Evaluating non-native pronunciation: Acoustic measurements vs. perceived foreign accentedness

TitleEvaluating non-native pronunciation: Acoustic measurements vs. perceived foreign accentedness
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsInsam, M., Pfandl-Buchegger I., & Schuppler B.
Conference NamePhonetik und Phonologie 9 (P&P9)
Conference LocationZuerich

Neurocognitive studies have shown that children develop language-specific phoneme
discrimination skills during their first year of life (Kuhl et al., 2008). This 'perceptual
narrowing' functions as the blueprint for speech, yet it apparently influences children's L2
perception and production skills. As children grow older, it becomes increasingly
difficult for them to integrate the sound system of an L2, which explains the frequent
occurrence of foreign accents in adults. Research in L2 learning has, however, shown that
age is not the only decisive factor for obtaining phonological proficiency and that it is
still possible to overcome such difficulties through intensive pronunciation training
(Bongaerts, 2005).

In light of these findings, we tested and compared the effect of two different
approaches to pronunciation training on students' reading performance in English as an
L2 over a period of one semester. On the basis of recordings from 62 students, we first
conducted acoustic analyses on the subjects' realization of vowels before and after the
training period. The vowels /ɪ/, /u/, and /æ/ were selected for analysis in a similar
phonetic context with preceding unvoiced plosives, with a total amount of 744 tokens. In
a second study, the same speech samples were evaluated by 4 native speakers each, with regard to perceived improvements in individual speech sounds (consonants and vowels)
and supra-segmental features (rhythm and intonation). The main objectives of these
analyses are to determine 1) whether the training method improves subjects' L2 reading
performance and 2) whether native speakers are sensitive to acoustically measurable

Citation Key2769