Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


The Phonological Skills of Immersion Learners: An Acoustic Analysis of Spanish Vowels


Modern Languages & Literatures


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Language immersion programs aim to develop bilingual individuals, able to participate in multiple global communities, and while the lexical, syntactic, and sociolinguistic development of immersion learners is well documented, their phonological skills remain relatively unexplored. This study sets out to address this gap by investigating immersion learners' pronunciation of Spanish vowels, comparing the production of native English-speaking (NES) learners in both one-way and two-way immersion programs to those of their native Spanish-speaking (NSS) peers and considering development over time. A total of 85 immersion students participated in this study. A cross-sectional sample of first, third, fifth, and seventh grade students from each of the program/language groups was taken. Students were recorded carrying out an animal picture sorting task in pairs. Up to twenty tokens of each of the five Spanish vowels, for a possible total of 100 tokens per subject, were isolated and examined via spectrographic analysis in order to measure first and second formant values. The findings indicate that the vowel productions of immersion learners differ from those of NSS peers. In general, the vowel space of the learners is larger than that of the NSS peer group. Over time, the number of differences between one-way NES learners and native speakers increases while the number of differences between two-way NES learners and native speakers decreases. This finding suggests that there may be an effect of program model; however, differences in the ethnic background and exposure to Spanish outside of school may also play a role.

Conference Name

In the Changing Contexts of Globalization

Conference Location

Chicago, IL

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