Finnish language teaching research highlights impact of listen-and-repeat training

David10 months ago2 min read

Understanding and correctly reproducing phonemes is widely accepted to be a key building block in successful language learning, and insights from Finnish researchers suggests that listen-and-repeat techniques can be useful tools in helping students to pick up second language phonemes. Published last year, researchers based at the Finnish universities in Aalto and Turku demonstrated that periods of listen-and-repeat training had “clear, statistically significant learning effects on the perception of the trained linguistic stimuli.”

The study  looked at three main questions:

  1. Can vowel duration perception or production be improved with the same amount of listen-and-repeat training as perception and production of vowel quality or consonant voicing contrasts?
  2. If vowel duration processing can be trained, are the effects generalized to other, untrained vowels?
  3. Finally, if generalization occurs, is it limited to linguistic sounds or is the processing of non-linguistic sounds affected as well?

The study’s participants were exchange students joining the Finnish University of Turku, who rated their Finnish skills as either ‘basic’ or ‘no skill’ at the start of the project. They were native speakers of either French, Spanish, English, Russian, Lithuanian, Mandarin or Nepalese. 

The researchers created fake Finnish words - /tite/ – /ti:te/ and /tote/ – /to:te/ - chosen because they contain different places of articulation and are prevalent in common global languages. Importantly, the native languages of the participants all contain vowel phonemes similar to the ones in the linguistic stimuli.

Research subjects were exposed to recordings over a 3-day test period. The research followed a common test structure incorporating baseline tracking, training and measurement for each of the different stimuli. The stimuli were played to the research subjects using Sanako headsets and languages technology. The instructions to all subjects were clear - they listened to each sound carefully and were then asked to repeat it as clearly and as accurately as they could. Recordings of the subject’s voice and EEG were made and analysed.

The results captured by the researchers were notable. They demonstrated that the periods of listen-and-repeat training had “clear, statistically significant learning effects on the perception of the trained linguistic stimuli.”

The researchers concluded that:

“Taken together with existing literature, it seems that listen-and-repeat can be a useful tool in the acquisition of second language phonemes.”

The full article and a broader synopsis of the research can be found on the Sanako blog.

In the light of this research, how can language teachers use listen-and-repeat approaches to improve the effectiveness of their engagements? Perhaps the answer lies in so-called “mindful repetition”, which seeks to extend students’ learning beyond simply repeating words and phrases and hoping that their language proficiency or knowledge improves.

Instead, its proponents argue that mindful repetition helps students to be more actively engaged in their repetition and more attentive to the individual elements within it. Teachers could and should encourage/support students to develop higher order skills such as considering how words are said, how the words might be used and how the words compare to other words they know/understand. Such elements help to engage students of different levels and learning styles and better enable them to notice the various elements that build language fluency. Why not give it a try next time you teach?

If you’d like to know how Sanako products can help your students get more from listen-and-repeat learning strategies, contact us now to arrange your free demo!