Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sing first: listen later: Noticing new or different sounds in L2 pronunciation learning

Here's one for all of us who make extensive use of singing in class. (Here is yet another case where experienced practitioners know it works from experience but have been just waiting for research to catch up and tell them why!) Research by McLachlan, Marco,  Light and Wilson at Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, summarized, as usual, by Science Daily . . . notes the following:
Clip art: 
 "What we found was that people needed to be familiar with sounds created by combinations of notes before they could hear the individual notes. If they couldn't find the notes they found the sound dissonant or unpleasant . . . This finding overturns centuries of theories that physical properties of the ear determine what we find appealing."
In other words, at some very basic level, appreciation of a style of music is learned. The "notes" in the study had to be first encountered in relation to others in the system before they could be identified or appreciated. Singing in language instruction--and probably to a lesser degree, listening comprehension techniques with pronunciation-- certainly serve that function. This is an important study, one with very interesting potential ramifications for our work. I will try to get the full research report and report back . . ..

Notice: Here is my annual apology for using sometimes less than reliable or politically neutral  secondary sources, such as Science Daily or The New York Times or research abstracts from studies that receive  public support but publish in journals that you can't access with out being a member of "The Guild" or can't afford to pay $32 per article for (or wouldn't just on ethical grounds if you did have the spare change lying around): Sorry about that. (There. Done.)

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