Competing Activation of L1 and L2 in L3 Production—Evidence from a Case Study of Mongolian Native College Students from the Perspective of Think-aloud Approach

Hai Mei, Chen Yajie


This article presents six case studies of L3 production performed by trilinguals in China, aiming to explore the activation status of L1 and L2 during L3 production. Six Mongolian native college students participated as research subjects, and qualitative and quantitative research methods including a think-aloud writing test and interviews, were adopted to examine which language, Mongolian L1 or Chinese L2, were more readily activated in the process of English L3 production, as well as, what roles L1 and L2 play in the process of L3 production and what factors contribute to the activation of L1 and L2.

The findings show that Mongolian L1 and Chinese L2 are activated competitively in the process of English L3 production, but for different learners, they are activated to different levels and play different roles. The recency use of background languages, language proficiency and the medium of instruction are decisive factors in determining the activation levels of Mongolian L1 and Chinese L2 for Mongolian native college students in China. Language proficiency, the type and amount of exposure to L3 and the perceived language distance are the factors that contribute the most to activation of L1 and L2 during L3 production.

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