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Entre Nos: Diana Velázquez-López & Gillian Lord

October 18 @ 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.


Works cited

Bailey, A. A. & Brandl, A. (2013). Incorporating pronunciation in the first-year Spanish classroom: An early intervention. In J. Levis & K. LeVelle (Eds.), Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference Proceedings (pp. 207-223). Ames, IA: Iowa State University.

Bajuniemi A. (2013). Teaching intervention on the pronunciation of Spanish intervocalic /d/. In , C. Howe,  S. E. Blackwell & M. Lubbers-Quesada (Eds.), Selected Proceedings of the 15th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium (pp. 39-50). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla.

Boersma, P. & Weenink, D. (2017). Praat: doing phonetics by computer [Computer program]. Version 6.0.28, retrieved 23 March 2017 from http://www.praat.org/.

Chun, D. (1998). Signal analysis software for teaching discourse intonation. Language Learning & Technology, 2(1), 61-77.

Counselman, D. 2015. Directing attention to pronunciation in the second language classroom. Hispania 98(1): 31-46.

Elliott, A. R. 1995. Field independence/dependence, hemispheric specialization, and attitude in relation to pronunciation accuracy in Spanish as a foreign language. Modern Language Journal 79: 356-371.

Elliott, A. R. 1997. On the teaching and acquisition of pronunciation within a communicative approach. Hispania 80(1): 95-108.

Elliott, A. R. 2003. Staking out the territory at the turn of the century: Integrating phonological theory, research, and the effect of formal instruction on pronunciation in the acquisition of Spanish as a second language. In B. A. Lafford & R. Salaberry (Eds.), Spanish Second Language Acquisition: State of the Science (pp. 19-46). Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Face, T. (2006). Intervocalic rhotic pronunciation by adult learners of Spanish as a second language. In C. A. Klee, and T. L. Face (Eds.), Selected proceedings of the 7th Conference on the Acquisition of Spanish and Portuguese as First and Second Languages (pp. 47-58). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla.

Foote, J A., Holtby, A.K, & Derwing, T.M. (2011). Survey of the teaching of pronunciation in adult ESL programs in Canada. TESL Canada Journal 291: 1-22.

González-Bueno, M. (1997). The effects of formal instruction on the acquisition of Spanish stop consonants. In  W. Glass & A.T. Pérez-Leroux (Eds.), Contemporary Perspectives on the Acquisition of Spanish, Volume 2:Production, Processing, and Comprehension (pp. 57-75). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla.

González-Bueno, M. (2005). In J. Cohen, K. McAlister, K. Rolstad & J. MacSwan (Eds.), ISB4: Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism (pp. 914-934). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla.

Hammond, R., 1999. “On the non-occurrence of the phone [r] in the Spanish sound system.” In J. Gutiérrez -Reixach and F. Martínez-Gil (Eds.), Advances in Hispanic Linguistics (pp. 135-151). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla.

Kissling, E. (2015). Phonetics instruction improves learners’ perception of L2 sounds. Language Teaching Research 19(3): 254-275.

Lord, G. (2005). (How) can we teach foreign language pronunciation? Hispania 88: 557-567.

Morin, R. (2007). A neglected aspect of the Standards: preparing foreign language Spanish teachers to teach pronunciation. Foreign Language Annals 40:342-360.

Olson, D. (2014a). Benefits of visual feedback on segmental production in the L2 classroom. Language Learning & Technology 18(3): 173-192.

Olson, D. (2014b). Phonetics and technology in the classroom: A practical approach to using speech analysis software in L2 pronunciation instruction. Hispania 97(1): 1-25.

Rodríguez-Sabater, S. (2005). Utilizing undergraduate peer teaching assistants in a speaking program in Spanish as a foreign language. Foreign Language Annals 38:533-538.

Rose, M. (2010). Intervocalic tap and trill production in the acquisition of Spanish as a second language. Studies in Hispanic & Lusophone Linguistics 3(2): 379-419.

Weech, A. (2009). Second language acquisition of the Spanish tap and trill in a contact learning environment. Unpublished M.A. Thesis, Brigham Young University.



October 18
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm


150 Pugh Hall