Raising our second/foreign language learners' metacognitive
awareness of their vocal tract control mechanisms at play during speaking performance
Hellenic Open University, Athens, Greece
The paper discusses the pedagogic function of meta-awareness
of certain linguistic and paralinguistic features in the second/foreign language
(S/FL) teaching framework with respect to speaking performance (for parallel,
but not identical, approaches, cf. Clennell (1999), Jones & Evans (1995),
Pennington (1989); also, cf. Schmidt (1990) for a review of the role of
consciousness in second language acquisition) . It focuses on the extent
to which S/FL learners speaking performance is potentially enhanced as a result
of raising their awareness of a number of cognitively (but not necessarily consciously)
controlled vocal tract parameters. It is claimed that the vocal tract
mechanism forms an extremely intricate front-end infrastructure whose intrinsic
variables are fixed at a very early (or critical) age to cope with the phonological
constraints of L1 (James 1988). Once these variables are fixed, the host
mechanism forms an independent unit (or module) and is largely (and conveniently)
operated on from the outside: it serves in encoding the abstract phonological
message into articulatorily and aerodynamically permissible gestures (Browman
& Goldstein 1992). It follows that control of the vocal tract mechanism
during L1 performance is gross and seemingly automatic. It is when one
has to use the same mechanism to cope with the constraints of a S/FL phonology
that the internal vocal tract variables have to be directly, or dynamically,
controlled and finely tuned (Sifakis 1995). It is suggested that raising
learners meta-cognitive awareness of the dynamic state of their front-end infrastructure
in L1 (through repetitive laboratory measurements of their speech and subsequent
discussion of the results) can have positive effects in L2 performance.
Learners are first made aware of the way their vocal tract is conditioned for
L1; they can then practise changing the parameters, as it were, to account
for L2 segmental and suprasegmental speech features (from controlling production
of individual phonemes to co-articulating 'properly' in the target language
to applying the appropriate pitch contours in questions, etc. - cf. Esling &
Wong (1983) and Neufield & Schneiderman 1980, for reviews). The paper
ends with discussing methodological implications for the S/FL classroom, in
the form of suggestions for getting learners to acquire and practise the skills
and strategies (Field 1998) necessary for achieving precision in L2 speaking.
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PhD thesis, University of Essex, Dpt of Language and Linguistics.