Theses Doctoral

An exploratory study of foreign accent and phonological awareness in Korean learners of English

Park, Mi Sun

Communication in a second or multiple languages has become essential in the globalized world. However, acquiring a second language (L2) after a critical period is universally acknowledged to be challenging (Lenneberg, 1967). Late learners hardly reach a nativelike level in L2, particularly in its pronunciation, and their incomplete phonological acquisition is manifested by a foreign accent—a common and persistent feature of otherwise fluent L2 speech. Although foreign-accented speech is widespread, it has been a target of social constraints in L2-speaking communities, causing many learners and instructors to seek out ways to reduce foreign accents. Accordingly, research in L2 speech has unceasingly examined various learner-external and learner-internal factors of the occurrence of foreign accents as well as nonnative speech characteristics underlying the judgment of the degree of foreign accents. The current study aimed to expand the understanding of the characteristics and judgments of foreign accents by investigating phonological awareness, a construct pertinent to learners’ phonological knowledge, which has received little attention in research on foreign accents.
The current study was exploratory and non-experimental research that targeted 40 adults with Korean-accented English living in the United States. The study first examined how 23 raters speaking American English as their native language detect, perceive, describe, and rate Korean-accented English. Through qualitative and quantitative analyses of the accent perception data, the study identified various phonological and phonetic deviations from the nativelike sounds, which largely result from the influence of first language (Korean) on L2 (English). The study then probed the relationship between foreign accents and learners’ awareness of the phonological system of L2, which was measured using production, perception, and verbalization tasks that tapped into the knowledge of L2 phonology. The study found a significant inverse relationship between the degree of a foreign accent and phonological awareness, particularly implicit knowledge of L2 segmentals. Further in-depth analyses revealed that explicit knowledge of L2 phonology alone was not sufficient for targetlike pronunciation. Findings suggest that L2 speakers experience varying degrees of difficulty in perceiving and producing different L2 segmentals, possibly resulting in foreign-accented speech.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Arts and Humanities
Thesis Advisors
Han, ZhaoHong
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
August 26, 2019