A mixed method study of mandarin tone perception, production and self-regulated strategy use

Baili Emily Lilienfeld

PhD thesis, conferred 2016

This study explores second language learner (L2) perception and production of Mandarin Chinese disyllabic tonal combinations, the learning patterns and the use of strategies as well as their influence on tone identification. Lexical tones are traditionally regarded as the most difficult part of pronunciation for L2 learners of tonal languages. Despite this concern there is limited research into how L2 learners develop disyllabic tones (the basis of Mandarin Chinese), especially in terms of studies involving both language and learner factors.

This study adopts a mixed method approach to address the gap, with its linking of quantitative studies of tone perception and production and qualitative analysis of interview data exploring learner strategy use. The quantitative data (n=111) involved two tone tests of 64 disyllabic words administered to tertiary L2 learners. Eight low- and high-performing learners from the tone tests were selected for in-depth individual interviews. Quantitative results indicated different levels of difficulty in the sixteen tonal combinations, and that lexical knowledge and the syllable position of Tone 3 plays crucial roles in successful tone identification. Qualitative data analysis revealed that strategy use differed between low and high performers in terms of type and use frequency and these strategies either increased or reduced the tone difficulties.

The findings have implications for curriculum development and L2 tone teaching and support the need for more cross-disciplinary studies of L2 tone development in education and applied linguistics.

Supervisor: Professor Ken Cruickshank