The use of ultrasound in teaching non-native speech sounds



  Kevin Roon
  PEP Lab
  Department of Linguistics, New York University


(Updated 1/29/12)
How is an adult language learner supposed to figure out how to produce speech sounds of a language that are not produced in his/her native language? The technologically simple—and therefore most common—approach is for the learner to listen to pronunciations of a native speaker and to try to figure out how to produce those sounds based on how well the acoustics he/she produces match the native speaker. The learner can also rely on proprioceptive feedback, provided specific information on articulation is provided to the learner, but this introspection is very difficult for many people.

Ultrasound can prove useful in learning as it provides visual feedback of tongue movements real-time during speech production. The workshop will focus on how this visual feedback can help overcome two types of problems encountered by learners of Spanish and Portuguese:

1)                  Articulation of speech sounds that simply do not exist in the learner’s native language, for example

-         Spanish trilled /r/

-         the high, back, unrounded Portuguese vowel

-         production of the Spanish fricative /x/

2)                  Getting rid of articulatory “baggage” that the learner’s native phonology brings to the language being learned:

-         producing vowels like /e/ without the off-glide that is obligatory in English

-         producing Portuguese nasal vowels without any following coronal “n”-gesture

Grateful acknowledgement is given to the USC School of Medicine Ultrasound Institute for the use of ultrasound devices during this event. 

Suggested readings:
Gick, Bryan, Barbara May Bernhardt, Penelope Bacsfalvi, & Ian Wilson. (2008) Ultrasound imaging applications in second language acquisition. In (eds.) Edwards, Jette G. Hansen & Zampini, Mary L. Phonology and Second Language Acquisition. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 309-322. Link to pdf below.