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Improving L2 Listeners’ Perception of English Vowels: A Computer-Mediated Approach


  • This study was funded in part by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. An earlier version of this work was presented at the 2009 annual conference of the American Association for Applied Linguistics in Denver, Colorado. The author thanks Terrance Nearey for his contribution in developing the computer application used in this study, and for his substantial feedback on earlier versions of this work. In addition, Tracey Derwing provided lab resources and assistance collecting the native speaker training stimuli, as well as feedback on earlier drafts. Many thanks are due to the staff of NorQuest College, and the learners who participated in this study. Finally, I am grateful for feedback from three anonymous reviewers.

Ron I. Thomson, Department of Applied Linguistics, Brock University, 500 Glenridge Ave, St. Catharines, ON, L2S 3A1, Canada. Internet:


A high variability phonetic training technique was employed to train 26 Mandarin speakers to better perceive ten English vowels. In eight short training sessions, learners identified 200 English vowel tokens, produced in a post bilabial stop context by 20 native speakers. Learners’ ability to identify English vowels significantly improved in the training context and in one novel phonetic context. Training did not transfer to a third phonetic context. A delayed posttest indicated that improvement was maintained for one month after training was completed, although in the absence of training, no further improvement was found. Learners’ scalar judgments regarding the certainty of their choices on identification tests indicated a significant increase in confidence after training.