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Towards a better understanding of the needs of English learners of foreign languages: are English listeners ‘stress deaf’?

A six month research project funded by the University of York Research Priming Fund (January-July 2012).

Most people agree that it is hard to learn a new language as an adult, but relatively little research tries to link why language learning is difficult with how we can help learners do better. Of the research that there is, most looks at sentence structure, rather than speech sounds, and deals with the needs of people learning English, rather than the needs of native English speakers learning other languages.

This project will address this imbalance by highlighting the need for research on English learners of other languages: we will carry out a study, then, share our results with other researchers, within and beyond York, through a public conference and an inter-disciplinary workshop to generate further research.

Our study replicates an experiment which showed that French listeners can’t tell which syllable in a word is stressed (Dupoux et al 2001, 2007). We suspect that English listeners have the same difficulty, but for a different reason: in French, stress is always on the last syllable, so listeners don’t pay attention to stress at all when they learn new words; we think English listeners do pay attention to stress, but only ‘hear’ it if it sounds like English stress. If we’re right, there is a way to help, using methods already developed to train learners how to listen differently.

Our one-day conference on Second Language Acquisition of Phonology - with a special focus on English learners of other languages - was held on July 6th 2012. More information is available on the conference website.


Principal Investigator: Dr Sam Hellmuth email webpage

Former Postdoctoral Research Assistant: Dr Becky Muradás-Taylor

Ø   Becky is now Senior Lecturer at York St John University: email webpage


For further information please contact Sam Hellmuth.


Updated 04.05.19