MIAPARLE: A set of computer-based tools for the acquisition of prosody in a second language

Second language learners tend to imprint the prosody (i.e., accentuation, intonation, rhythm) of their native language onto the second language (L2). This prosodic cross-language transfer is often combined with segmental (i.e., vocalic and consonantal) transfers, which can lead to the presence of a foreign accent. A foreign accent can not only hamper communication between learners and natives, but it can also affect the credibility of learners and how they are evaluated by others; this can sometimes lead to social discrimination.

Despite the crucial role of prosody in speech comprehension and social interactions, it is rarely taught in language courses, even in foreign-language pronunciation courses. In the framework of computer-assisted pronunciation teaching (CAPT), the objective of our project is to develop MIAPARLE (from French: Méthode Interactive d’Aide à la Prononciation pour l’AppRentissage d’une Langue Étrangère), a web application designed to offer a wide range of perception and production tools dedicated to L2 prosody learning.

In 2017, Dr. Sandra Schwab and Jean-Philippe Goldman received a INNOGAP grant from the University of Geneva to build a prototype for our application (miaparle.unige.ch). Three innovations characterize this prototype, and hence MIAPARLE. First, it is the only web application, among the existing web or mobile applications, that specifically deals with the perception and production of L2 prosody. Second, innovative training methods, validated with empirical investigations (carried out in collaboration with Prof. Volker Dellwo, U. Zurich), are used. Finally, the visualization of the learners' productions is easily interpretable for non-phoneticians.

The prototype is currently designed to train the discrimination and production of Spanish stress contrasts (e.g., NUmero versus nuMEro). The goal, within the framework of this collaboration, is to implement MIAPARLE for different foreign languages, in particular for learning stress contrasts in German, Italian, English, as well as for learning tone contrasts in Chinese Mandarin. Moreover, as a first step, MIAPARLE is designed for French-speaking learners of foreign languages, since they have been shown to experience the greatest difficulties in acquiring L2 prosody. In this collaboration, MIAPARLE will be adapted for learners of other native languages (e.g., German, Italian, English).

The combination of the linguistic/phonetic expertise of Prof. Volker Dellwo and his international team (Computational linguistics, U. Zurich), the knowledge of Prof. Mireille Bétrancourt (TECFA, U. Geneva) in the field of information technology and learning processes, the psycholinguistic experience of Dr. Sandra Schwab (ELCF, U. Geneva) and the computational skills of Jean-Philippe Goldman (U. Geneva) represents an ideal context for the realization of the present project. Besides, the partners already collaborated in the past within the framework of different projects (SNF Ambizione, SNF Agora, INNOGAP). The UZH-UNIGE Joint Seed Funding would not only strengthen the existing link between UNIGE and UZH, but would also give more power to the field of L2 prosody in Switzerland, an under-investigated field in our country. To that respect, we will organize a one-day workshop: “SWIP4”, the fourth edition of “Swiss Workshop in Prosody” that will be specifically dedicated to the acquisition of prosody in L2 and computer-based tools in L2 learning.

Participants :

Dr. Sandra Schwab, University of Geneva

Prof. Volker Dellwo, University of Zurich

M. Jean-philippe Goldman, University of Geneva

Prof. Mireille Bétancourt, University of Geneva