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The Perception of Connected Speech and Reduced Forms by Tunisian EFL Learners

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saddem kasssmi

on 22 May 2014

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Transcript of The Perception of Connected Speech and Reduced Forms by Tunisian EFL Learners

The Perception of Connected Speech and Reduced Forms by Tunisian EFL Learners
Presented by: El Kassmi Wided
Supervisor: Dr. Nadia Bouchhioua

Rationale and Background

EFL learners often have trouble understanding language spoken at typical conversational rates by native speakers due to the phenomenon of connected speech which is characterized by the presence of accommodatory phonological processes known as reduced forms.

These forms cause considerable variation in the speech signal which may be misleading for the foreign learner.

Goh (2000) and Chen (2002) claim that the problem is twofold:
EFL learners "do not recognize words they know" while listening.
They seem "unable to segment speech".
Reduced forms have been neglected in both research and practice until quite recently.

The Tunisian context was not an exception and it would be fair to say that this is a relatively "unexplored" area.

Research Questions:
1. Does the presence of reduced forms in native speakers' speech negatively affect Tunisian students' listening comprehension?
2. Is there a correlation between the level of English proficiency and the ability to decipher native speakers' speech?
3. Is learners' listening comprehension affected by specific types of reduced forms rather than others?
4. Are teachers aware enough of the importance of reduced forms instruction to EFL students?
Literature Review
Connected speech, also commonly referred to as reduced speech or sandhi-variation, involves the contracted forms, elisions, assimilations and reductions used by native speakers in their oral speech.

Contraction: is a written manifestation of a small set of connected speech processes, which are often used in written dialogue to give a spoken flavor.
Examples include: "I'm", "don't", "she's", "they'll", etc.

Elision: the dropping out of a consonant or vowel, usually at the end of a syllable. The most common sounds that occur in elision are /t/ and /d/.
For example, "a thousand people" often becomes "a thousan' people"
and "last week" becomes "las' week".

Assimilation: refers to adjacent or nearby consonants blending together or changing to resemble each other, as in "did you" becoming "did ju" and "nice shot" becoming "ni ' (s) shot".

Reduction: is the dropping out of strong vowels when a syllable is given weak stress, as in "I can go" becoming "I kin go" and "you know" becoming "ya know".

Connected speech features reinforce the regularity of English rhythm and help preserve its stress-timed nature.
Is connected speech casual ?
Some researchers classify connected speech as something that occurs in "fast", "informal", "relaxed" and "casual" speech.
See for example, Henrichsen, 1984;
Hill & Beebe, 1980; Norris, 1995;
Rogerson,2006; Weinstein, 2001.
Others characterize connected speech as "naturally occurring talk" or "real" spoken English.
See for example, Avery & Ehrlich, 1992;
Brown & Hilferty, 1989; Richards, 1983.

Kaisse (1985)
argues that connected speech and reduced forms are neither casual, nor due to the rate of speech.

Rogerson (2006)
states that:
Connected speech is found in all registers and all rates of speech; it is characteristic of natural spoken English.
Register and rate may contribute to some rules of appropriateness or production.
However, in general, reduced forms affect all areas and all types of spoken English.
Reduced forms have been identified as a major listening difficulty for EFL learners
(Henrichsen, 1984; Ito 2001).

Direct/explicit instruction of reduced forms was suggested to help overcome such obstacles (Brown & Hilferty, 1986; Matsuzawa, 2006; Norris, 1995).
Research Hypotheses
Hypothesis 1

The presence of reduced forms is expected to negatively affect students' listening comprehension. There would be no significant difference between presence and absence scores for native speakers in a dictation test on reduced forms, but for EFL learners there would be a significant difference.

Hypothesis 2
The effect of reduced forms on learners' listening comprehension is likely to vary according to their level of proficiency. Listeners with greater knowledge (i.e., with higher level of proficiency) are expected to use their knowledge of the language to compensate for the loss or reduced saliency of portions of the input created by reduced forms, but listeners with lesser knowledge would not be able to do so.
Hypothesis 3
Learners' listening comprehension will be affected by specific types of reduced forms.
Lexical forms which are not derived from phonological rules, but tend to be memorized as individual units, would be less difficult to comprehend than phonological forms which are rule-based.
Overall design of the experiment
The present study is divided into two parts:
The first part: covers the first 3 hypotheses and it is tested using a dictation test (seperate spoken sentences + a song).
The second part: devoted to investigate the fourth and last research question using a survey questionnaire adapted from Rosa (2002).

The dictation test: conducted with 3 different groups at 3 distinct English proficiency levels:

1 group of native speakers (NS)
1 group of non-native speakers (NNS)-upper level
(University students)
1 group of non-native speakers (NNS)-lower level (Sesondary school students)
The questionnaire:
conducted with 23 teachers at 4 different institutions (2 universities and 2 secondary schools).
Main findings
The dictation test:
The results of the dictation test can be summarized in 3 major points:

The results of this study support Ito' s (2001) assumption that reduced forms have a negative influence on EFL learners' listening comprehension.
According to the ANOVA results, non-native speakers scored significantly higher in the absence of reduced forms than in their presence, while native speakers scored identically on both conditions.
The effect of reduced forms on learners' listening comprehension varied according to their level of language proficiency.

This was revealed through a statistically significant interaction effect between presence of reduced forms and proficiency level.

Reduced forms' presence affected low proficiency learners more than high proficiency learners. Although presence/absence score differences were significant for both high and low level EFL learners, a bigger gap was found in the low-level group.
Non-native speakers scored significantly lower on phonological forms than on lexical forms, indicating that different types of reduced forms did distinctly affect listening comprehension.

A high correlation was found between the score on presence of reduced forms and the phonological score for non-native speakers.

Phonological reduced forms are the key factor that determines the performance in the dictation test.

Based on this vital conclusion, we can assume that EFL students have less difficulty in lexical reduced forms, i.e., contractions, perhaps because contractions are memorized as individual entities and EFL learners are fairly familiar with them.

Other phonological reduced forms such as assimilation or elision are the real difficulties that students encounter when trying to comprehend connected speech.
Hence, the majority of teachers ( 78 %) called for more emphasis on this important and integral element of learners' listening comprehension for listening pedagogy in Tunisia (Figure 5):

Results of the survey questionnaire
In general, teachers seem to be aware of the hindering effect of reduced forms on learners' listening comprehension and the importance of formal instruction in helping students grasp these forms and cope with natural conversational speech.

Although the overwhelming majority of respondents (73.91 %) indicated having experience teaching reduced forms, only 13.04 % reported teaching reduced forms as a system of linguistic and pragmatic constraints and 17.39 % had directly addressed reduced forms in their classes.

Rather, instructors tend to teach reduced forms in context, using common examples.
Actually, a good number of participants in this survey (21.73 %) picked up reduced forms from movies, songs or any other informal means.

The vast majority of teachers (73.91 %) defined reduced forms as occurring in casual and informal speech (Figure 3):

The challenges teachers face in the process of reduced forms' instruction or those that prevent them from teaching reduced forms to their students centered around:

Absence of reduced forms from the curriculum.
Lack of materials.
Lack of specific training.

The context of connected speech teaching is not well developed.

This research has made evident that reduced forms represent one of the major listening difficulties for Tunisian EFL learners.
Most findings on the survey questionnaire which aimed to unveil teachers' attitudes and opinions regarding reduced forms' instruction have echoed considerable awareness on the part of teachers about the importance of reduced forms instruction to EFL students.
What is missing,indeed, is some specific training for teachers on the role of reduced forms in spoken English, in accordance with the integration of reduced forms in curricula as well as providing materials that would equip both students and teachers with a more systematic knowledge on the reduced forms phenomenon.
The immediate implication of the results of this study is the need to raise students' awareness of reduced forms.

This could be achieved by teachers and researchers
taking a closer look at authentic language and improving
the exposure and understanding of real-life spoken
English for their students.
Thank You
Any questions ?
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