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February 19, 2020 Wednesday 01:57:06 PM IST

'Fossilization' in linguistics

Teacher Insights

A new study of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich shows that everyone believes their own pronunciation to be best. One of the most difficult aspects of learning a foreign language has to do with pronunciation. Learners are typically prone to specific sets of errors, which differ depending on the learners first language. For instance, Germans typically have trouble articulating the initial 'th' in. The results of the study underline the importance of external feedback in language courses, because it increases the learners; awareness of deficits in language production and comprehension.A lack of feedback increases the risk of what researchers refer to as 'fossilization'.

English, as evidenced by the classical expression 'Senk ju vor träwelling' familiar to passengers on German railways. Conversely, native speakers of English tend to have difficulty with the German 'ü', which they tend to pronounce as 'u'. Many people laugh at these mistakes in pronunciation, even though they make the same mistakes themselves. But this reaction in itself points to a paradox: It demonstrates that learners register errors when made by others. Nevertheless, the majority of language learners finds it virtually impossible to eliminate these typical errors even after years of practice. A study carried out by LMU linguists Eva Reinisch and Nikola Eger, in collaboration with Holger Mitterer from the University of Malta, has now uncovered one reason for this paradox. "Learners have a tendency to overestimate the quality of their own pronunciation," says Reinisch. "As a rule, they believe that their English is better than that spoken by their fellow students at language schools, although they make the same set of errors." This exaggerated assessment of one's own ability is an important factor that helps explaining why it is so difficult to learn the sounds of a foreign language.

"As long as we believe that we are already pretty good, we are not going to put in more effort to improve," Reinisch points out. Leaners feel that they have already mastered the unfamiliar articulation patterns in the new language, although that is in fact not the case. They therefore see no reason why they should invest more time in improving their pronunciation. The authors of the new study are not likely to fall into this sort of error. They are already considering ways to improve the situation with the aid of apps that generate the necessary external feedback -- irrespective of how users rate their own performance.

(Content Courtesy: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200207141658.htm) 



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