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Entre Nos: Diana Velázquez-López & Gillian Lord
October 18, 2017 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
On the Effects of Explicit Instruction in Beginning Spanish Classes: A Further Look at the Trill /r/
As interest in second language (L2) phonology continues to grow, so too do the questions associated with the acquisition of foreign language sound systems. One of these enduring questions relates to the role and effectiveness of explicit instruction in helping students acquire L2 sounds (e.g., Elliott 2003; Morin 2007). Indeed, a growing body work shows that explicit instruction can indeed be beneficial at beginning levels of L2 Spanish instruction (e.g., Bailey & Brandle 2013; Bajuniemi et al. 2015; Counselman 2015; Elliott 1995, 1997, 2003; González-Bueno 1997; Kissling 2015; Rodríguez-Sabater 2005; among others), with improvements seen in reducing voice onset time (VOT), spirantization of /d/, and overall pronunciation assessments.
At the same time, we recognize that in spite of fairly drastic changes in approaches to teaching a second language in general (e.g., ACTFL 2012), classroom pronunciation instruction techniques have remained somewhat stagnant (e.g., Foote, Holtby and Derwing 2011), especially at the lowest levels of language instruction. As a result, there is, generally speaking, less research regarding the effects of using newer technologies in teaching pronunciation. This study adds to the relatively limited work carried out thus far to explore the use of acoustic analysis and visualization tools in this setting. Although most frequently used in the teaching of intonation (e.g., Chun 1998), other researcher have explored the incorporation of tools like Praat (www.praat.org) into language lesson planning. Both Lord (2005) and Olson (2014a, 2014b), for example, have documented positive outcomes of incorporating what Olsen calls a ‘visual feedback paradigm’ in language classes.
With this in mind, then, the present study explored if and how supplementing a beginning Spanish class with explicit pronunciation instruction can benefit the acquisition of L2 phonology. In particular, we looked at the voiced alveolar trill /r/, given its salience in Spanish and its noted difficulty for English-speaking learners. Participants were two intact classes of Beginning Spanish 1, with one section serving as the experimental group and the other as the control. Instruction for the experimental group focused on the type of visual feedback that Olson and Lord have found to be beneficial, with students recording and then carrying out audio and visual analyses of their speech on different occasions throughout the semester. In addition to examining the development of the participants’ pronunciation of the /r/, we also examined their attitudes towards L2 pronunciation and their perceptions of the instructional approaches. Learner data was also compared to a native speaker control group, given the wide variety of realizations of /r/ (e.g., Hammond 1999).
Preliminary results confirm that the trill /r/ is a problematic sound for English speakers to acquire (e.g., Face 2006; Gonzalez-Bueno 2005; Rose 2010; Weech 2009), and that even explicit instruction does not yield full acquisition (or, at least, production) of the standard trill in expected contexts. However, the experimental group shows trends toward greater accuracy in their production of the sound, as well as positive responses to the inclusion of explicit instruction and the methods used. We will discuss these findings in light of current approaches to classroom language teaching, and will offer suggestions for future incorporation of explicit pronunciation instruction.
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