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Title:The impact of self-reflection and integrated pronunciation instruction on the intelligibility of Generation Z learners of French: A mixed methods study
Author(s):Meritan, Camille Anne Sarah
Director of Research:Mroz, Aurore
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Mroz, Aurore
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Fagyal, Zsuzsanna; Bowles, Melissa; Yan, Xun
Department / Program:French and Italian
Discipline:French
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree:Ph.D.
Genre:Dissertation
Subject(s):French
pronunciation
self-reflection
intelligibility
Abstract:Research in second language (L2) teaching and learning has shown that very early in the learning process, developing intelligible pronunciation is a paramount goal for students. This becomes clear in the way they describe their wish to communicate successfully with others (Hoyt-Oukada, 2003; Huensch & Thompson, 2017). Yet, in 2018, Ranta and Lyster showed that learners were rarely ready to be understood by native speakers due to lack of linguistic accuracy, including pronunciation. Indeed, with increasing constraints, like overcrowded curricula (Darcy, 2018; Gordon, Darcy & Ewert, 2013; Sicola & Darcy, 2015), it has been logistically difficult for foreign language (FL) instructors and administrators to attend to their students’ pronunciation individually and formatively. Yet, aiming for our students to achieve successful communication through intelligible speech is a realistic and attainable goal that can be addressed by research-based, innovative teaching methods. However, our current method of teaching foreign languages, the communicative method, tends to focus on whether students can understand, but not on whether they can be understood by native speakers unaccustomed to dealing with language learners. This is not a question of accent per se — some people have very strong accents, but are relatively easy to understand, and the converse is true as well. Students, thus, may display low levels of linguistic accuracy resulting in limited intelligibility (Ranta & Lyster, 2018). Ranta and Lyster (2018) thus argued for the re-integration of some form-focused instruction specific to pronunciation in the foreign language classroom and curriculum [by which learners are guided to pay attention to linguistic form in their pronunciation]. Indeed, explicit pronunciation instruction has been shown to foster intelligibility raising learners’ awareness to the sounds of the language (Derwing, 2018; Kennedy & Trofimovich, 2010). Yet, according to Sturm (2019), no study has “addressed the way in which learners’ pronunciation improves over […] the courses that students need to […] fulfill most university language requirements” (pp. 35-36). This study aimed at addressing these pressing issues and at filling this research gap by longitudinally tracking students of French as a foreign language over the course of four semesters, as they advance in their foreign language requirement sequence. This research investigated the students’ learning process and outcomes related to their pronunciation. More generally, because of its innovative mixed methods design -merging quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis - this study also advances research methodology in the field of Second Language Acquisition Teacher Education (SLATE). The study built on research in foreign language teaching and learning methods, theories of L2 phonological acquisition and pronunciation assessment, as well as awareness theories. It was based on Levis’s (2005) Intelligibility principle, which promotes a more efficient and egalitarian approach to pronunciation teaching and learning. This thesis argues that reaching intelligibility should be a primary learning goal in the FL requirement classroom, and that learners should be able to be understood by native speakers unaccustomed to L2 learners even if an accent is retained. This dissertation comprised two phases: first, a pilot study intended to test the research instruments, explore the use of self-evaluation for pronunciation purposes on intermediate learners, establish whether learners were able to self-assess reliably, and investigate if self-evaluations could help learners perceive and produce three phonological features of French. Second, based on the limitations from the pilot study, a four-semester-long experimental mixed-methods study on Generation Z French learners (born after 1995) was designed and implemented with the goal to examine whether and how self-reflection could complement integrated explicit instruction and support the development of perception and intelligible production of the two contrastive oral vowels /y/ and /u/, and liaisons. These two features were considered critical for intelligibility in French. Indeed, differentiating between the vowels /y/ and /u/ is crucial for many semantic contrasts (e.g., rousse = redhead / russe = Russian) (Violin-Wigent & Ruellot, 2018), while producing appropriate liaisons - a high-frequency phenomenon consisting in linking words together that appear every ten words on average (Adda-Decker, Fougeron, Gendrot, Delais-Roussarie, & Lamel, 2012) - is also important for both semantic and syntactic contrasts (e.g., ils ont = they have vs. ils sont = they are). Results on perception tests and pre/post read-aloud production tests surrounding spelling-to-sound pronunciation lessons were compared between a Treatment group – exposed to instruction combined with self-reflection – a comparison group – only exposed to instruction– and a control group – exposed to neither instruction nor self-reflection. Moreover, responses by students from the Treatment group to open-ended self-reflection questionnaires were explored to document their learning process based on an Awareness Continuum theory positing a relationship between attention, noticing, introspection and understanding, and their influence on L2 pronunciation learning. Findings revealed that overall self-reflection combined with explicit instruction led to better learning outcomes and production gains when compared to explicit instruction alone and to oral natural input particularly in the first two semesters of the FL requirement sequence. This demonstrates that self-reflection is critical at the onset of learning a language for stable acquisition of intelligible pronunciation. The study concluded that a link between attention  critical to Generation Z as they only have 8 seconds to decide what is worth their attention (Egnatz, 2018) and understanding may exist, but when this link is absent, learners using self-reflection may not linearly progress with their pronunciation. finally, pedagogical implications are drawn on how to attend to French learners’ pronunciation in the FL requirement classroom in an individual and formative manner.
Issue Date:2020-04-29
Type:Thesis
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/2142/108268
Rights Information:Copyright 2020 Camille Meritan
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-08-27
Date Deposited:2020-05


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