The development of second language phonological knowledge over a course of learning

This longitudinal project observes how Norwegian learners of Chinese develop their perception and production of Chinese sounds and what factors affect the learning outcomes.

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About the project

When acquiring second language (L2) phonology, learners may present different with-in category variabilities due to the complex interaction between the phonological systems of their native language (L1) and L2. Moreover, the individual preciseness of perception and production would change throughout the learning course. Learners must first perceive the phonetic differences of similar L2 sounds to establish a new category (SLM, Flege, 1995). However, if two contrasting L2 categories are treated as one category in learners’ L1, the discrimination would be poor at the initial learning stage (PAM-L2, Best & Tyler, 2007) because learners may transfer their L1 phonological system to their target L2 (L2LP, Boersma & Escudero, 2008). Therefore, the failure to establish a new perception category may result in nonnative pronunciation due to the transfer from learners’ L1.

Another important line of research is which factors contribute to L2 phonological learning, especially in a multilingual context. According to Hirosh and Degani’s (2018) framework, age, age of acquisition, language dominance, switching habits, learning context, language similarity, and several cognitive factors jointly affect bilinguals’ learning outcome in an L2. However, previous research did not agree on the specific individual factors that determine L2 phonological learning, and even fewer study investigated this topic in a dynamic fashion.

Therefore, this project aims to investigate how L2 learners with different proficiency levels develop their language skills over the course of language learning. The target population will be Norwegian-speaking students enrolled in the BA program “Kinesisk med Kina-studier”. We hope that the results will expand our understanding of the current models on L2 speech theory and provide implications on L2 pronunciation teaching practice. Therefore, we address three research questions in this project.

Research questions

  • RQ1: How do L2 learners develop their identification abilities of non-native sounds over a course of learning?
  • RQ2: How do L2 learners develop accurate phonetic realization of non-native sounds over a course of learning?
  • RQ3: Which factor(s) affect learning outcomes?


We will recruit 45 Norwegian-speaking B.A. students with various Chinese proficiency levels (15 from each academic course) from the “Chinese with China Studies” (UiO) and 15 Chinese native speakers to participate in this study. For all the L2 learners, the longitudinal observation will take place in the fall semester of 2022 with three test points: the onset, the mid-term and the end of the semester. In March 2023, we will conduct one additional test to evaluate (a) how study abroad improves second-year students’ language skills, and (b) how well the first-year students maintain their learning outcome after the learning of the first semester.

All the L2 learners will do the following tasks on a computer at the Socio-Cognitive lab of MultiLing.

  • A language background questionnaire. The survey includes questions about participants’ age, gender, language learning experience and daily language use.
  • A listening task in Chinese. Participants will listen to a set of speech sounds and identify which sound they think they have heard.
  • A speaking task in both Norwegian and Chinese. Participants will read words, sentences, and produce free speech in both Norwegian and Chinese. Their production will be audio recorded on a digital recorder administrated by the UiO for the follow-up analyses.

Note that the Chinese native speakers will only take the tasks once while the L2 learners will do it three to four times.


To evaluate the development of L2 learners’ perception and production preciseness, we will statistically compare the L2 data (i.e., the identification answers and the acoustic results) with that of the Chinese native speakers as well as the learners’ own native speech (Norwegian). To assess how the L2 learners’ speech production sounds to native speakers, the Chinese experts in our team will rate the learners’ global pronunciation proficiency of Chinese (i.e., the accentedness, comprehensibility and fluency). We will also code the language background questionnaire and analyze which factor(s) in learners’ language learning experience and language use significantly contribute to the developmental patterns of their L2 phonological knowledge.

At the end of the project, each of the participants will get a detailed individual report on (a) how they progressed during the period of observation in both listening and speaking skills, (b) which factors affected their learning outcome and (c) suggestions of pronunciation training and practice.

Call for participants

This project has been approved by the NSD (Norsk senter for forskningsdata) for research ethics and data management and protection [reference number: 952170].

If you are a Norwegian native speaker enrolled in the BA program “Kinesisk med Kina-studier”, you can sign up here for participation.


Best, C. T., & Tyler, M. D. (2007). Nonnative and second-language speech perception: Commonalities and complementarities. In O.-S. Bohn & M. J. Munro (Eds.), Language Experience in Second Language Speech Learning: In honor of James Emil Flege (pp. 13–34). John Benjamins.

Boersma, P., & Escudero, P. (2008). Learning to perceive a smaller L2 vowel inventory: An Optimality Theory account. In P. Avery, B. E. Dresher, & K. Rice (Eds.), Contrast in Phonology: Theory, Perception, Acquisition (pp. 271–302). Mouton de Gruyter.

Flege, J. E. (1995). Second language speech learning: Theory, findings, and problems. In W. Strange (Ed.), Speech Perception and Linguistic Experience: Issues in Cross-Language Research (pp. 233–277). York Press,.

Hirosh, Z., & Degani, T. (2018). Direct and indirect effects of multilingualism on novel language learning: An integrative review. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 25(3), 892–916.



Published Apr. 6, 2022 9:57 AM - Last modified Nov. 18, 2022 12:35 PM