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The effect of orthographic input on young Mandarin-speaking EFL children's English pronunciation learning

by Renyu Jiang, Robert Woore & Victoria Murphy (University of Oxford, United Kingdom)

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Children in mainland China receive formal instruction in Pinyin, a Roman alphabetic system used to represent the sounds of Chinese characters, at the beginning of Year 1 in primary school to help them develop Chinese literacy skills. They also typically begin formal English learning around the same time, during which the phonological forms of novel English vocabulary are regularly presented alongside orthographic input (OI, the written forms of words). Studies have shown that OI can have a facilitative effect on vocabulary learning in monolingual children’s first language (L1). It has also been found that OI can have a negative effect on adult learners’ phonological learning in a foreign language (L2) due to the interference from L1 knowledge. Given that little research has investigated this issue in young L2 learners, this study aims to investigate the influence of L2 OI on Mandarin-speaking EFL children’s L2 vocabulary learning, with an emphasis on the learning of phonological forms. Eight-year-old children will participate in an individually presented online English vocabulary learning task. Participants will learn two sets of six real, novel, monosyllabic English words through a paired-associate intentional learning paradigm on two consecutive days. In this repeated measures design, one word set will be learnt with the written word forms present and the other without. To investigate whether children’s knowledge of Pinyin would influence English pronunciation learning, each word set will include words with three levels of interlingual (Pinyin-English) phonic congruence: (1) control words, which exist only in English (e.g., vet); (2), interlingual homographs with similar pronunciations in L1 and L2 (e.g., pan); and (3) interlingual homographs with different pronunciations in L1 and L2 (e.g., tun). After learning, children will be given immediate, one-day delayed, and two-week delayed post-tests to assess their memory of the words’ pronunciations. Data will be analysed using linear mixed-effects model and error analysis. The findings will have both pedagogical and theoretical implications for young L2 learners who are concurrently learning two phonological systems and three writing systems.

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