Pronunciation in Foreign Language: How to Train?

Manuela Macedonia


This study investigates the role of perception and sensory motor learning on speech production in L2. Compared to natural language learning, acoustic input in formal adult instruction is deprived of multiple sensory motor cues and lacks the imitation component. Consequently, it is possible that inaccurate pronunciation results from training. Inaccuracy manifests itself in the use of suppletive sounds. For the Italian phoneme /λ/ [gl] like in "paglia" (It. straw), native Germans often produce the suppletive phoneme /l/. The Motor Theory of Speech Perception provides theoretical underpinning for the interdependency between perception and production: Thereafter, speech is perceived by reference to the articulator gestures necessary to produce it. Furthermore, imitation is a mechanism driving learning, particularly language acquisition. Accordingly, we hypothesized that training with sensory motor cues together with imitation induces the development of articulatory motor programs. They enable learners to accurately discriminate and pronounce the Italian phoneme /λ/. In a between subjects experiment, we trained 49 native Germans to perceive and produce minimal pairs of syllables containing /λ/ and /l/ embedded in vocalic contexts. Participants were randomly divided into three subgroups according to the following training conditions: 1) acoustic/imitation (AI), 2) audiovisual/motor task (AVM), and 3) audiovisual/imitation (AVI). The stimuli, consisting of audio files and video clips, were presented in two training blocks totalling 408 stimuli and responses per participant. Responses in stimulus discrimination and reproduction were recorded. The results show that participants discriminated both sounds /λ/ and /l/, pre- and post-training equally well. Sound discrimination reached ceiling, independently of the training participants had received. However, training did not improve production accuracy which persisted in being inaccurate until the end of the experiment. We attribute the results in production to insufficient training, and we discuss the findings in terms of age-related resiliency in L2 learning.

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Journal of Education and Training Studies  ISSN 2324-805X (Print)   ISSN 2324-8068 (Online)

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