Pragmatic Competence through Phonetics
Carole A. Hanna
The University of Southern Mississippi
The acquisition of a second language (L2) is an interesting phenomenon. It seems some
have a “knack” for learning a second language and others seem to struggle greatly. One aspect
of second language acquisition which may help determine the success or varied success of the
learner is their phonological memory. In order to process the words, grammar and structures that
a listener hears, he or she must be able to not only hear but retain the order of phonemes they
hear. Hence phonological memory plays a key role in language acquisition. Someone with a
better phonological memory may find learning a second language easier than someone with
poorer phonological memory skills (O’Brien, 558).
Phonological awareness is a key component in language acquisition. This requires the
learner to make reflect on spoken words and attempt to make sense out of what is heard. Being
able to focus on the speech helps the listener to learn to divide syllables and phonemes which
make up words. This ability aids the learner to recognize different expressions and the
manipulation of sounds aid in the understanding of more complex structures within the language
(Verhoeven, 427).
Language instruction via the traditional second language classroom is often quite limited
due to the fact that only the teacher is doing most of the talking. Thus classroom interaction is
not necessarily non-authentic but it is rather asymmetric in the ability to have give and take in
conversation. Offering different opportunities for students to role play and practice more
conversational activities definitely assist the learner in productive language use. However,
authentic L2 input is essential for phonological awareness (Kasper, 9-12).
Exposure to phonetics is essential for recognition of linguistic variation. Where
interlanguage variation is present, the inability to recognize sounds that different from the L1 is
problematic. If the learner is programming himself or herself with improper pronunciation, they
are less likely to recognize subtle differences in phonemes which lead to an inability to
understand that which is being said and also an inability to make him or herself understood. The
time spent learning and being exposed to the target language is key to develop the linguistic
ability where there are constraints in the L1 (Mougeon & Rehner, 398-399). There are great
differences in the research concerning the acquisition of new phonemes. Yet the idea that word
recognition is an important aspect of phonological input underlines the need for a strong phonetic
foundation. Poor proficiency is thought to be linked to a listener’s inability to distinguish
between minimal pairs in the target language. Hence the exposure to different phonetic uses is
essential to understanding as well as the learner to be able to gain native-like ability in the L2
(Darcy, 6-7). Learners must be able to encode new input in the L2 and distinguish differences
phonetically in the target language. The interlanguage lexicon will have gaps in certain phonetic
aspects and the need for exposure and repetition is essential for the learner of the L2 to be able to
assimilate the new input and become not only familiar with the new phonetic structures, but
comfortable with the same (Darcy, 11).
L2 learners with very high exposure in the target language tend to be significantly more
proficient in recognizing L2 phonemes as well as reproducing them. With practice and high level
of motivation and training in the phonetics of the L2, native –like pronunciation or at least nearnative pronunciation is deemed possible, even with adult learners (Birdsong, 20). The areas of
utmost importance to this end is noted in lexical retrieval, resolution of ambiguity in the
language structure and being able to distinguish between acoustic variations in the areas of stress
with syllables as well as consonants, voicing and length of vowels (Birdsong, 21). Again these
distinctions can only be attained through exposure to the L2 and continued instruction and usage
of the L2.
One example of phonetic differences in cases where the L2 is French and the L1 is
English is the idea of clitic placement. Prepositional complements appear to the left of the verb
in French where this is not the case in English.
1. Michel le voit.
Michael sees him.
2. Michel l’a vu.
Michael saw him.
3. Je le fais manger.
I make him eat.
4. Sandrine veut le vendre.
Sandrine wants to sell it.
These differences are absent from the L1 grammar yet acquisition is possible, but only through
exposure and grammatical awareness through example (Duffield, 489-490). It has been
suggested that when clitics are present in reading, the L2 learners takes more time to assimilate
the material than when the clitic is not present (Duffield, 503). This is one example among many
differences found where the L1 is English and the L2 is French. Being aware of these differences
which are areas where the interlanguage is not complete is an area where instruction can alleviate
stress and possible error acquisition. This evidence places the onus on instructors to find more
exercises where the L2 learner is to be exposed not only orally but also with a variety of
reading material and exercises to create a greater construct in the interlanguage to bridge gaps
between the L1 and the L2.
Krashen talks about the “feel” of a language which aids the speaker in whether or not
something is correct in language acquisition. If it is grammatically correct, the sentences may
“sound” right (Gass, 241-242). This “feeling” is not reliable with aspects of the L2 where there is
no reasonable comparison. Thus the need for instruction and learning needs to replace it until the
gap in the interlanguage is bridged. In addition, the teacher’s awareness of the L1 of the learner
will assist in intralingual transfer within the early stages of second language acquisition and be
able to prevent the acquisition of errors which are difficult to correct once they have become
anchored in the learners vocabulary (Brown, 263-264).
In approaching L2 proficiency there are several methods which are important for higher
proficiency levels to be attained. Studying the variables between the L1 and the L2 in syntax and
structure, as well as exposure to the language to increase proficiency, can be of great benefit to
the learner. Studies have shown that late language learners can and do achieve high proficiency
but more through learning and effort than through L1 transfer (van Hell, 67-68). This places a
responsibility on the language instructor to not only to find ways to expose the learner to the
target language but also to teach phonological differences as well as structural differences to
assist them to hear and reproduce the L2 with greater accuracy. Not only leading to greater
native-like speech but more ease in comprehension. By adding more student centered activities
and making use of more occasions to interact in the target language the learner is able to put into
practice the lessons taught and thus extending their knowledge of task oriented discourse. This
also takes the emphasis away from the teacher and makes the student more in control of his or
her conversational time. The implementation of role-play and simulation places the student of
the target language in a position where they can take ownership of the L2 and find a comfort
level to communicate and function in the language so as to not just copy native speakers but to
be able to create a new interlanguage and become comfortable in the L2 (Kasper, 10-14).
In order to bring these ideas to the classroom, it is necessary to instruct the students in the
target language’s phonology. In this case the target language is French. All the students at this
particular time have English as their L1. By letting the students hear the phonological differences
in pronunciation, they can become familiar with how to pronounce vowels and how to pronounce
the language in regards to stress and duration. This also aids in listening comprehension as the
student becomes more aware of the language’s presentation. Many newer language books have
accompanying on-line sites which provide means for students to practice the newly acquired
phonetic learning. This provides a simulated “language lab” where the students are able to hear
the correct pronunciation and then they can hear their voice and also hear the native speaker
repeat the word or phrase. This often is a surprise to the student who was unaware of how
different their pronunciation was from the native speaker. With a base of knowledge about
phonetics, the student can emulate tongue placement and gain understanding of how the target
language is constructed. Generally the student who is motivated makes great strides when he or
she is aware of their own oral shortcomings.
If there is no access to a previously purchased language course, there are a number of
websites which provide similar experience-based oral repetition. These will be outlined in the in
class lessons detailed later.
In addition to phonological explanations, it is important in the process of second language
acquisition to have the students hear and apply what they have learned. This is often difficult due
to the generally one-sided nature of the foreign language classroom where the teacher is directing
the large part of communicated ideas to the students and there are limited possibilities to
respond. It is imperative that the teacher provides directed role play activities where the students
are not only put in a position where they direct the book knowledge they have acquired but use it
in practical ways to make it second nature. In addition to role play, there are a number of sites
on line which provide oral reinforcement that is emphasizing listening comprehension which
permits the students to hear native speakers using the newly acquired lesson and lets them repeat
the words and phrases as often as is necessary for them to gain comfort and proficiency.
Generally the course books are designed to proceed at a relatively rapid pace but the emphasis on
correct pronunciation and comprehension cannot be sacrificed since these are the basis of spoken
and listening proficiency.
In addition to providing role play activities and listening games and reinforcement
quizzes, it is important to provide reading which uses the newly acquired lesson. If in the case of
clitics, the student is taught how the object is placed in a sentence and the direct object is place,
this is an area which is of importance since this is not found in the L1. The student is often
slower to assimilate this, especially in reading and comprehension as they are not used to
thinking along these lines. By providing additional reading reinforcement where this is
illustrated, the student becomes more aware of the differences not found in the L1 and is more
sensitive to how to overcome the differences. In addition to reading, the student can be asked to
write several paragraphs using the material and presenting it to one another to correct and
reinforce the knowledge.
Reading aloud as in role playing or short plays can also be a positive way to use the new
information. In addition to being able to practice pronunciation, the student is able to gain
spoken time in the classroom with less intimidating means since the material is provided and not
coming spontaneously without preparation. After the student is used to speaking in the target
language and gains confidence, ease of using the language will increase.
Another aspect of language acquisition is the idea of improving the phonological
memory. In the beginning in French, the student will often comment on how they cannot tell
where one word begins and another ends. Everything sounds like one long word due to the use of
elision in the French language. Some language programs provide a means where a sentence is
spoken and the student can repeat it, record it and listen to the accuracy he or she has provide in
comparison to the native speaker. This procedure often takes many attempts due to the fact the
student is often unable to retain the phonemes they encounter. With practice this becomes easier
and the length of the phrases becomes longer and the retention factor becomes greater as well.
Phonological memory is important for the learner to improve or they will have difficulty being
able to understand and respond when spoken to. Besides repeating what is heard, listening to
music with lyrics in class and breaking down songs phonetically allows the student to develop an
“ear “for the target language. Whether or not they can understand everything, they soon develop
the ability to phonetically transfer what they hear to the boar and together the teacher and the
students are able to decipher what they have heard. After several attempts at listening, they are
amazed at how obvious what was previously indecipherable becomes. Due to the active level of
participation, the retention of this exercise is great.
This listening activity also can be reinforced through film. The student is able to watch a
film and with the use of subtitles and then the removal of subtitles, become more aware of
rhythm, cadence and syllabic emphasis of the spoken language. It assists the teacher in providing
a native speaker and a natural situation where the language is spoken. Providing a worksheet
with sample discussion question for after the film viewing provides an excellent opportunity to
have a directed, controlled discussion of the experience. This allows the student to use the
language and still apply what has been learned in the classroom. Taking the time to have
multiple viewings of certain scenes for further discussion and further listening can be necessary
depending on the proficiency level of the students. Watching the film the first time with a
worksheet to help direct the students focus as to what they need to be listening for is important.
Making a list of general question in the target language focuses the student on what they are
viewing and helps them concentrate. The questions can be adapted to the level of proficiency of
the student. In the beginner classes, having simple yes/no responses can still help develop
phonemic retention. In more advance levels, the instructor can require complete sentences in
response to the questions given. By directing the focus, the questions allow the student to not
become overwhelmed with what they do not understand, but it places the onus on what they do
understand. The ease of this kind of activity is apparent because the student is able to rent or use
Netflix to obtain most films and watch them as often as they may need at home. Most American
films have a foreign language track on them as well so whatever film is chosen
is not difficult to access and the more motivated student can carry this activity further than
perhaps time allots in the foreign language classroom.
The purpose of the exercise is to increase phonological awareness so they can in turn use
the new information in a practical fashion. The more the student can retain what is heard, the
greater the level of comprehension they attain.
Instructional Application
Leçon 1
Phonemes and Prononciation
Target Language-French/ Lesson duration: 5- 45’periods.
Grade 9/French 1
Instructional goal is to increase phonemic memory and identify vowel sounds and phonemes
in spoken French.
Lesson on pronunciation tips from Fluent
Lesson given using ielanguages on phonemes. Explanation of proper pronunciation and
tongue placement.
Learning French Pronunciation: Listen to the lessons 1, 2, 3 &4 on www.
Download the list of words for the French R trick and provide a copy for each student.
In class let each student attempt to pronounce the words on the list.
Listen as a class showing the website on the projector to:
Practice the listening exercises together.
Practice the repetition exercises together.
Discuss together the lesson and what the students found difficult and what they found
Necessary Tools
: A computer with projector or Smart board
A screen for projected images
Internet Access
Photocopies of the article: French R trick word list.
Pencil and Paper for note taking.
Lesson 2: Phonemes and Listening Comprehension
Target language French
Duration: 3 / 45’class periods
French 1/ 9th grade
Immediately following the previous lesson plan the students will listen to the website
And practice answering the song prompts. From www.toujours des
The teacher will play the song “October “ by Francis Cabrel- YouTube.
Playing small segments the students will individually be asked to repeat what they hear
regardless of understanding and phonetically they will reconstruct the song on the board.
When the song is complete, the class will translate the lyrics and then listen to the song again.
Have students make of list of new vocabulary words and their definitions.
Necessary tools :
A computer with projector or Smart board
A screen for projected images
Internet Access
Pencil and Paper for notetaking.
The French 'R' Trick
1 roue wheel
10 rendre to give back
2 rue street
11 fruit fruit
3 grue construction crane
12 chirurgie surgery
4 réponse response
13 marguerite daisy
5 rond round
14 boulangerie baker
6 ronronner to purr
15 Valérie Valery
7 Paris Paris
16 quincaillerie hardware store
8 chéri(e) dear, sweetheart
17 bonjour hello
9 mettre to put
18 au revoir good bye
Copyright 2001 Fluent Ear Productions; 13 Spar Pole Lane, Bluffton, SC 29910
Do not make this material available to persons not subscribed to Fluent French Audio.
Find us on the web at or call us toll-free at 1-888-6FLUENT
Le vent fera craquer les branches
La brume viendra dans sa robe blanche
Y aura des feuilles partout
Couchées sur les cailloux
Octobre tiendra sa revanche
Le soleil sortira à peine
Nos corps se cacheront sous des bouts de laine
Perdue dans tes foulards
Tu croiseras le soir
Octobre endormi aux fontaines
Il y aura certainement,
Sur les tables en fer blanc
Quelques vases vides et qui traînent
Et des nuages pris aux antennes
Je t'offrirai des fleurs
Et des nappes en couleurs
Pour ne pas qu'Octobre nous prenne
On ira tout en haut des collines
Regarder tout ce qu'Octobre illumine
Mes mains sur tes cheveux
Des écharpes pour deux
Devant le monde qui s'incline
Certainement appuyés sur des bancs
Il y aura quelques hommes qui se souviennent
Et des nuages pris aux antennes
Je t'offrirai des fleurs
Et des nappes en couleurs
Pour ne pas qu'Octobre nous prenne
Et sans doute on verra apparaître
Quelques dessins sur la buée des fenêtres
Vous, vous jouerez dehors
Comme les enfants du nord
Octobre restera peut-être.
Vous, vous jouerez dehors
Comme les enfants du nord
Octobre restera peut-être.
The branches will creak in the wind,
the mist will come in its white dress.
Everywhere the leaves
will lie on the stones.
October will grasp its revenge.
The sun will barely show up.
Our bodies will hide under bits of wool.
Burried in your shawls
in the evening you will walk past
October asleep near the fountains.
Surely some empty vases
will be seen abandonned
on tin tables
and some clouds caught in the aerials.
I will offer you flowers
and colorful tableclothes
to escape October's grasp.
We will climb high on the hills
and behold all what's lit up by October.
My hands on your hair,
sharing the same scarves
in front of the surrendering world.
Surely on some benches
some old men will sit and remember
and the clouds caught in the aerials.
I will offer you flowers
and colorful tableclothes
to escape October's grasp
And surely some drawings
will appear on the misted windows.
You will play outside
like the children from the north,
maybe October will linger.
You will play outside
like the children from the north,
maybe October will linger.
Birdsong, D. (2006). Age and second language acquisition and processing: A selective overview.
Language Learning. 56. 9-49. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9922.2006.00353x.
Brown, H.D. (2007). Principles of language learning and teaching. White Plains, NY: Pearson.
Darcy, I., Dekydtspotter, L., Sprouse, R.A., Glover, J., Kaden, C., McGuire, M. & Scott, J.HG.
(2012). Direct mapping of acoustics to phonology: On the lexical encoding of front
rounded vowels in L1 English –L2 French acquisition. Second Language Research 28(l)
5-40. doi: 10.1177/0267658311423455.
Duffield, N., White, L., Bruhn de Garavito, J., Montrul, S., Prévost, P. (2002). Clitic Placement
in L2 French: Evidence from sentence matching. Journal of Linguistics 38(3); 487-525.
French Pronunciation for Speakers of American English (1997). Retrieved November, 30, 2012,
Gass, S. M., & Selinker, L. (2008). Beyond the domain of language. In S. M. Gass & L. Selinker
(Eds.), Second language acquisition: An introductory course. (pp. 395-448). New York;
NY: Routledge.
Kasper, G. (1997). Can pragmatic competence be taught? (NetWork #6) Honolulu: University of
Hawai'i, Second Language Teaching & Curriculum Center. Retrieved [11/30/2012] from
The World Wide Web:
Lyrics Translate. (2008). Retrieved November, 30, 2012, from
Mougeon, R., & Rehner, K. (2001). Acquisition of sociolinguistic variants by French immersion
students: The case of restrictive expressions, and more. The Modern Language Journal,
85(iii) 398-415. doi: 10.1111/0026-7902.00116.
O’Brien, I., Segalowitz, N., Freed, B. & Collentine, J. (2007). Phonological memory predicts
second language oral fluency in adults. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 29, 557582. doi: 10.1017/S027226310707043X.
Octobre, Francis Cabrel, (2007). Retrieved November 30, 2012. From
Tolman, D. (2009). French Pronunciation Lessons 1-4. [Retrieved] 11/30/2012, [from]
Toujours des mots. Retrieved November 30, 2012 from
Van Hell, J.G., & Tokowicz, N. (2008). Event-related brain potentials and second language
Learning: syntactic processing in late L2 learners at different L2 proficiency levels.
Second Language Research 26, 1, 43-74. doi: 10.1177/0267658309337637.
Verhoeven, L. (2007). Early bilingualism, language transfer and phonological awareness.
Applied Psycholinguistics 28, 425-439. doi: 10.1017.S0142716407070233