Teaching and learning L2 pronunciation: Understanding the effectiveness of socially constructed metalanguage and critical listening in terms of a cognitive phonology framework

Couper, Graeme
Item type
Doctoral Thesis
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University of New England, Armidale, NSW

This thesis investigates the processes learners go through in learning the pronunciation of a second language, and how teachers can facilitate these processes. Its focus on the cognitive has led to the development of general teaching principles and the development of theory. It brings theory and practice together by using practice to inform theory and theory to re-inform practice. A broad multi-disciplinary approach has been taken, drawing on insights from phonology and L2 speech research, pronunciation pedagogy, and theoretical insights from SLA (Second Language Acquisition), socio-cultural theory and educational psychology, and bringing these together under a unifying theory of Cognitive phonology.

The empirical evidence to support both the theoretical and practical conclusions reached is provided through a progressive series of qualitative and quantitative studies. These studies all focus on difficulties in pronouncing syllable codas, i.e. epenthesis (the addition of a vowel) and absence (inappropriate omission of a consonant), in the context of adult high-intermediate level ESOL students resident in New Zealand.

The first study explores the effect of different techniques and learners' ways of understanding pronunciation, and establishes some of the groundwork required before critical variables can be isolated, defined and tested. The second study takes a group of just four students and closely observes how they form new phonological concepts. This leads to the isolation of variables for further investigation. Both of these studies find that significant progress is made and retained over time. The third study tests experimentally for the effect of two key variables isolated and defined in the second study: Socially Constructed Metalanguage (SCM) and Critical Listening (CL). This tightly controlled study finds both variables have a positive impact on pronunciation learning.

This thesis finds there is a role for form-focused instruction and corrective feedback in pronunciation learning. While this is in line with many views within SLA theory, it is only by turning to Cognitive Phonology that the necessary distinctions can be drawn between types of instruction in order to reveal what it is that makes explicit instruction effective. These theoretical insights are shown to have practical applications for the classroom.

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