The perception of native English fluent speech in Chinese learners of English: Individual difference, error profile and cognitive-linguistic correlates

  • WONG, Simpson W L (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Second language (L2) listening comprehension skills are critical to the success of intercultural communication and are important for “listening to learn”. Past research has reported an array of factors that influence English listening comprehension among English as a second language (ESL) learners. These important factors include “the nature of the speech” and “the listeners’ characteristics” (Rubin, 1994). Though both speech nature and listeners’ characteristics are prominent factors, in the existing literature about ESL listening comprehension, no special attention has been drawn to the perception of speech spoken by native English speakers in a maximally causal and fast manner, which is one of the most challenging tasks for an ESL learner. Such challenge is attributed not only to fast speaking speed, but also to a high degree of consonant/vowel contraction in fluent speech. To date, three important issues on ESL learners’ perception of English fluent speech remain unknown. First, which aspects of native English fluent speech can or cannot be identified by L2 learners? Second, do all L2 learners share the same patterns of errors? Third, which cognitive–linguistic factors account for the performance differences across L2 learners?

To address the above critical issues, the proposed research will investigate students’ performances in native English fluent speech perception and their related cognitive–linguistic abilities in one hundred and ten Chinese first-year and second-year undergraduate ESL learners. Participants will be tested on speech perception, meta-linguistic, and cognitive tasks. The analysis will go beyond measuring the overall accuracy, and the errors will be systematically classified in order to reveal the fluent speech perception profile of each individual. The links between prior exposure to native English and actual performances of speech perception will be tested. Also, the relations among phoneme perception, categorical perception of phoneme, phonemic awareness, phonological memory, speech production, and L2 fluent speech perception will be examined. The results will enhance our understanding of the nature of native English fluent speech perception in Chinese learners and will provide a new framework for studying fluent speech perception among L2 learners.

The study will be one of the first L2 listening skills studies that take into account both the nature of fluent speech and learners’ cognitive–linguistic profiles in a single study. Our research design will enable the examination of the interplay between the component skills in human’s speech–cognitive system. In terms of practical significance, this study will lay a foundation for the development of an assessment tool that will be used for systematic testing of native English fluent speech listening skills and identifying L2 learners who have special learning needs. It will guide the development of effective and evidence-based training materials. As a consequence, L2 learners will enjoy learning English more and the negative effects, such as L2 learning anxiety and lack of motivation in learning, will be minimized.
Effective start/end date1/01/1331/12/15


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