The next speaker in our research seminar series this semester is our colleague Alex Ho-Cheong Leung. Alex is a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics at Northumbria.

The talk takes place in person at 11am on Wednesday 24th November 2021 in room 205 in the Squires Annexe building

The talk is titled ‘Perceptual difficulties with L2 English clusters and short vowels: Implications for pronunciation teaching and learning‘. There is an abstract below.

You can find directions to the campus and a campus map here:

We will also be streaming the talk for people who would like to attend that way. For the link to join, please email Billy Clark:


Research has demonstrated that second/ foreign language (L2/FL) learners often struggle with the production of consonant clusters. It is common for learners to employ various simplification strategies including, deletion, substitution, and epenthesis in the production of clusters that are either absent or more complex than those in their first language. For example, it has been reported that some Spanish learners of L2 English epenthesise (i.e. supply extra materials) to break up clusters resulting in “espain” while attempting to pronounce “Spain”. It is worth asking whether non-target like production of clusters such as the above can be attributed to difficulties in perception. In fact, L2 speech research have started to explore the notion of “perceptual illusion” where participants report perceiving “phantom” elements that are not actually present in the speech stream.  

This presentation reports on a study that investigated English consonant clusters and short, unstressed vowel perception of 70 Arabic-, Mandarin-, Spanish-speaking foreign language learners and 19 native English speakers. Results from an AX-discrimination task show that participants misperceive stimuli containing consonant clusters and counterparts where clusters are broken up by epenthetic/prothetic elements. In light of these findings, we encourage a reconsideration of the balance between focusing on production and perception in pronunciation instructions. Despite advances in L2 speech research which demonstrates the close link between production and perception, materials written for popular consumption continue to rely heavily on “traditional approaches” which place a strong emphasis on “accurate production” at the expense of the perception domain.  

Keywords: consonant clusters; illusory vowels and epenthesis; perceptual illusion; second language perception; short vowels and schwa

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