Investigating the eye-voice relationship for intonation training: A two-part eye-tracking study

Project: Research project

Project Details


The aim of this project is to examine how far the eye-voice relationship influences the quality of intonation in reading aloud.

One major goal of intonation teaching by pronunciation teachers is to help learners achieve better intonation (the use of pitch). Several studies have demonstrated (a) that reading aloud is not a simple matter of uttering sounds, but rather the visual apprehension of printed letter strings and their conversion into sounds; (b) that even in silent reading, individuals can hear themselves speaking (a phenomenon known as implicit prosody); and (c) that the eyes and the voice work simultaneously during reading. It has become clear that it is impossible to understand a written text until it is assigned a prosody. Since oral prosody (intonation) involves visually processing the written words, the operations of the eye and the voice are evidently intertwined. This eye-voice relationship may help to explain why one language learner speaks with better intonation than another. Although few practitioners would disagree with this important insight, its implications for the better teaching of intonation have not so far been studied.

Our study will explore these implications. An initial pilot study conducted recently at HKBU has provided tentative confirmation of the eye-voice relationship, and we will build on this encouraging foundation in a more comprehensive study. We will subject good speakers, poor speakers and a group of native English speakers to a series of tests, to determine whether good speakers (with good intonation) tend to fixate on words they emphasise, and whether poor speakers pay insufficient attention to particular words. We will investigate the eye-voice link through collecting different data (speaking, listening, reading, pitch use). For eye movements, we will use an EyeLink eye tracker to map the cognitive efforts made both by good and poor speakers. All these tests enable us to use advanced techniques, such as the GLMMs, to fully interrogate the relationships among the variables.

The study’s findings will contribute both to practice and theory. They will be of immediate practical relevance to language teachers, because confirmation of the eye-voice link will require the delivery of pronunciation training to be rethought. Teachers will need to understand what good and poor speakers do before they design teaching or remedial activities. Theoretically, the findings will advance our knowledge both in the field of intonation, and will also be relevant to other learning theories, such as learner awareness and noticing.
Effective start/end date1/01/2230/06/24


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