Late ESL Learners’ Difficulties of Distinction Between Lax and Tense Vowels

  • Daniel Change (Simon Fraser University)
  • Calvin Weng (Simon Fraser University)


The present research is to analyze the production of English lax and tense vowels by early learners of English and late learners of English (namely, Early Bilinguals and Late Bilinguals). According to Flege, Munro, and McKay’s research in 1995, they discovered that Italian speakers who arrived in Canada late tended to have a noticeable foreign accent in English, whereas early Italian arrivals in Canada performed better at English pronunciation tasks. This suggests that older second language learners may have more difficulties in pronouncing native-like sounds in speech. Therefore, given that acoustic cues of vowels varied by the formant frequencies and perceived by speakers, it is likely to conclude that age of acquisition (AOA) might be the important factor that prohibits language learners to perceive, distinguish, and produce these formant frequencies correctly. The present paper intends to analyze the speech of six Chinese Canadian English speakers differed by age of arrival in Canada. We created a reading task which contains 135 randomized one-syllable English words, purposefully mixed with lax and tense vowels. Preliminary results have shown that the Late Bilinguals are more likely to mispronounce lax and tense vowels in English than the Early Bilinguals. Therefore, the results taken from the present research have several pedagogical values, which intend to help prospective ESL educators to consider integrating pronunciation teaching in the curriculum design.

How to Cite:

Change, D. & Weng, C., (2012) “Late ESL Learners’ Difficulties of Distinction Between Lax and Tense Vowels”, Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Proceedings 4(1).

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Published on
01 Jan 2013