L1 phonological transfer and L2 phonological awareness in L2 acquisition:The replacement of the syllable-initial /n-/ by /l-/ in English by Hong Kong studentsCecilia Yuet Hung ChanCity University of Hong Kongctcyhc@cityu.edu.hkResearch supported by CityU SRG Grant (7001657) and CERG Grant (CityU 1438/05H) The 5th CELE international conference on ELT, organised by China English Language Education Association, 16-20 May 2007, at Foreign language research conference centre, Peking
Background of the research 1.1 Psycholinguistic Approach to the studies on L2 interlanguage • The variations of psycholinguistic context are associated with the variations of learners’ attention to language form or propositional content, and with the availability of planning time (Ochs 1984,Tarone 1982,1983,Hulstjin and Hultstjin 1984, Ellis 1987, Crookes 1989) .
1.2. Language Awareness • Language awareness is generally defined as learners’ knowledge about language and their reflections on language. • In L2 acquisition studies, language awareness is commonly equated with language consciousness (c.f. Schmidt 1990). It has been recognised that there are various degrees or levels of awareness. • Schmidt (1990) summarises three crucial levels: (1) perception, including conscious and subliminal perception, (2) noticing (or focal awareness) and (3) understanding, which are from a low to high order.
L2 acquisition and applied linguistics studies focus on examining the roles of conscious and unconscious processes in second language learning, and investigating the models and methods of consciousness-raising for facilitating language learning.
1.3 Previous studies on the the merging of /n-/ with /l-/ in Hong Kong English • The phonological variation of /n-/ and /l-/ was closely investigated in Hung (2000, 2002) and Au (2002). These studies suggested the replacement of /n-/ by /l-/ in English by Hong Kong students is influenced by non-distinction of /n-/ and /l-/ in their mother tongue, Cantonese.
2. Aims of the study The study aims to investigate whether: • L1 interference in respect of the replacement of /n-/ by /l-/ in L2 English more likely occurs in the language group with lower English proficiency; (2) Whether L1 interference varies in different contexts which require different amount of attention to pronunciation, and raise different degrees of phonological awareness; (3) There is an interaction between L1 phonological transfer and L2 phonological awareness.
3. Research Methods 3.1 Participants All participants were Cantonese speakers. Three groups of participants: (1) Elementary English learners 22 primary school students, aged 10-12 Eleven females, Eleven males (2) Intermediate English learners 22 secondary school students, aged 16-18 Eleven females, Eleven males (3) Post-intermediate English learners 22 university students, aged 20-22 Eleven females, eleven males
3.2. Elicitation Tasks 3.2.1. Six spoken tasks • Conversation in pairs Two students in the same age group formed a pair. All of them knew each other. • Ten questions were given to them. They took turns to ask questions and give responses to their partner’s answers. They could also talk about something else they were interested in. • Each pair was given 20 minutes for conversation.
(2) Informal interview • Each subject was interviewed by the investigator in a casual way. • Ten questions were asked by the investigator. • Each interview lasted about 20 minutes. (3) Passage reading One English passage including a number of words with initial /n-/ and /l-/ was designed. • Students read the passages at their own pace.
(4) Word reading There were 51 words in the word list. The /n-/ initial was in the 1st, 2nd , 3rd or 4th syllable of the word. For example: number, nation morning, penny questioning, cleverness unhappiness, examination
(5) Minimal pair reading There were 21 minimal pairs with initial /n-/ and /l-/, and with nasal/ non-nasal coda. nine/ line name/ lame net/ let no/ low
(6) Minimal pair repetition The minimal pair list for Task 5 was used. Participants listened to the model pronunciation of each minimal pair and then read it aloud.
3.2.2. Structured Interviews The interview aims to know: (1) Whether the participants learnt to make a distinction between /n-/ and /l-/ in English lessons at school; (2) Whether and when they are aware of making a distinction between /n-/ and /l-/ when they do the spoken tasks.
3.3. Administration procedure • Each participant completed all the tasks in one day. All informants did the six task types in the following sequence: (1) Conversation in pairs (2) Informal interview (3) Passage reading (4) Word reading (5) Minimal pair reading (6) Minimal pair repetition
All tasks done by the students were recorded. • Each participant was interviewed by the investigator or the research assistant after the completion of all the spoken tasks.
3.4. Methods of data transcription and analysis • The data were transcribed by ear by three trained research assistants and then checked by the investigator and a phonetician. Spectrographic analysis was done when the acoustic properties of /n-/ and /l-/ produced by the students are difficult to identify. • In a few cases, the initial /n-/ and /l-/ was not clearly pronounced. Those data were not included in the analysis.
4. Results and Discussion 4.1. Comparison of the performance of three subject groups • The results shown in Table 1 indicate that the elementary group pronounced English words with /n-/ less accurately than the intermediate and post-intermediate groups. The intermediate and post-intermediate groups performed quite similarly in most of the tasks.
L1 interference in terms of the replacement of /n-/ by /l-/ was more evident in the elementary group than the intermediate and post-intermediate groups. • Compared with elementary learners, intermediate and post-intermediate learners may have better perceptual ability in distinguishing /n-/ and /l-/, and therefore were able to do better in minimal pair repetition.
4.2. Learners’ performance in different tasks • As shown in Table 1, in the two causal conversational tasks (i.e. conversation in pairs and informal interview) which required students to attend more to informational content than to accurate pronunciation, a low percentage of /n-/ words were accurately pronounced, and a high percentage of /n-/ words was replaced by /l-/.
The other four reading tasks of careful and formal styles do not require students to construct the speech content, but only pay attention to pronunciation. The accuracy of pronunciation of /n-/ words increased sharply. • The interference from the L1 in respect of the replacement of /n-/ by /l-/ in the careful reading tasks was not as evident as in the causal conversational tasks.
4.3 Learners’ awareness of the distinction between /n-/ and /l-/ • The results of the structured interviews show that about half of the participants had incidental/ planned learning of making a distinction between /n-/ and /l-/ in English lessons. • 15% of participants in intermediate and post-intermediate groups ( but none in the elementary group) were aware of making a distinction between /n-/ and /l-/ in spontaneous speech.
About 20%, 35% and 45% of participants in each group started to be aware of making a distinction between /n-/ and /l-/ when doing passage reading, word reading and minimal reading tasks respectively. • The awareness of making a distinction between /n-/ and /l-/ was lowest in spontaneous speech (i.e. conversation and interviews), and highest in minimal reading tasks.
No matter which proficiency group the learners belonged to, they were less likely to be interfered by their L1 when their phonological awareness of making a distinction between /n-/ and /l-/ was increasingly raised. • Systematic variation of the merging of /n-/ with /l-/ appears in different psycholinguistic contexts which require different amount of attention to pronunciation in speech, and raise different degrees of awareness of the distinction between /n-/ and /l-/.
5. Conclusion • L1 interference in respect of the replacement of /n-/ by /l-/ more likely occurs in the elementary group than the intermediate and post-intermediate groups. • The degree of L1 interference varies in different psycholinguistic contexts which require different amount of attention to pronunciation, and raise different degrees of phonological awareness.
There is an interaction between L1 phonological transfer and L2 phonological awareness. When phonological awareness in L2 is increasingly raised, L1 phonological interference less likely appears. • The findings of this study highlight the importance of early development of phonological awareness in L2 acquisition.
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