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2.3. Conclusion

Non classé

In L1 acquisition, prosody has an important place in so far as it is the first linguistic element
that infants can perceive, long before they can discriminate phonemic contrasts. As far as
production is concerned, the first words are usually associated with the articulation of
phonemes. Yet, prosody is also present at that stage, and many authors agree that prosodic
patterns of the mother tongue have strong influence even at the babbling stage of the baby.
Despite the huge contribution of the L1 to the development of language capacities, early
learners are capable of acquiring any language of the world, both at the perception and
production levels.

As for the acquisition of a second or foreign language in late learners, the difficulties are
much more numerous, especially because the influence of the L1 has grown rapidly in the
first years of life. Lenneberg’s (1967) Critical Period Hypothesis claims that the loss of the
brain plasticity is an impediment to the attainment of native-likeness after a certain age.

However, some researchers maintain that native-like pronunciation is possible because all
humans possess the same speech organs (Abercrombie, 1967). If the latter hypothesis is true,
albeit seldom proved, then it may be that it is the L2 teaching to non-native speakers that is
not quite appropriate. It is not only necessary to take into consideration the prosodic
structures of the learner’s L1 and the L2, but also to focus on what to teach, rather than how to
teach as is often the case (Thorén, 2008). If prosodic features are acquired extremely early in
the L1 acquisition process, then one may wonder why L2 teachers usually teach segments
first and overlook prosody. In fact, studies on the acquisition of segments are more abundant
than studies on prosody, in L1 and L2 contexts alike, possibly implying that the knowledge
on L2 prosody is rather limited.

There is also a regrettable lack of comparative studies investigating the role of segments
vis-à-vis the role of suprasegments in L2 acquisition, and thereby their place in L2 teaching.
If some authors take it for granted that prosody is often disregarded but still has as much
importance as segments, no real comparative study has drawn a clear parallel between the
importance of the acquisition of L2 prosody and that of L2 segments in learners’ skills.
Besides, the few studies that compared L2 learners’ production skills after either a segmental
training or a prosodic/global training involved speakers other than French learners of
English as a Foreign Language. That is why our experiment aims to evaluate the importance
of English segments and prosody as produced – and later, perceived – by French EFL

Given the need for studies examining the link between the production of prosody and the
production of segments in L2 acquisition (Birdsong, 2003), a pilot comparative experiment
will enable us to find out whether prosodic accuracy can actually help learners avoid some
segmental errors – although the reverse is rejected by Birdsong. Even further, the findings of
our comparative experiment, described in detail in the next two chapters, will contribute to
the field of EFL teaching in France.