Initial L2 & L3/Ln Learning

In longitudinal studies as well as cross-sectional work, I am examining factors that influence learning progress at the very beginning stages of late-onset L2 as well as L3 (third language) phonological development.

In one study on L1 English adult learners of Korean, I am investigating change in learners’ L2 production and perception during the first six weeks of language classes. Data from three experiments (imitation, elicited production, forced-choice identification) are being compared in order to probe learners’ knowledge of the phonetic space of novel L2 categories (the lenis, fortis, and aspirated stop consonants of Korean), to test their implicit knowledge of obligatory phonological alternations they have not been explicitly taught (e.g., obstruent nasalization), and to examine the effectiveness of certain non-linguistic variables (e.g., basic psychoacoustic perceptual acuity, attitudinal factors) in predicting acquisition outcomes for individual learners. So far, findings from elicited production experiments have shown that learners vary widely with respect to the phonetic spaces they construct for the new L2 laryngeal categories, that the patterns are not fully predicted by cross-linguistic perception results, and that some learners continue to perseverate the same non-native patterns based upon erroneous ideas about the nature of the L2 contrast (Chang, 2010a, b).

In a second study on L1 English adults being exposed to Mandarin, I am collaborating with Anita Bowles and others to investigate the development of L2 tone contrasts during a short word learning paradigm. We have found that pitch-specific perceptual abilities are the best predictors of tone learning (more powerful than measures related to musical aptitude, musical experience, general foreign language aptitude, and general cognitive ability), which argues in favor of a feature-specific approach to language aptitude (Bowles, Chang & Karuzis, 2016). We have also found that coarticulatory variability in tone contour has a significant effect on the learning of tone contrasts in different contexts (Chang & Bowles, 2015).

In a third study on L2 learners of Korean from diverse L1 backgrounds, I collaborated with Sungmi Kwon to investigate the interplay of crosslinguistic influence from the L1 and individual differences during the early weeks of L2 instruction. We found evidence that, in L2 speech perception, the L1 has a limited effect at the onset of L2 exposure, but a larger effect at a later, intermediate stage of L2 learning, thus supporting the “Transfer Ramp-up Hypothesis” of L1 influence (Chang & Kwon, 2020).

Recently, I have started expanding into the area of multilingual development as well. For example, a perceptual study with I Lei Chan (Chan & Chang, 2019) found that adult sequential bilinguals from an L1 Mandarin-L2 English background outperformed those from an L1 English-L2 Mandarin or L1 English-L2 intonation language background on L3 perception of tones in Yoruba and Thai. However, between the latter groups of bilinguals, L1 English-L2 Mandarin bilinguals showed a slight advantage over L1 English-L2 intonational bilinguals. These results suggest that L1 tonal experience has a particularly facilitative effect in L3 tone perception, but that L2 tonal experience also has a facilitative effect, supporting a view of language transfer in L3 perceptual development that privileges L1 but still allows for transfer from L2. Work on speech rhythm with Megan Brown-Bousfield (Brown-Bousfield & Chang, 2023) found a prevailing effect of cross-language similarity in regressive cross-linguistic influence at the phonological level, but also an interaction with order of acquisition privileging L1 status.

I have also written a review chapter on the phonetics of L2 learning and bilingualism, which was published in the Routledge Handbook of Phonetics (Chang, 2019a).

Associate Professor of Linguistics, Boston University