October 23, 2013, by khyx2lyn

Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) – Spoken English Discrimination Training

Continuing from last week’s blog post on the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, here is an entry from Christine Leong. The title of her talk was “Do You Hear This? Or Do You Hear That? : Spoken English Discrimination Training.”

What? Did you just say pet a pet? Or did you just say pat a pet?

In today’s world, there are many people who speak more than 1 language. However, there are several disadvantages of being a bilingual – having a poorer vocabulary library, native accent, poorer understanding of speech when the surrounding environment is noisy or even when one is chatting on the phone. Non-native speakers were also found to have difficulty in discriminating similar sounds that they were not trained to discriminate in their first language. For example, the similar English sound /e/ from pet, and sound /a/ from pat. If non-native speakers do not start off with the same baseline condition as other native speakers, how could they learn and use that particular language as fluent as other native speakers and further compete with them?

Previous studies have shown how training could improve non-native speakers’ underlying listening sensitivity, by exposing them to the target language sounds. My research work is to find out what kind of training can result in a significant long-term improvement in our underlying listening sensitivity to unfamiliar sounds.

Participants were to go through 3 days of training phase, where two spoken English words were played over a headphone. Then, participants were asked to distinguish the two words they just heard. Visual feedback was given on the computer screen to each response made. Each training session took about 15 minutes per day. The whole training was held against a babbling kind of background noise because non-native speakers usually have more trouble in perceiving speech when noise is present.

As for the results, most of the participants made 10%-20% less mistakes in discriminating similar English words after three days of 15 minutes training.  The training program is indeed effective, in terms of refining one’s ability to detect unnoticeable tiny sound difference in non-native language. This listening training program would be very useful in educational field. To apply this training program to other language learning, the training program could be further modified to incorporate sounds from other languages. It improves non-native speakers’ unfavourable disadvantage in perceiving non-native sounds and further allow them to adopt the proper pronunciation of the new languages. Now, you can casually sit back at home and spend as short as 15 minutes per day, to improve your listening proficiency!

Christine Leong,
(PhD Student, School of Psychology, UNMC)

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