The Effect of Visual Feedback on Voice Onset Time (VOT) of Spanish Learners of English

Santiago Parra Giraldo, Purdue University


While pronunciation has previously been described as a neglected skill in the second language classroom, a growing body of literature has demonstrated that pronunciation training improves students’ productions (Derwing & Munro, 2005). Mispronunciations have been shown to impact comprehensibility, intelligibility, and accentedness (Derwing & Munro, 2009). As pronunciation instruction methods have begun to be the subject of empirical research, Visual Feedback (VF) has begun to emerge as a novel method for teaching pronunciation. This method has been shown to be particularly effective for teaching voice onset time (VOT), a characteristic of voiceless stop consonants (e.g., /p, t, k/). Worth noting, English and Spanish differ concerning VOT, with English employing long VOTs (30-100ms) and Spanish short VOTs (0-30ms) (Lisker & Abramson’s, 1964). Previous research has focused exclusively on employing VF for shortening VOT, although there are some compelling reasons to question whether the size and nature of the effect would be similar for lengthening VOT. The present study examines the potential effectiveness of VF as a means of lengthening the VOT of Spanish learners of English. The participants of the study were twenty-six students from a large Colombian university. The experiment design consisted of a pretest, three VF interventions, a posttest, and a delayed posttest. The tests were composed of two tasks, differing in their complexity: recording words in isolation and words in utterances. Stimuli consisted of English words (n= 4266) with word-initial voiceless stops (/p, t, k/). Stimuli were controlled for stress, following vowel, and word familiarity and were measured for VOT using Praat (Boersma & Weenink, 2022). Results from statistical analysis coupled with a visual inspection of the data indicated that the experimental group performed similarly in the three stages of the study and that the visual feedback paradigm did not result in changes in VOT. However, some degree of variation was found among the participants concerning their average VOTs. While some participants showed an overall increase (i.e., improvement) in English VOTs for the three phonemes /p/, /t/, and /k/ over time, other participants did not. In general, most of the participants produced English-like VOTs in the pretest, constituting a degree of ceiling effects. The rate of exposure to the target language and the saliency of English are factors that could have played a role in the development of the VOT scores of the participants before the study. Therefore, the discussion focuses on both the nature of the individual variability and the theoretical implications of ceiling effects found in the current study versus the lack of ceiling effects in other studies with similar populations.




Olson, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Communication|English as a Second Language

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