Vive la Musique: The Relationship Between Music Experience and Phonological Accuracy in Second-Language Learners of French

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Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown, Hope College

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While it is obvious that music exposure trains the ear over time, the extent of this training is not fully understood. This study seeks to discover whether musical sensitivity of the ear correlates with phonetic sensitivity; that is, whether different frequency experiences of music correlate to tuning frequencies that specify vowels. Comparison of the French and English vowels produced by upper level language learners will allow examination of the variables which might influence the production of native-sounding vowels. This study seeks to determine which variables influence the production of vowel sounds. It is hypothesized that musical background, both experience and aptitude, perceptual accuracy and time spent in a French-speaking country will influence phonetic authenticity in the second language of French. Participants from French classes level 300 and above completed both a musical experience questionnaire and a language background questionnaire. Perceptual tasks were administered, including Gordon’s (1989) test of music aptitude and a perceptual task requiring participants to identify whether vowel sounds produced by a native balanced bilingual speaker were produced in French or in English. Participants were also recorded speaking in both languages so that their utterances could be measured for target accuracy compared to the native speaker’s productions. Results for the language perceptual listening task indicate that listeners were more accurate in their perception of French targets than for English. Music perception outcomes present a range of audiation performance scores from the 41st to 87th percentile for musical aptitude. Comparison of the perceptual data with acoustic analysis outcomes sheds light on a complex interaction of contributing influences.

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