Effects of training methods on second language learning of Mandarin tones

Thumbnail Image
Li, Wanlin
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University College Cork
Published Version
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue
This dissertation investigates the teaching and learning of Mandarin tones. Specifically, it focuses on pedagogical issues relating to the third tone (T3), which developed from different theoretical assumptions concerning the default feature of T3. There are two main assumptions regarding the standard form of T3. The first argues that the Full-T3 (a dipping contour, [214]) is the standard form (Chao, 1930, 1968). In contrast, the second proposes that the Half-T3 (a low-level tone, [21]) is the standard form (Yip, 1980, 2002; Duanmu, 1990; Cao, 2002; Sparvoli, 2011, 2017; Zhang, 2013). In this study, the former is labelled as the ‘Full-T3 assumption’ and the latter as the ‘Half-T3 assumption’. Two pedagogical practices have been developed based on the two assumptions, respectively. The traditional pedagogy is built on the Full-T3 assumption, in which Full-T3 [214] is usually introduced to second language (L2) learners first. A more innovative method is developed from the Half-T3 assumption: the Half-T3 [21] is presented to L2 learners first. They are known as the ‘Full-T3 First’ (FT3-First) method and the ‘T3 [21]-First’ method, respectively (Zhang, 2013, 2017). The T3[21]-First method can significantly reduce difficulties in distinguishing between the second tone (T2: rising, [35]) and the Full-T3 for L2 learners (Moore & Jongman, 1997; Jongman et al., 2006; Sparvoli, 2011, 2017; Zhang, 2013, 2018). According to the Half-T3 assumption, the Mandarin tone inventory that includes the first tone (T1), the second tone (T2), the third tone (T3) and the fourth tone (T4), can be presented as a system of contrasts that involve two pairs of functional opposites: low level vs. high level [T3 vs. T1] and falling vs. rising [T4 vs. T2]. To help L2 learners to build discrete categories for each tone, it is suggested that the T3/T1 tone contrast should be taught before the T4/T2 tone contrast (Sparvoli, 2011, 2017). This is referred to as the ‘31/42’ training method. In contrast, under the Full-T3 assumption, the Mandarin tone system can only be presented in an isolated sequence and the corresponding pedagogy is labelled as the ‘1/2/3/4’ training method. I conducted a training study to compare the two conditions and to find out which one is more beneficial for L2 learners whose native language is non-tonal. Twenty-seven L2 learners of Mandarin at the beginner level participated in this study and were divided into two groups: Group 1 (G1) was trained with the 31/42 training method (which implies the T3[21]-First method), whereas Group 2 (G2) was trained with the 1/2/3/4 training method (in line with the FT3-First method). The results show that the 31/42 training method can improve the tone perceptual ability of L2 learners across all tones and tonal combinations. Moreover, facilitative effects of the 31/42 training were also observed in the L2 learners’ production data. L2 tonal contours were compared with the native speakers’ pattern. The present study is innovative in investigating the theoretical assumptions of the pedagogical methods on T3 in a systemic way. Our findings have significant implications for how Mandarin tones should be taught to learners whose native language is non-tonal.
Chinese tones , Non-tonal languages , Tone categories , Training methods
Li, W. 2022. Effects of training methods on second language learning of Mandarin tones. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
Link to publisher’s version