The Role of Phonological Awareness in Language Learning

Authored by: Tracey M. Derwing

The Routledge Handbook of Language Awareness

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  November  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138937048
eBook ISBN: 9781315676494
Adobe ISBN:


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Under ordinary circumstances, the goal for a speaker in any interaction is to be understood by the person to whom they are talking. For second language (L2) speakers, the first utterance in any given exchange is crucial, because it determines how listeners will react – will they understand and respond appropriately, will they switch to the speaker’s first language (L1), perceiving challenges with the L2 speaker’s productions, or will they simply not comprehend at all? To produce an utterance successfully, language learners must have intelligible pronunciation, i.e. the listener must understand exactly the message intended by the speaker, and furthermore, they should be comprehensible, or easy to understand. (It is possible to be both intelligible and difficult to understand.) This means not only having an adequate knowledge of vocabulary in the L2, and a reasonable grasp of grammar, but also relatively good control of the phonology or sound system of the L2. Thus, it is critical that L2 learners adapt their pronunciation of their new language so that they can be easily understood, despite the influence of the phonology of their L1, that is, their ‘foreign accent’. How an individual pronounces the L2 not only determines (in part) the comprehensibility of their speech, but it also reflects on the identity of the speaker, which makes the phonology of L2 speech doubly important (Derwing and Munro, 2009). However, phonological awareness in the L2, a factor which is essential to comprehensible pronunciation, varies tremendously across learners.

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