Attention Control and the Effects of Online Training in Improving Connected Speech Perception by Learners of English as a Second Language
Committee Members: Eric Holt (Co-Director), Mila Tasseva-Kurktchieva (Co-Director), Amit Almor, James Dean Brown, Isabelle Darcy
One of the aspects of L2 English phonology which poses a challenge for L2 learners is learning how to decode the language, especially as spoken by native speakers. This difficulty may be due to the way the native speakers speak by ‘draw[ing] [the sounds] together’ (Clarey & Dixson, 1963), which results in realization of consonants and vowels differently than when uttered in isolation. This process is referred to as connected speech (e.g., pronouncing ‘want to’ as [w&agr;n[special character omitted]], and ‘going to’ as [g[special character omitted]n[special character omitted]]). The challenge in teaching and learning these forms is that they lack perceptual saliency, requiring extra attentional resources for learners to be able to recognize these forms in spoken language. Therefore, a better understanding of the role of attention in learning these forms is needed. While some studies find a relationship between attention control as a cognitive ability and L2 phonological processing (Darcy, Mora & Daidone, 2014; Safronova & Mora, 2012a), other studies have failed to confirm the existence of such a relationship (Darcy, Park & Yang, 2015). More importantly, to date, no study has examined attention control as it relates to L2 phonological gains, especially in learning a phonological aspect of L2 English other than individual segments as the target linguistic item. Therefore, the present study aimed to explore the effects of training in improving the connected speech perception of L2 learners as well as the relationship between attention control and learners’ improvement in connected speech perception.
To do this, English as a Second Language learners, who were assigned to an experimental (n = 33) or a control group (n = 25), took a two-option forced-choice, pre- and post-test. The experimental group received online training on word-boundary palatalization as a connected speech phenomenon for three weeks while the control group did not. Word-boundary palatalization occurs in the transformation of [to[special character omitted]ld ju]∼ [to[special character omitted]ld[special characters omitted]] ‘told you’ or [want ju]~[want[special characters omitted]] ‘want you’. To measure attention control, all students were given a Speech-Based Attention Switching Task (Darcy, Mora & Daidone, 2014; Darcy & Mora, in press; Mora and Darcy, in press) and an Attention Network Test (ANT) (Fan, McCandliss, Sommer, Raz & Posner, 2002).
The findings reveal that learners both in the control and experimental groups improved their scores on the post-test; however, the improvement in the scores of the experimental group was significantly higher than those of the control group (p =.007). Furthermore, correlation analyses showed a significant negative correlation between the post-test scores and attention control, and the gain scores and attention control as measured by the Speech-Based Attention Control Task (p =.002 and p =.008, respectively) and the conflict effect of the Attention Network Test (p =.004 and p =.032, respectively). Additionally, overlapping results between the two attention control tasks were also found as revealed by the significant correlation between the shift-cost and conflict effect measures (p =.009).
Overall, the results indicated that L2 learners benefit from online training in improving performance scores on a perception test of word-boundary palatalization, which is promising for further studies of connected speech teaching and learning. The findings also reveal a significant relationship between learners’ attention control and phonological learning, which shows the crucial role attention control plays in learning connected speech.