of past time concepts. In Experiment 2, 40 learners were asked to make grammatical judgments to measure their ability to recognize grammatical errors. The results showed that the learners were able to recognize grammatical errors and had the knowledge and performative ability to construct past time concepts using English. Experiment 3 used a self-paced reading paradigm to collect the reaction times of 40 learners when processing grammatically correct (simple past tense + adverbial of past time) and grammatically incorrect (present perfect tense + adverbial of past time) sentences. The results showed that there was a significant difference in the reaction times of correct and incorrect sentences in the critical area when subjects read sentences composed of predicates with achievement verbs, while there was no significant difference when they read sentences composed of the state, activity and accomplishment verbs. The experimental results show that although Chinese ELF Learners have acquired the knowledge of constructing past time concepts in English, they tend to construct past time concepts accomplishment the perfective tense and adverbials of past time when using English, and are unable to construct past time concepts accomplishment the lexical changes of the past tense. In addition, Chinese learners' understanding of English temporal adverbials is also constructed as past time points or past time periods depending on whether they are used with the present perfect tense or not. This study argues that the above optimal representation of Chinese learners are due to the influence of their Chinese mother tongue, suggesting that the differences between English and Chinese are fundamental in the way they construct past time.



Zhejiang Normal University


Eye Movement, English as a Foreign Language