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Methods of investigating vowel interferences of French learners of German

Abstract : The French and German vowel inventories [Fougeron & Fougeron, 1999, Kohler, 1999] show many similarities, for instance, both have a series of front rounded vowels. Contrary to German, French has no vowel length contrast. Although specialized teaching materials for German consider the problem of vowel length/tenseness (e.g. [Hirschfeld, 2014; Hirschfeld et al., 2007]), it is still unclear how frequently vowel errors occur in L2 speech and which pairs of long-tense and short-lax vowels create the most serious difficulties for French learners of German. We present three methods to analyze the interference processes occurring in read speech of French learners of German (60 sentences, 50 subjects). First, we analyzed phone confusion matrices based on hand-labeled data. The most frequent confusions appear for two long-tense/short-lax distinctions. Second, in a perception study, German native speakers listened to words belonging to minimal pairs like Miete - Mitte ('rent-middle') differing in length/tenseness. Results indicate that, overall, short vowels were identified correctly less often (64\%) than long vowels (77\%), but with great inter-individual differences. Although most problems occur in the beginner group, every second advanced learner shows for short vowels an identification rate lower than chance, which means they were perceived as long by German native listeners. Finally, acoustic measurements of the minimal pair words revealed very different strategies: some speakers show a general tendency to lengthen and other speakers to shorten vowels. The results of these three investigations help to create a more detailed account of the transfer of vowel contrasts, extending prior research on vowel perception [Kingston, 2003; Flege & MacKay, 2004], with orthography as a possible source of interference. Furthermore, the results of the studies can be used to create individualized training and feedback for foreign language learners.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, November 23, 2016 - 12:50:47 PM
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Frank Zimmerer, Jürgen Trouvain, Anne Bonneau. Methods of investigating vowel interferences of French learners of German. New Sounds 2016, Jun 2016, Aarhus, Denmark. ⟨hal-01400005⟩

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