W.W.S. Lai1, M.L. Ng2

1The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong Community College (HONG KONG)
2The University of Hong Kong, Speech Science Laboratory (HONG KONG)
This study compared English word stress produced by native speakers of Hong Kong Cantonese who were learning English as a second language (ESL) with that produced by native American and British English speakers. Eleven highly proficient and 11 less proficient ESL speakers (11 females and 11 males), and ten native English speakers participated in the study. They were instructed to read seven English disyllabic noun-verb pairs. By using praat, which is a signal analysis software, pitch, duration and intensity values were obtained from all the stressed English syllables for comparison with their unstressed counterparts. Results revealed significantly higher pitch but similar durational and intensity characteristics associated with the stressed syllables when compared with the unstressed counterparts produced by less proficient ESL speakers. In addition, longer duration and greater intensity were also associated with the stressed syllables when compared with the unstressed counterparts produced by the native English speakers. The findings further confirm that pitch serves as the most dominant acoustic cue for stressed syllables produced by Cantonese ESL speakers. It follows that other less dominant acoustic features (such as intensity and duration) should be emphasised in ESL teaching, especially to less proficient ESL speakers. With such implication for ESL teaching, acoustics-based teaching software such as praat was used in an introductory Phonetics course and an English pronunciation workshop at the tertiary education level to raise Cantonese ESL learners’ awareness of intensity and duration in addition to pitch in realising English word stress. Use of audio-visual feedback in addition to teachers’ instructions can serve as an implicit learning experience. According to the Theory of Motor Learning, provision of both implicit and explicit learning cues enhance speech learning, as acquisition of skilled motor controls in production of novel sounds can also be considered as a motor learning activity. Referring to the academic performance of the Cantonese ESL speakers, their increased awareness of intensity and duration also as acoustic cues for English word stress may be related to the audio-visual feedback generated by praat.