1. Research Question: In my dissertation, I ask the following question:
Can adult Japanese speakers of English produce English /l/ and /r/ with the aid of visual instruction?
2. Second Language Phonology, Contention and Consensus: The acquisition of second language productive phonology is seldom ever completely successful with adult learners. Most researchers contend that adult learners cannot achieve native-like phonology in their second language (L2), and attribute the failure, principally, to language transfer and age-dependent factors. For example, Scovel (1969, 1988) maintains that no adult ever achieves native-like pronunciation in a L2. Some researchers suggest that successful attainment of L2 phonology is extremely rare (Oyama, 1976; Flege & Fletcher, 1992; Fledge, Munro, & MacKay, 1995a; Young-Scholten, 1995). However, with individualized practice, there is evidence that the learners performance is improved (Hill, 1970; Neufeld, 1977; Archibald, 1992). These researchers argue that second language productive phonology is attainable regardless of the learners age and first language. They maintain that there are methods that can enhance the teaching of L2 pronunciation and that can help learners acquire native or near-native proficiency in pronunciation. My empirical study builds on this direction of instruction.
My study proposes to test the hypothesis that adult learners practicing L2 sounds, with the ability to see on a diagram articulatory movements (point and manner of articulation) and conscious modifications of their researcher-prompted output, will approximate closer the target sounds, with the result of more native-like production and a more rapid progress. The idea behind the proposal is that it isnt just practice of sounds that improves the productive phonology, but informed practice. Teachers may give feedback to the student, but my hypothesis is that instruction that can be seen and then the output that can be modified will work better. The hypothesis is based on the assumption that the acquisition of new L2 speech sounds by adult language learners is facilitated by visual instruction.
3. Justification for Examining This Area: While much work has been done in studying the acquisition of morphology and syntax, there is one area of second language acquisition that has been largely overlooked by researchers. While summarizing existing second language research, Schumann (1976) found absolutely no studies on second language phonology. The reason for the dearth of studies in the field of L2 phonology is the common belief that the learners phonological system does not provide useful insights into the nature of the second language acquisition process. To a large extent, this notion was based on the wrong assumption that all phonological errors were the result of direct transfer of the native language phonology to the interlanguage system in some uninteresting ways (Tarone, 1978). That is to say, the pronunciation of a second language was not significant for the field of second language research.
Unfortunately, this conviction is still prevalent among second language acquisition researchers, second language teachers, and second language students. As Jusczyk (1997) rightly points out, there are two reasons for this contention: a) Little is known about the development of speech perception and speech production; and b) Research on phonology (perception and production) makes relatively little contact with the rest of the research on language acquisition (p.1). In their study on teaching second language pronunciation, Krashen and Terrell (1983) concluded we do not place undue emphasis in early stages on perfection in the students pronunciation, but rather concentrate on providing a good model with large quantities of comprehensible input before production is attempted (p.89-91). Perhaps that is why those who put a great deal of emphasis on fluency in second language acquisition (the proponents of the proficiency movement) deemphasize teaching pronunciation in the classroom (Omaggio, 1986). After conducting a survey on various teaching methodologies that focused on communication, Terrell (1989) also confirmed that Communicative approaches likewise have not known what to do with pronunciation (p. 197).
One of the best explanations of why methodologists have ignored the teaching of pronunciation in second language classrooms comes from Hammond (1995) who attributes their lack of interest to three prinicipal reasons:
1. The teaching of pronunciation appeals only to learning and not to acquisition, and is therefore of no value in a system that is attempting to get students to acquire language.
2. The constant reference to correct pronunciation or to the correction of student pronunciation errors will inhibit students from speaking by raising their affective filters.
3. Since most second language instruction in the United States involves learners who have passed the so-called ideal age for language acquisition, these methodologists believe that adult students have already lost much of their innate capacity to acquire a nativelike pronunciation in a second language (p. 294).
Hammond (1995) goes on to argue that it would be misleading to presume that language learners only need to acquire the grammar system and vocabulary of a second language. It is equally essential that they acquire the rules of the second language phonology in order to be intelligible to native speakers of that language. He notes that it is crucially important to examine second language pronunciation acquisition because:
1. There is a relatively large body of phonetic research that shows adult language learners are
capable of perceiving, imitating, and learning fairly subtle and precise phonetic distinctions
present in target languages.
2. Phonologists have demonstrated that the acquisition of second language phonology is governed by universal properties of phonology.
3. We need to determine the significance of phonetic and phonological researchfor the acquisition of pronunciation in a second language.
4. We need to discover how this information can be incorporated into the theoretical framework of communicative teaching methodologies and into the actual classroom situation (p. 295).
Hammonds views on assessing the significance of second language acquisition in general and second language pronunciation acquisition in particular find support in Sharwood Smith (1995). Although Sharwood Smith (1995) does not discuss teaching second language pronunciation, his ideas comform to Hammonds argument that it is important to examine second language acquisition for pedagogical purposes. Sharwood Smith notes:
"Language learning is somehow different from other kinds of learning in that practice and explanation are not straightforwardly helpful and may sometimes be quite useless. Therefore, research must continue to experiment with different aspects of the language system to find out which technique works with which particular areas of the L2 system and why (p.1)."
Several other researchers stress that further research is needed to establish if there are, after all, special ways of sensitizing the learners to the target norms in such a way as to affect their own spontaneous performance in the language (White, 1991; Trahey and White, 1993; Trahey, 1992). For all of these reasons, it seems reasonable to test the hypothesis of my study and determine whether the proposed technique enables the learners to pronounce target sounds with relative ease and speed.
5. Future Work: My study opens up the possibility of developing techniques for pedagogical purposes. These techniques can be used for the different kinds of linguistic input enhancement used by language teachers. I believe that second language teachers need to get involved in this kind of research, because they may already be intuitively producing input enhancement, which is effective and interesting for theory building. In the future, I will examine the empirical evidence bearing on my hypothesis. On the methodological side, I will refine my method of visual instruction in order to facilitate successful acquisition of second language productive phonology.
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