The Speech Learning Model
|Discussion Topic 1:
The Speech Learning Model (SLM)
If you are still interested in the SLM after reading all this (!) you might want to explore how the SLM developed
and was slowly modified over time as new empirical data were obtained. The first full presentation of the SLM is
found in a book edited by W. Strange in 1995. However, outlines of the model are to be found in chapters
published in H. Winitz (Ed.) 1988 and R. Kent (Ed.) 1992. The chapter in Winitz is quite long and presents
nearly all of the research available (in English, at least) up to about 1985 when it was written.
The chapter in volume 9 of the Laboratory Phonology series was a long look backwards
of nearly 25 years of research focused on L2 speech learning. Shortly after the chapter
appeared in 2007 I wrote a commentary on it, having had a couple more years to mull
over its contents. The commentary was meant to stimulate discussion. If you have
something to say, this would be a perfectly appropriate forum. Click here to read my
commentary. I look forward to hearing from you.
If you have just entered the field of second-language (L2) speech
research you probably know all about the Critical Period Hypothesis
already, but you may know little about the Speech Learning Model. If
you want to learn more about the SLM I suggest you start by having
a look at the keynote I gave at the Acoustical Society of America
(ASA) conference in Vancouver, Canada in April, 2005. It is entitled
The origins & development of the Speech Learning Model.
The final elaboration of the SLM was presented in Laboratory Phonology 9. This
chapter, written in 2005, appeared in Cole & Hualde (Eds, 2007). I suggest that this
version be used by those wishing to evaluate hypotheses of the SLM by testing
predictions it generates.
Above: the main square
in Tuscania; the Post
|Write if you have something to say on this topic. Please send a carefully edited text and
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The aim of the Speech Learning Model (SLM) is to account for
differences in the learnability of phonetic segments in an L2. Both
production and perception are examined. The SLM posits that the
accuracy with which segments are perceived in an L2 places an
upper limit on the accuracy with which the same segments can be
produced. It posits, further, than the processes and mechanisms
used in the successful acquisition of the L1 sound system -- inluding
the ability to establish phonetic categories --remain intact across the
lifespan and can be exploited in L2 speech learning.
According to Wikipedia, the Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH)
asserts that "there is an ideal time window to acquire language in a
linguistically rich environment, after which further language
acquisition becomes much more difficult and effortful" and that the
"strongest evidence in support of the "fiercely debated" CPH comes
from "the study of [foreign] accent".
That came as news to me. I thought that our work had laid the
Critical Period Hypothesis to rest. Apparently not. In any event, it is
certainly fair to say that the Speech Learning Model takes a very
different approach to L2 speech learning than does the Critical