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3.2.2. Experimental procedure

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Just as in Birdsong’s (2003) experiment, both words (W) and phrases (P) were used to avoid
bias towards either group – one group worked on prosody, i.e. especially at the sentencelevel,
whereas the other (segmental) group mainly worked at the phoneme-level and wordlevel.
For that matter, it is crucial to use both types of item because this is a pilot experiment.
Therefore, what served as stimuli in the experiment was a set of twenty English words and
sentences – ten words and ten sentences. Appendix C contains a list of all twenty items; the
words are transcribed phonetically, with stress markings, and the phrases are transcribed
phonemically, with stress and nucleus markings.

Both words and phrases illustrated difficulties that French learners typically encounter
with English pronunciation. Following the theoretical account of recurrent production errors
by French EFL learners in Chapter 1, major problematic aspects of English phonology were
selected for the creation of the stimuli. Roughly 50% of the problems were segmental, and
50% were related to prosody. The ten words were either monosyllabic (six of ten), or
disyllabic (four of ten). The ten phrases consisted of eight or nine syllables, and some of them
were taken or adapted from examples in Wells (2006). Among the segmental problems, the
following appeared: the realization of dental fricatives /θ/-/ð/ (e.g. W09 “either”, P04
“other”); the lax/tense vowel distinction (e.g. P02 “live” vs. P10 “leaving”); the velar nasal /ŋ/
(e.g. W08 “thinking”). Among the prosodic problems: unexpected nucleus placement;
deaccenting of function words; word stress (e.g. W10 “helˈlo”, P06 “ˈinteresting”). The
phrases displayed auxiliaries in both full and reduced forms, which was designed to observe
if the subjects of the prosodic group could reduce them by themselves. The tables in
Appendix C give a more detailed account of the type of segmental and suprasegmental
difficulties of the stimuli, and the number of syllables in each item. To choose the words, a
balance in their use was kept, so their frequency per million words in the spoken part of the
British National Corpus (BNC) is also given. It should be noted that although it is the
segmental problems of each word and the prosodic problems of each phrase that are listed in
the tables, the phrases obviously contain segmental difficulties that reflect those in the words

realization in P02), and conversely the disyllabic words triggered prosodic
difficulties (e.g. the stress pattern of W10 “helˈlo”).

For lack of time, extemporaneous production and perception capacities could not be
tested. As a pilot experiment, read speech only was evaluated through the recording of the
twenty items by the ten French learners of English, and Bertran’s (1999: 109) comment brings
support to this choice: “we believe that a laboratory corpus, made up of several “artificial”
utterances created ad hoc is more reliable, since it permits the isolation of the variables under
study as well as the neutralisation of other factors”. In this respect, no figures were used, and
grammatical or lexical mistakes and hesitations were avoided, all the more as this might have
had an impact on the listeners’ judgements.

Group formation

The ten French-speaking volunteers were divided into two groups of five (see Appendix B),
each consisting of three female French speakers and two male French speakers in order to
avoid inequality. Group A – from Subject 1 to Subject 5 – was the segment-based group, and
Group B – from Subject 6 to Subject 10 – was the prosody-based one. In Group A, the average
age of the subjects was 19.8 years; their length of study of English was comprised between 8
and 13 years, with an overall mean length of 10 years. In Group B, the average age was 20.6
years – i.e. less than one year of difference with Group A –, and their length of study of
English varied from 9 to 13 years; the mean length was 10.8 years.

Pre-training recordings

The first step of the experiment was to have all French-speaking participants record the
stimuli a first time, so as to have control recordings and allow subsequent comparisons
between the pre-training productions and the post-training productions within each group.
The recordings took place in a quiet room at the University of Lille III. The materials used
were a microphone and a computer, and the recording application was the software Audacity.
The subjects were left alone while they were recording to avoid any background noise or
perturbation by other people. In turn, they sat at the computer, and they could see a fullscreen
slide presentation in which the twenty words and sentences appeared one by one, in a
randomized order – different for each subject. The randomizations were done thanks to a
spreadsheet in OpenOffice Calc. The numbers of the stimuli (W01, W02, …, P01, P02, …)
were typed into a table and randomized twenty times – i.e. two recordings (pre- and posttraining)
by ten subjects – with the RAND function. The resulting orders were thus used for
the creations of the twenty slide presentations (OpenOffice Impress).

When the slide presentation was open and the recording application was on, the
instruction first appeared; what the subject had to do was read out the item in the
microphone, and click on the space bar to go to the next one, until the word “the end”
appeared in French (fin). The participants were allowed to read the item mentally before
saying it out loud in the microphone. Thanks to the software Audacity, it was then possible to
divide the recordings of the twenty items into separate sound files (.wav format) for each
stimulus and each speaker. Once all ten subjects had recorded the twenty items, and the
divisions into separate files were completed, there were two hundred sound files,
corresponding to twenty items recorded by ten speakers.


When the pre-training recording sessions were over, the trainings could start. Group A
received a training on English individual sounds, and Group B received a training on English
rhythm and prosody. The trainings took place in an empty room at the University of Lille III,
and they lasted a few hours each. Since all five subjects of each group could not be free at the
exact same time and day, the two trainings had to take place in two sessions each – three
subjects in one session, and the two subjects left in another session.

The two trainings were based on the phonology of RP English, that is, the variety that is
mostly used in school context in France. All the participants had mentioned in the
questionnaires that they did not think they spoke any particular variety of English. Training
A, with segmental focus, included: vowel quality, with an emphasis on the lax/tense
distinction and realization; production and rhoticity; /h/ production; the aspiration of
voiceless plosives; the realizations of the dental fricatives /θ/-/ð/; dark and clear ; the
production of the velar nasal /ŋ/. Training B, with prosodic focus, consisted of: (at the wordlevel)
lexical stress, the realization of word prominence; (at the sentence-level) the principal
rules of accentuation of content words vs. deaccentuation of grammatical words; stresstiming
realization and (natural) vocalic reduction; quickened tempo; nuclear accent
placement. Overall realization of the stress-timed rhythm of English was especially practised
during Training B. Both trainings consisted of numerous common examples outside the
stimuli and much oral practice. They were done in French, and no technical vocabulary, such
as “nucleus” or “allophone”, was used as the aim was not to increase the subjects’ theoretical
knowledge in English phonology, but rather to help them improve their pronunciation.

Post-training recordings

The post-training recordings were carried out in the exact same conditions as the pretraining
recordings. For the second recording sessions, the subjects were supposed to take
into account all that was done during their respective trainings, although this was not made
clear or explicitly compulsory to them. That method reinforced the similarity with a typical
English class, where the teacher cannot force his/her students to apply the lesson, even
though they attended it. Once again, the software Audacity made it possible to divide the
recordings into separate sound files for each recorded item. In the end, there were four
hundred items, i.e. twenty English words and phrases recorded twice – before and after the
trainings – by ten French speakers.

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