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Selected Papers from the Nineteenth International Symposium on English Teaching

Effects of Teaching Connected Speech on


EFL Adolescents Listening Comprehension
Ju-Ting Lee () Feng-Lan Kuo ()
National Changhua University National Changhua University
of Education of Education
routine0917@yahoo.com.tw laflkuo@cc.ncue.edu.tw

Authentic English for everyday social interactions, unlike classroom


English, is often used in a connected way containing linking, assimilation, or
reduced forms (Brown & Kondo-Brown, 2006; Fan, 2003). While research
has attested the effectiveness of teaching connected speech for adult learners
(Brown & Hilferty, 2006; Fan, 2003; Matsuzawa, 2006), whether EFL
adolescents will benefit from such instruction is still in question.
Furthermore, instructions regarding connected speech are predominantly via
rule explanation. Communicative listening elements that connected forms
normally appear with are absent. Hence, this study aims to compare the
effectiveness of teaching connected speech using communicative tasks with
that using explicit rule instruction on adolescents. Subjects are three intact
ninth-grade classes composed of a total of 94 students. They are assigned to
either an experimental group receiving explicit rule instruction, or another
experimental group receiving communicative instruction, or to a control
group receiving no special instruction. The teaching period lasted for 15
minutes a day, from Monday to Friday, for three weeks. A listening test
focusing on connected speech forms, including a cloze subtest and a
listening comprehension subtest, was developed. Results showed: 1.) the
communicative group performed significantly better than the other groups on
the cloze subtest; 2.) the group receiving explicit rule instruction did not
perform significantly better than the control group on the cloze subtest; and
3.) no significant improvement was found on the listening comprehension
subtest among the three groups.

INTRODUCTION

Intelligibility is the major goal for listening and speaking instruction, especially for
communicating with foreigners in real contexts. However, English used in classroom is usually
different from real speech produced by native and proficient speakers. Classroom English is
often spoken in a slower, simplified and overcorrected way, according to Fan (2003). English
spoken in authentic situations of social interaction, on the other hand, is more likely to be
spoken more rapidly and in a connected way. This is suggested by Rost (2001), who indicated
that the pronunciation of certain syllable-timed languages, such as English, sounds unclear due
to the presence of linking, assimilation, or reduced forms.
According to Celce-Murcia, Brinton, and Goodwins (1996) and Kenworthys (1987)
categorizations, the factors that make real speech unintelligible include suprasegmentals and
connected speech. The former researchers referred to the use of rhythm, intonation, and stress,
while the latter referred to sound substitutions, deletions, insertions, and links between words.
On the other hand, Crystal (1980)cited in Brown & Kondo-Brown (2006)defined
connected speech as the continuous sequence of speech which contrasted with isolated
phonetic units. In this sense, the categorization is extended to encompass subcategories: word

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stress, sentence stress and timing, reduction, weak forms of words, elision, intrusion,
assimilation, transition or juncture, liaison, and contraction (Brown & Kondo-Brown, 2006).
However, the categorization was rather complicated and only some of the categories have been
investigated. C-C assimilation or reduction (e.g., hot dog), C-V linking (e.g., stop it), and
palatalization (e.g., eat your soup), contraction (e.g., Ill, wont, cant) were the four major
patterns discussed in the previous studies (Carreira, 2008; Celce-Murcia et al., 1996; Fan, 2003;
Henrichsen, 1984; Matsuzawa, 2006; Wang, 2005).
Rather than keeping students in touch with only classroom speech, if students are to be
equipped with the ability to communicate with native speakers smoothly in real life settings,
elements related to connected speech should be taught. Cauldwell (1996) and Goh (1999)
further advocated that phonological patterns and rules of connected speech should be taught to
promote learners listening comprehension. These studies attest to the need for focusing on
bottom-up elements such as vocabulary and more subtle elements in connected speech.
Fan (2003), Matsuzawa (2006), Brown and Hilferty (2006), and Carreira (2008) have thus
responded to this need and conducted research to explore the effectiveness of teaching
connected speech to a variety of subjects. Most of them tested the positive effect of instruction
by utilizing perceptive tests for recognizing reduced forms in English because perceiving
connected speech affected authentic communication more than producing them correctly.
Nevertheless, Fan (2003) and Wang (2005) failed to show the positive effect of connected
speech instruction but indicated subjects positive attitude toward connected speech instruction.
However, the validity of these studies has been a concern for two reasons. First, one of the
limitations of the previous studies (Carreira, 2008; Crawford, 2006; Fan, 2003; Matsuzawa,
2006) is the absence of a control group. Without a control group, the number of uncontrolled
variables is high and the relationship in between is obscure. Accumulating more empirical data
with a more cautious design is therefore required. Hence, this study included a control group
and applied ANCOVA (analysis of covariance) to equate the initial differences among the
subjects. Secondly, previous studies mainly recruited adult learners and adopted explicit
instruction. Adults are more capable of learning rules cognitively (Krashen, Scarcella, & Long,
1982), while children can possibly acquire patterns in communicative contexts (Schmidt, 1990).
Whether the same effects will be prominent on adolescents should be examined empirically.
Furthermore, explicit rule instruction may not be the only choice. As Celce-Murcia et al. (1996)
and Toda (2006) suggested, communicative instruction could be a possible candidate for
teaching connected speech patterns. To support this hypothesis, empirical studies were needed,
and it is to this direction that this current study was undertaken.
This study examines the effectiveness of connected speech instruction on improving
students listening ability. This research implements explicit rule instruction and
communicative instruction on inter-word level. To compare the range of improvement between
different groups, two specially tailored cloze and comprehension tests were designed to
represent connected words and comprehension-oriented indirect testing.
The research questions of the present study were:

1. Is explicit instruction on connected speech rules effective in improving junior


high school students performance on the cloze and listening comprehension
tests?
2. Is communicative instruction on connected speech patterns effective in
improving junior high school students performance on the cloze and listening
comprehension tests?
3. Between explicit instruction and communicative instruction, which type of
instruction is more effective in improving junior high school students
performance on the cloze and comprehension tests?

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LITERATURE REVIEW
One of the earliest studies about connected speech is Henrichsens (1984) investigation
into the role of sandhi-variation, seen as an alternative term for connected speech, in listening
comprehension for ESL learners. The findings, which were further attested by Ito (2006),
revealed that the presence or absence of connected speech did indeed affect listeners
perception and thus called for a need to teach connected speech patterns.
Since Henrichsens revelation that features of connected speech reduced perceptual
saliency and affected ESL listeners perception, concerns about connected speech have been
directed toward addressing the effectiveness of teaching connected speech rules to ESL or EFL
learners. However, studies investigating the effectiveness of connected speech instruction
showed mixed results. Some studies (Brown & Hilferty, 2006; Carreira, 2008; Crawford, 2006;
Fan, 2003; Matsuzawa, 2006) found that connected speech instruction was effective in
improving learners perception of connected speech forms and therefore should be taught in the
classroom, while other studies (Chung, 2007; Huang, 2007; Wang, 2004) failed to show
learners significant gains after receiving connected speech instruction. The inconsistent
research findings required more empirical studies to clarify the effectiveness of connected
speech instruction.
Studies which showed positive effects of connected speech instruction mainly recruited
adult learners and adopted explicit rule instruction, but lacked a control group. Age differences
and different types of instruction together might account for the effectiveness of instruction.
However, lacking the comparison to a control group, the effectiveness of most studies was in
doubt. To the authors knowledge, Brown and Hilfertys (2006) study was the only study that
included a control group and revealed the significant effect of connected speech instruction.
Results of other studies (Chung, 2007; Huang, 2007; Wang, 2005), though including a control
group, revealed that learners receiving connected speech rules did not make significant
improvements in the post-instructional comparison. However, based on questionnaire results
these researchers claimed that the learners perceived the instruction to be helpful.
Results of previous studies indicated generally that connected speech instruction
facilitated adult learners perception of connected speech, yet the effectiveness varied in degree.
In addition, adult learners tended to hold positive attitude toward connected speech instruction
and perceived connected speech instruction to be useful. However, the previous studies failed
to address the problems arising from the lack of a control group, age differences, or different
types of instruction. This current study aims to address some of these shortcomings by utilizing
explicit rule instruction and communicative instruction for adolescent learners as part of the
stated goal of evaluating the effectiveness of teaching connected speech patterns.

METHODOLOGY

Subjects
Three ninth grade classes in a junior high school in central Taiwan were chosen as
research subjects. All three classes were taught by the first author. Class A received explicit
rule instruction, Class B received communicative instruction, and Class C served as the control
group. Due to the absence of some subjects in the pre-test or the post-test, there were only 30 to
32 valid subjects in each class. Most subjects generally started receiving formal English
education when they were in the third grade. Before any measure was taken, the subjects
scores on a beginner GEPT listening test were compared via one-way ANOVA, but no
significant differences were found, indicating that their general listening abilities were similar.

Material Selection
Connected forms occurring in individual words are usually the focus of teachers engaged

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in vocabulary instruction. This study, therefore, gives attention the forms across word level. As
to which sets of rules on which the instruction should be based, a survey of the Hanlin English
Textbook, Book 5 (Huang et al., 2009), was administered to locate appropriate target forms for
instruction. There were some categories prominent in number: C-C reduction (unreleased or
unaspirated t/d & deletion), C-V linking, contractions, and palatalization. The results of the
survey were similar to the target patterns taught in previous studies. Since the subjects have
been taught the contractions reflected in spellings, contractions were therefore excluded in this
study.
By analyzing the distribution of connected speech occurred in the textbook and consulting
those mentioned by Celce-Murcia et al. (1996) and Fan (2003), the three connected speech
subcategories of C-V linking, C-C reduction and palatalization were adopted in this study. Each
group was assigned an equal number of target sentences.

Instruments
Two subtests, as the pre-test and post-test, were developed to test the subjects perceptions
of connected speech patterns. Each subtest contained 15 test items, five items for each
connected speech pattern. The target sentences containing connected speech patterns in the
subtests were different from the sentences being taught. The first subtest was a dictation test in
cloze form. The target forms were in blank, while other words were printed in the test paper.
For example, the first test item was
You should __________ dog three times a day.
The subjects were expected to fill in feed and your to show they could perceive the
palatalization occurring between feed and your. One point was given if the subjects wrote
down the complete correct answer. The second subtest was constructed in the form of multiple
choice questionsa short dialogue (2 lines) or a sentence statement which contained the target
connected forms and four options for the subjects to choose from. One point was given for
each correct answer.
A native speaker, an experienced English instructor with more than ten years of teaching
experience, was invited to record the listening material. Another proficient user who had stayed
in an English-speaking country for more than eight years was also invited to record part of the
comprehension questions that require conversations between two speakers. To enhance its
validity, the test was examined by three English teachers to ensure its appropriateness for the
subjects.

Designs of the Lessons


For the class receiving the explicit rule instruction aided by phonetic symbols (K.K.
system), each connected speech subcategory was given five days a week and 15 minutes a day
for instruction, totaling some three weeks of instruction. The researchers also developed three
worksheets containing examples and practice activitiesas adapted from Celce-Murcia et al.
(1996)of the three connected speech patterns, as shown in Table 1.
The rules were explained one at a time in Chinese, each followed by a set of
fill-in-the-blank practices with a variety of examples. Each subcategory was wrapped up by
another fill-in-the-blank practice in which the rules taught in the category were mixed up
together for the students to find out other examples by themselves. For the class receiving the
communicative instruction, 15 activities were developed to accommodate the three connected
speech patterns by following the task design of Ellis (2003) and the communicative drills of
Brown (2007), as shown in Appendix A.

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Data Collection and Analysis


The three groups pre-test and post-test scores were collected separately. The data
collected were analyzed through three steps. First, students cloze dictation scores and listening
comprehension scores were counted separately for analysis. Second, each groups scores of
pre-test and post-test were compared through paired t-tests to see if there were with-in group
significant improvements. Finally, ANCOVA was applied to see if there was significant
difference among the post-test scores of the three groups and which one was significantly
higher in the two subtests respectively.

RESULTS
To answer the first research question, paired t-tests were computed to compare the pre-test
and post-test scores on the cloze subtest, as shown in Table 2 and Table 3 respectively, for the
three classes. For Class A receiving the explicit instruction on connected speech patterns, there
is a significant difference between the pre-test (M = 5.69) and the post-test scores (M = 7.13)
on the cloze subtest, t(31) = 5.416, p < .01. The result shows that the subjects made significant
improvement on the cloze post-test. Hence, the explicit rule instruction on connected speech
does have a positive effect in improving the students performance on the dictation subtest in
cloze forms. However, on the comprehension test, Class A doesnt show significant difference
between the pre-test (M = 6.91) and the post-test (M = 7.06), t(31) = 0.371, p = .713. In sum,
the results suggest that the explicit rule instruction is effective in improving the subjects
performance on the cloze subtest, but doesnt have significant effect in improving the subjects
performance in the comprehension subtest.
To answer the second research question, for Class B receiving communicative instruction
on connected speech patterns, the result of the paired t-test shows significant difference
between the pre-test (M = 6.69) and the post-test scores (M = 9.25) on the cloze subtest, t(31) =
5.347, p < .01. The result shows that the subjects improve significantly when compared with
their pre-test performance. Therefore, the communicative instruction on connected speech
patterns does have a positive effect in improving the students performance on the dictation
subtest. However, similar to Class A, Class B doesnt show significant difference between the
pre-test (M = 7.94) and the post-test scores (M = 7.97) on the listening comprehension test;
t(31) = 0.058, p = .954.
Likewise, the control group, Class C, shows similar results. The paired t-test result
indicates that the post-test scores (M = 5.00) are significantly higher than the pre-test scores (M

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= 3.53) on the cloze subtest, t(29) = 5.117, p < .01. In contrast, the listening comprehension
post-test scores (M = 6.07) are not significantly higher than the pre-test scores (M = 6.03), t(29)
= 0.083, p = .784. The results suggested that the subjects without specific treatment on
connected speech patterns still improved on the cloze subtest, though no significant
improvement was found on the comprehension subtest.

To answer the third research question, one-way ANOVA analyses were conducted to
compare the performance among the three classes on the cloze pre-test and the listening
comprehension pre-test separately as shown in Table 4. Performance on the cloze pre-test
differed significantly across the three classes, F(2, 91) = 4.986, p = .009. The subjects
performance on the listening comprehension pre-test also differ significantly across the three
classes, F(2, 91) = 3.711, p = .028.

The significant difference on the scores of the cloze pre-test and the listening
comprehension pre-test across the three classes required the use of ANCOVA to compare the
post-test scores. An ANCOVA was conducted and the results showed no interaction between
the cloze pre-test scores and different classes, F(2, 88) = 1.656, p = .197. After controlling for
the effect of the cloze pre-test scores, the results showed that there was a significant effect of
communicative instruction on the performance on the cloze post-test, F(2, 90) = 3.021, p

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= .045. Results of post-hoc analysis indicated that Class B receiving the communicative
instruction gained significantly higher post-test scores than Class A (p = .03) receiving the
explicit rule instruction and Class C (p = .045), the control group. However, no significant
difference was found between Class A and Class C (p = .959). Hence, the results suggested that
the subjects receiving communicative instruction performed the best among the three classes.
As for the listening comprehension post-test, ANCOVA was also used to control the
differences on the listening comprehension pre-test scores. The interaction between the
listening comprehension pre-test scores and different classes were not significant, F(2, 88) =
0.871, p = .140. After controlling the effect of the difference of the listening comprehension
pre-test scores, the results still showed no significant difference among the three classes, F(2,
90) = 0.367, p = .649.
In sum, Class B receiving the communicative instruction gained significant improvement
on the cloze post-test when compared with Class A receiving the explicit rule instruction and
Class C, the control group. However, no significant difference was found on the listening
comprehension post-test across the three groups.

DISCUSSION
To answer the first research question, the paired t-test results show that the explicit rule
instruction on connected speech patterns effectively improved the subjects performance on the
dictation subtest in cloze form, similar to Fans (2003) findings, but not on the listening
comprehension subtest. As for the second research question, similar to the explicit rule
instruction, the communicative instruction on connected speech patterns was effective in
improving the subjects performance on the cloze test, but not on the listening comprehension
subtest. Although both the explicit instruction and the communicative instruction had a positive
effect on improving the students performance on the cloze subtest of connected speech forms,
the results showed that the subjects receiving the communicative instruction performed
significantly better than those receiving the explicit rule instruction and the control group. That
is, the communicative instruction was more effective in improving the students performance
on the cloze subtest. The empirical results provided support for the communicative instruction
for teaching connected speech patterns suggested by Celce-Murcia et al. (1996) and Toda
(2006). It is therefore suggested that communicative instruction should be implemented for
teaching connected speech patterns.
In contrast to the findings of previous studies, in this study the explicit instruction group
did not perform significantly better than the control group. Age difference should not be
ignored. The previous studies only recruited adult learners who have developed more abilities
to learn cognitively, while this study recruited adolescent learners who may be less capable of
dealing with the rules cognitively. According to Schmidt (1990), children tended to learn
language patterns through communicative interaction while adults might fail to catch the rules
incidentally. The shift took place around puberty. Therefore, age difference might also
contribute to different learning outcome.
Special attention should be given to ensure that the control group receiving no treatment
still makes significant improvement on the cloze post-test. This improvement can be attributed
to the natural growth of the control group. Since the sentence pool of this study was derived
from the textbook used by the three groups, the control group members might have implicitly
exposed themselves to the target forms. Natural input could be a possible way for the subjects
to acquire connected speech patterns implicitly in class. Further investigation can be made to
explore whether simply providing students with comprehensive aural input can enhance their
abilities on the perception of connected speech patterns.
In addition, the subjects motivation may be a topic worthy of investigation. In this study,
the subjects were ninth graders who seldom had a chance to communicate with others in

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English, nor paid attention to listening. Since Taiwan is an EFL context, students generally
have few chances to experience real communication in English. Most of the time, students have
more chances in exposing themselves to reading or writing. In addition, listening received less
attention in the monthly tests. In analyzing the contents of the subjects monthly tests, listening
was found to only account for five to ten percent of the whole test. Most important of all, the
subjects are preparing for the Basic Competence Test which doesnt contain listening section.
In contrast to junior high school students, adult learners might have a stronger need for
listening. For example, Matsuzawa (2006) recruited adult businessmen to be the subjects who
might have more chances to expose themselves to native speakers and speak English to deal
with business. Further studies can be conducted with attention on the perspective of
motivation.
As regards the listening comprehension subtest, the subjects performance in the
pre-instructional phase and the post-instructional phase did not differ. The duration of this
preliminary study lasted for only three weeks. The duration might not be long enough for the
subjects to internalize what theyve learned in class. In addition, as Lynch and Mendelsohn
(2002) and Rost (2002) suggested, listeners applied not only bottom-up but also top-down
processes. Connected speech analysis is part of the bottom-up process. Hence, listening
comprehension required more than just the knowledge of connected speech forms. Listening
comprehension required complex cognitive processes (Vandergrift, 2004). Many other factors
could contribute to listening comprehension. For example, learners vocabulary size and lexical
coverage were two additional important factors for successful listening comprehension (Staehr,
2009). It is thus understandable that no significant effect was found in the listening
comprehension post-test.
This study has two major limitations. It was hoped that a three-week intervention and
change of the order could eliminate any irrelevant effects. However, some subjects might have
recognized the content of the test because one of the subjects in Class A receiving explicit rule
instruction told the teacher researcher that the post-test was the same as the pre-test and
doubted why she should do the same test twice. Such a negative psychological attitude might
have influenced the subjects willingness to answer the post-test. It is difficult to estimate how
recognition of the test items influences the results. Besides, theres a potential problem in
practice. The explicit rule instruction group focused on the connected part between two or
among three words but sometimes the whole sentence or context was ignored especially in the
section of C-V linking. The teacher mainly focused on the linking occurred between phrasal
verbs. Hence, the practice sections were mainly about phrasal verbs instead of full sentences.
As for the communicative instruction group, the subjects were provided with the full sentences
or even larger context to practice the target forms implicitly.
The findings of this study have some implications for teaching connected speech forms.
The explicit rule instruction is not the only choice for teaching connected speech patterns.
Implicitly presenting or practicing connected speech forms or natural exposure to input filled
with connected speech may result in significant improvement. However, to maximize the
effectiveness, teachers should first check the listening material to include available connected
speech patterns and give learners more opportunities to be exposed to the input. Teachers can
either explicitly draw learners attention to the target forms or implicitly ask some questions to
check learners comprehension. The listening materials could also be the topic for learners to
discuss. The communication instruction requires learners to interact with the teacher or their
classmates. Through the interaction, learners could better internalize the connected speech
patterns.
For future studies, longer teaching period is suggested to compare the effects of the
explicit rule instruction and the communicative instruction to see if the communicative
instruction still has better effectiveness, since this study implemented the instruction for only
three weeks, a total of 225 minutes. In addition, other additional factors such as learners
motivation, vocabulary size, and lexical coverage are suggested to be taken into consideration.

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