Transfer, similarity or lack of awareness? inconsistencies of German learners in the pronunciation of lot, thought, strut, palm and bath
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The current study presents acoustic analyses of non-high back vowels and low central vowels in the lexical sets LOT, THOUGHT, STRUT, PALM and BATH as pronounced by German learners of English. The main objective is to show that learners of English at university level are highly inconsistent in approximating the vowels of their self-chosen target accents British English (BrE) and American English (AmE). To that end, the acoustic qualities of the English vowels of learners are compared to their native German vowels and to the vowels of native speakers of BrE and AmE. In order to facilitate statements about the effect of increased experience, the study differentiates between students in their first year at university and in their third year or later. The results obtained are highly variable: In some cases the learners transfer their L1 vowels to English, other cases show clear approximations to the target vowels, while other cases again document the production of new vowels neither found in German nor in English. However, close approximation to the target vowels only sometimes correlates with higher proficiency. This might be an indicator of a low level of awareness of systematic differences between the BrE and AmE vowel systems. But the data also indicate that the more advanced learners produce more distinct AmE BATH vowels and BrE THOUGHT vowels than the less advanced learners, which points to a partial increase of awareness resulting from increased experience. All in all it seems that raising the awareness of differences between target accents in L2 instruction is necessary if the envisage goal is for learners to reach near-native pronunciation.