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Second language acquisition: Influence of ethnicity

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3231 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This chapter will provide an overview on the objective and research questions which are the basis on conducting this study. It will also provide the background of the study which may give readers a general idea about this topic.

Abstract. While learning English has become more compulsory nowadays, many parents encourage their children to learn this language as a second language. However, by acquiring two languages these children tend to be influenced by their native language or mother tongue in pronouncing sounds. Due to this, this paper aim to discover the phonological development of young children on second language from different ethnicities and to investigate the relations between the ethnicities of a speaker on phonological development in second language of 5 years old children. These are executed through phonological test in order to discover the children ability in speech sounds of different ethnicities and the result indicated different ability of every ethnicities. This cause by the way the children were raised up and the influenced of their mother tongue which could be improved via environment and ‘parentese’.

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Background of the study

Second language acquisition has become crucial nowadays in order to compete with the outside world. Awareness of learning the second language has widely spread, especially in Malaysia. In Malaysia, this awareness may cause by the influence of the populations. Malaysia’s populations consist with various ethnicities with different languages, slangs and accents. In order to have communication, they are forced to speak in one particular language that could be understood by every ethnicity. In the language policy and planning, Malay language is recognized as the national language, and any other languages are still allowed to be practice (perkara 152 Malaysian constitutions, 1963).

Due to this, Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia execute the implementation which align with the language policy by making Malay and English language as two most important subjects to be taken in order to pass examinations. Past recent year Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia had also created new educational policy and had ordered schools to execute teaching mathematics and science in English. Regarding to this, many monolingual students have difficulties in learning those subject and entirely affects the academic performance as a whole.

Due to this situation, many parents realized that learning second language needs to be started from the very young age. Their young children are taught two languages or more in order to go with the same flow with the educational policy. Monolinguals parents send their children to nursery, kindergarten which promotes teaching various language such, Mandarin, Tamil, Malay and English, regardless of children’s’ ethnicity.

However, this new syllabus is not just based on the written test only but also includes oral communication test which requires students to speak in English. As for foreign speaker, these speakers have their own mother-tongue which may leads to difficulties in acquiring the second language orally. Their native language or L1 may effects the learning process of L2. One of the most major problems for L2 learners is the phonological aspect where it may be influence by the pronunciation of L1. In this particular research, second language acquisition of speech production theory will be used as a framework throughout the paper. This is to guide the researcher about the topic matter.

The Objectives and Research Questions

The objective of this study is to discover the phonological development of young children on second language from different ethnicities. The specific objective is to investigate the relations between the ethnicities of a speaker on phonological development in second language of 5 years old children. Through the objectives, the researcher comes out with two research questions to be answered throughout the research in order to fulfill the objectives. The research questions are as stated below;

  1. How the ethnicity may influence the phonological development in second language acquisition?
  2. What are the relations between phonological developments in second language with children’s ethnicity?

Significance of The Study

From this study, the findings may be useful to the parents, psychologist, and psycholinguist. This study may also be useful to the kindergarten teachers, where the level differences between the ethnicities may help the teacher to find the effective methods to teach multi-racial students in language teaching.

Definitions of Term

In this research, the keywords are the ‘Phonological Development’. This terms brought by the researcher as in a different meaning and different understanding.

Phonological Development

The term ‘development’ often understood as the growth on something that is over time where it involves with certain period of time. In this research, the researcher brings another dimension towards the meaning of ‘development’, where it does not necessarily over time but based on time limit. Sciarani & Steinberg, (2005) stated that children at the age of 5 should be capable on producing any speech sounds on the language that they had acquired. Based on this theory, the age between 1-5, the children are expected to developing and they will start to master and have full capability to pronounce all of the sounds at the age of five. Based on this theory, the ‘development’ is understood by the researcher as ‘achievement’ rather than just the process towards something. Briefly, phonological development in this study refers to the acquisition of sound that the children obtain at the age of 5.


This chapter will provide an overview for the readers about the topic based on the previous researchers’ studies. This chapter provides guideline to this researcher of this paper and to the readers. This chapter will include sub-topic such, Phonological Development in Second Language.

Phonological Development in Second Language

On Flege’s Speech Learning Model stated that the initial point for L2 speech development is the L1 phonetic groups (Flege, 1999). For example, Spanish L1-English L2 children aged 4 to 7 years were found to be more accurate in their production of phonemes that are shared between the two languages than of phonemes that are present only in the English L2 (Goldstein,2004). L1 first initial influence can be life-long, even for child L2 learners. Adults who started to acquire their L2 as early as 6 to 8 years of age can have audible foreign accent were shown on Retrospective developmental studies (Flege, 1999; Flege & Fletcher, 1992). On concern to the acoustic properties like voice onset time (VOT), Spanish L1-English L2 children can finally develop two systems for blotting the phonemic voicing distinction in their production of stop consonants, short-lag versus long-lag (English) and pre-voiced versus short-lag (Spanish); however, their perception of VOT-signaled contrasts may not display the language-specific and separate boundaries found in monolinguals for each language, and thus bilingual VOT perceptual systems may be intertwined (Watson, 1991).

Besides that in order to examining the role of the L1, the researchers have also requested the respondents whether L2 learners are faster to acquire L2 phonology than the adult learners. Snow and Hoefnagel-Höhle (1977) studied the pronunciation of Dutch terms by 47 English speakers aged 3 to 60 years learning Dutch as a L2 in the Netherlands found that during the first 11 months of exposure to the L2, the children did not receive higher accuracy scores on pronunciation of individual target phonemes than the adults. Following studies stated that after 12-18 months of exposure to the target language, children’s rate of phonological acquisition begins to outshine adult learners because their foreign accent reduce much more rapidly after that time (Flege, 2004; Winitz et al., 1995). Adult Italian-English bilinguals were found to have lower pronunciation accuracy with vowels that are present in English but not in Italian, compared with vowels present in both languages, even though they had begun learning English as young children (Flege, 1999). Furthermore, Flege and Fletcher (1992) on their research found that Chinese L1 adults had more perceptible foreign accents than Spanish L1 adults, even though both groups had been absorbed in a majority English environment from 5 to 8 years of age.

The Phonemic Principle

Carr, (1999) stated that distribution is the range places within a word that occurred in sounds. If the distribution is mutually exclusive, this is what is called as complementary distribution. In phonological study, there are two categories of sounds, phonemes and allophones. Phonemes are interpreted as belonging to, a single mental category while allophone is the realization of phonemes which are entirely predictable from context. Carr,(1999) also provided the phonemic principal that requires distribution that also covers minimal pairs criteria which does not requires distributional chart since the sounds only differs with respect to one sound. These pairs are important since it demonstrate whether the sound in parallel distribution and semantically contrastive. The phonemic principle consists of two sets of criteria as stated below;

Two or more sounds are realizations of the same phoneme if;

  • In complementary distribution


  • Phonetically similar

Two or more sounds are realizations of different phonemes if:

  • In parallel (overlapping) distribution


  • Serve to signal a semantic contrast


This chapter will discuss mainly about the method that the researcher apply will eventually leads to the result which contribute to achieving the objective of the research. Basically the researcher literally explains these steps in order to make it clear to the reader regarding our objective on this particular research study. There are few important components that the researcher considers as the main contribution on this research which are the research design, research procedure, sample, instrument, location, data collection method, and data analysis.

Research Design

         In this study, the researcher will be using quantitative approach which employs the co-relational design where the findings are expected to be more specific. As stated above, the title itself conveys dependant and independent variables clearly. The data analysis will be using statistics are figures in order to find the relations between the ethnicity and phonological development of five years old children.

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Research Procedure

Consist of 2 children at the same age but background and ethnicity may differ (Malay and Chinese). The researchers will observe by using observation checklist on the pronunciation of both children captured by recording. The researcher will provide both children with the same text which contains all of the English words that represent the phonetic alphabet and will ask them to follow the way the researcher pronounce those words. Their capability will be assess based on the speech production theory. The instruments will be uses are; the recording gadget, video recording gadget in helping the observation. The researcher will use, phonological checklist in order to spot their ability in pronouncing sounds from the text. There are also questionnaires to be answered by the parents about their children’s speech production development and their background. The researcher will conduct an interview as to gather extra information.


The researchers will target 2 children at the age of 5 from two different ethnicities (Chinese and Malay) and, which are exposed to the learning environment. Taking into account on some considerations, the researchers are interested in examining two races which is Malay and also Chinese children. The researcher will make a comparison between these two samples on how they pronounce words and produce the sounds of diphthongs, vowels, and consonants. These samples also may have different background in the context of social status. Their parents will also contribute information as this research will need to consider the background information in order to prove how ‘parentese’ influence their children language development which later narrowing to the phonological production and development. These children are children from Kasih Mesra Kindergarten, Seri Kembangan. Basically the kindergarten occupies almost 30 children mainly from the age of 4 to the age of 6. These children are different from their ethnicity, religion and also races. However, these children are taught 3 different languages at the same time. Most of these children are able to speak fluently using those 3 languages.

  • Subject 1= Malay,native language=Malay, language often speak=Malay, acquired=Mandarin,English & Malay
  • Subject 2=Chinese, native language=mandarin, language often speak=mandarin, acquired=Mandarin,English & Malay


In this research the researcher consider few approaches in order to achieve the objective that we have set. In order to be able to achieve the objective, we will come out with two instruments. Our instrument consist of I sets of phonological test (text) and I sets of information form for parents. The phonological test contains every phonic (consonants, vowels and diphthongs). Other that the phonological test that will be given to the children, the information form will also be distributed to these children’s parents in order find the relations between their phonological developments at the age of 5 from different ethnicity. Instead of using difficult language structure, the researchers will use a simple and understandable text (consist single words without sentence) which is clearer and do not overlap. The researcher will also use, phonological checklist in order to spot their ability in pronouncing sounds from the text. As for the recording materials, the researchers will use the recording camera and few telephone to record the actually activities that involved the children. Basically the functions of these technologies are more towards capturing the moments.


         In this research, the researcher decided to implements the research at Kasih Mesra Kindegarten in Sri Kembangan, Selangor. Particularly, the researcher chose this place because it consists of populations that come from different ethnicities, social and economic status.


This chapter provide the discussion on issues related to the findings. It will give the readers anwers based on the objectives and research questions.

Relations between Ethnicity and Phonological Development

From the above findings, it is shown that subject one, which is malay performed better than the subject 2 (chinese). However, both have difficulties in pronouncing some words and their phonological development are both still not fully developed at the age 5. On this study, both subject have difficulties in pronouncing same words; thin /θn and that /∂æd/. This may cause from the influence of the ethnicity’s native language which are also their mother tongue that do not consist any of these English phoneme and allophone. This may also cause by the acquirement of both languages, the children tend to acquire the L1 first (the language that often spoken by the enviroment, parents), and L2 later which may leads to confusion and late development of their motor skills for L2. Late development of motor skills on L2, leads to wrong pronounciation where motor skills are unable to proccs the sounds articulation (fricatives, bilabial).

“They acquire phonological properties of their native langauges at the same rate as monolinguals, but gradually they start to prefer one language, which comes their dominant”(Sebastian-Gallés and Bosch, 2001)

From this study, it has proven the above theory where the L1 which may difers in terms of their ethinicity influenced the late development of their motor skill on L2. However, other than this reason, there might be certain important aspects that may also influenced their phonological development in L2. The aspects includes;


  1. Schools (medium intructions)
  2. society (language policy planning)
  3. entertainemnt


This term take into consideration the fact that the child receives input from various sources; father, mother, siblings and these cpontains special linguistic characteristic. These characteristic can be divide into 5;

  1. immediacy and concreteness
  2. gramatically of input
  3. short sentence and simple structures
  4. simple anda short vocabulary
  5. exagerated intonations, pitch and stress

In the nutshell, ethnicity differences may influence the phonological development of second language. this happens, because of the the acquiring process itself taking into accounts on how the children raised up and this of cause refers to the family background which may differs from their ethnicity. As a matter of fact, every ethnicities have their own native language that the parents often encouraged their children to use to and this can be change in order to improve phonological development on second language.


  • Dörnyei, Z., & Skehan, P. (2003). Individual differences in second language learning. In C. Doughty & M. Long (Eds.), The handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 589-630). Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Dulay, H., & Burt, M. (1974). Natural sequences in child second language acquisition. Language Learning, 24, 37-53.
  • Pearson, B., & Cobo-Lewis, A. (2006). The social circumstances of bilingualism: The Miami experience. In P. McCardle & E. Hoff (Eds.), Child bilingualism (pp. 68-90). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
  • Flege, J. (1999). Age of learning and second language speech. In D. Birdsong (Ed.), Second language acquisition and the critical period hypothesis (pp. 101-132). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Flege, J. (2004). Second language speech learning. Paper presented at Laboratory Approaches to Spanish Phonology and Phonetics, Indiana University.
  • Flege, J., & Fletcher, K. (1992). Talker and listener effects on degree of perceived foreign accent. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 91, 370-389
  • Hashim, M. S. (1976) An Introduction to the Constitution of Malaysia. (second edition). Kuala Lumpur: Government Printers.
  • Carr, (1999). English Phonetics and phonology: An introduction. Australia: Blakwell publishing


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