Managing the monolingual mindset. SWANS: an authoring system for raising awareness of L2 lexical stress patterns and for inhibiting mother-tongue interference


  • Anthony J. Stenton Université Toulouse



Speech perception, syllable perception, oral production, SMIL, synchronisation, reading techniques, mother-tongue interference, teacher education


Until the end of the 20th century many EFL or ESL students were victims of what has been called “the literary tradition”. After 12 years of school and university language study, they would finish their academic careers with a ‘reasonable' level in reading and an ‘unreasonably' lower level in listening and speaking. Recent pressures of globalisation have lifted some of the psychological barriers to speaking: European students are now far readier to abandon the cocoon-like, tribal security of their mothertongue and L2 oral fluency has undoubtedly improved. Accuracy in spoken form, however, has made considerably less progress. The intrusive and distracting presence of foreign lexical stress patterns can and often does lead to communication breakdown. In the field of pragmatics such problems are under-researched perhaps because tolerance
thresholds are based on diverse linguistic experience and highly individualized perceptual acuity making generalisation difficult. Similarities between arbitrary and irrational racial intolerance and arbitrary and irrational linguistic intolerance are striking. In the following article we lay the blame squarely with the real culprits in the European tradition - neural commitment towards mother tongue sounds and a vastly underestimated, not to say dangerous, man-made cultural artefact : the Latin alphabet itself. In an attempt to escape from the contradictions of using a standardised alphabet for symbolising languages with highly different lexical stress patterns, a team of 12 researchers from 4 laboratories in Toulouse have developed a new CNRS-funded authoring system called SWANS (Synchronised Web Authoring Notation System) which
is currently undergoing testing in several European countries via language centres associated with CERCLES. SWANS manipulates the physical and cognitive nature of the reading experience itself not in order to improve reading skills but in order to improve L2 speech perception and ultimately speech production itself. Synchronised Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL 2.1, W3C, 2006) is used in SWANS to generate web pages, allowing novice teachers to synchronise text and sound and to annotate text typographically in order to raise awareness of lexical stress patterns. Working with a sample of over 250 students, recent studies (Stenton et al, 2005) have shown that computer-based dual coding (Pavio) of animated text improved listening perception and also led to more comprehensible L2 oral production in controlled conditions. This article presents the ideas underlying the development and analyses feedback from an international network of field experiments on the pedagogical aspects of learning through on screen reading of annotated sound synchronised texts. Improving L2 oral perception and production also implies appealing to EUROCALL partners to help improve teacher education and better manage the widespread problem of the monolingual mindset.


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Author Biography

Anthony J. Stenton, Université Toulouse

Département des Langues


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