L2 sound learning of the English /æ-ɛ/ contrast within a single conversation: The effects of the absence of awareness-raising and the manipulation of exposure.

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This thesis investigates L2 sound learning of a difficult English contrast for Dutch learners of English. It appears that Dutch learners of English have difficulties distinguishing the /æ-ɛ/ contrast that exists in English but not in the mother tongue of these speakers (e.g., Broersma, 2005). The first research question covers whether these learners were able to achieve a more native-like pronunciation of the /æ-ɛ/ without being aware of the difficulty of this contrast within a single conversation. The second question of this study covers whether Dutch L2 learners of English are able to improve their pronunciation of the difficult contrast with the help of additional exposure to the /æ-ɛ/ contrast. Two groups of 12 female students with a B2 English proficiency, participated in this experiment which consisted of two conditions: 1) a control-condition without awareness-raising and exposure and 2) an exposure-condition, in which the students received additional exposure. The participants of the control-condition showed improvement of the /æ/ sound, but not of the /æ-ɛ/ contrast. The participants of the exposure-condition were able to improve the /ɛ/ sound, but again failed to distinguish the critical contrast. Both groups were only able to improve one vowel at a time which shows the importance of awareness-raising and leads to the conclusion that exposure needs awareness-raising in order to work.
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