Learning German Phonetics: The Bilingual Educational Approach

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In learning a foreign language, the adult learner encounters great difficulties due to the already built-up competence of L1 which grammatically, lexically and phonologically interferes with the competence of L2. This causes performance errors which are difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. The main purpose of language teaching is to provide good language education, ideally striving for the “native-like control” of L2 which characterizes bilingual individuals. In order to reach a high standard of language proficiency and accuracy in pronunciation, the learner should be considered as the place of the contact of L1 and L2, not simply as a potential L2-speaker. Often L1 is considered only as an obstacle to the successful acquisition of L2. In order to move to the new L2-milieu, the learner must pass the threshold which connects L1 with L2. In this paper, it is suggested that this threshold relates to phonetic input. The data involve cross-sectional research on a group of isolated German-Italian bilinguals. The study deals with the phonetic and prosodic interferences of Italian students, who, because of their high standard of proficiency in German, may be considered fully bilingual. I compared the phonological interferences of two groups, beginners and students with high level L2 competence (the result of bilingual education or advanced L2-learning) and I observed that in both groups the interference rate was very high. The interferences can be attributed to a lack of competence at the suprasegmental level, i.e. incompatible Italian intonational models being carried over into German. Phonetically and prosodically incorrect German sentences are not due to a deficit in the speakers’ phonatory apparatus, but simply to the fact that learners are not used to “hearing” the foreign sounds and intonation, i.e. they are not equipped to discriminate elements of German phonology and prosody. The discovery of the phonetic threshold in foreign language learning is the starting point of the Phonetic Input Threshold Hypothesis, which has lead to the Bilingual Educational Approach in Teaching Phonetics. Correct perception is attained starting with correct identification of L2-suprasegmentals, achieved by monitoring L1-suprasegmentals. This effect filters through to other levels resulting in correct prosody and segmentals.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospitePsycholinguistics on the threshold of the year 2000. Proceedings of the 5th International Congress of the International Society of Applied Psycholinguistics, Porto, 25-27.6.1997
Numero di pagine4
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 1999
EventoInternational Congress of the International Society of Applied Psycholinguistics - Porto
Durata: 25 giu 199727 giu 1997


ConvegnoInternational Congress of the International Society of Applied Psycholinguistics


  • language acquisition
  • phonetics


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