Tuesday, July 14, 2015

/i/ or /ɪ/: Perception to Production

Nice piece of research by Lee and Lyster (Lee and Lyster, 2015 - Full citation below) demonstrating the impact of feedback on "instructed" L2 speech perception. (Hat tip to Michael Burri for pointing me at it!) In a simulated-classroom setting, native Korean language students significantly improved their ability to perceive the distinction between /i/ and /I/ in English. The full article is worth the read. Just a couple of caveats before we talk about what that might mean for teaching in the classroom:
  • The title is a bit deceptive, as the authors note: " . . . our use of simulated classrooms in this study begs the question as to whether such intense instruction would be feasible in a regular classroom curriculum and whether the results would be similar."
  • The tasks are, indeed,  excellent and well controlled--but give almost any competent pronunciation teacher about 6+ hours of classroom time with a homogenous group to work on just that single contrast and see what happens. (I may try to do that, in fact!) 
That does not diminish the importance of the study. The point is that with focused instruction, perception of vowel contrast can be radically improved--and by implication, production also. The question is, how can we begin to approximate that effect in the classroom? (If you are a regular reader of the blog, I'm sure you can see what is coming!)

Photo credit: EHIEP, v4.0 logo
Anna Shaw
Dealing with that /i/-/I/ distinction in North American English (as opposed to British or Australian) is one of the most straight-forward and effective features of the EHIEP (Essential, haptic-integrated English Pronunciation) system. Rather than taking about 5 hours to set things up (and in Lee and Lyster, 2015 there is no long-term follow up on the effect of the study), the EHIEP method, were it to focus only on that contrastive pair, would in toto run less than 1 hour initially and then be integrated into general classroom instruction from there on. 

Without going into all the details here (detailed in AHEPS v3.0 and coming this fall, v4.0), check out the free demos: lax/rough vowels, tense/double vowels and/or our 2012 conference write up, citation below), the procedure is basically:
  • Introduce the EHIEP lax and tense vowel pedagogical movement patterns, either with the video (about 15 minutes each) or do it in person.
  • Practice just those two vowels in word lists and in context in class: about 30 minutes
  • Begin providing both modelling and corrective, in context feedback in class regularly.
  • Watch how the contrast shows up in student spontaneous production
I realize that sounds far too simple and obvious to be effective. Great classroom techniques are often like that! We now have over a decade of experience using that basic procedure. Given Lee and Lyster (2015), a classroom-based study using the EHIEP framework, and integrating some of those tasks, especially the Bingo and card sort techniques, seems very possible. Before we get to that, try it yourself and let us know. 

Full citations:

Acton, W., Baker, A., Burri, M., Teaman, B. (2013). Preliminaries to haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction. In J. Levis, K. LeVelle (Eds.). Proceedings of the 4th Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference,Aug. 2012. (pp. 234-244). Ames, IA: Iowa State University.

Lee, A. H., & Lyster, R. (2015). The effects of corrective feedback on instructed L2 speech perception. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 38. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0272263115000194.

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