Authors: Nunes, Ana Margarida Belém
Second language acquisition is a complex process that involves, among other things, the simultaneous acquisition of a new sound system and lexicon. The study of phonological contexts in the process of SLA provides an insight into the perception and production mechanisms. The relationship of both has been attested in the latest research on the role of phonological contexts in SLA, (Schiller and Meyer, 2003; McQueen, 2005; Scott, 2005). Speech perception involves decoding the acoustic signal to recover the phonetic message (Liberman at al. 1967; Liberman and Strange 1985).
In previous cross-language studies with infants (exposed to different languages) were examined to determine if acoustic parameters associated with non-native phonetic contrasts were discriminated, (aspirated syllable – p and b – for English and the uninspired phones – p and b- for Spanish). Monolingual Spanish speakers showed good discrimination of the aspirated consonants, the same did not happen with uninspired contrasts.
The lack of studies focusing on the acquisition of European Portuguese as a Second Language by Chinese learners more especially in what concerns the role of minimal pairs and considering that both are typologically different languages, pressed us to identify the principal perception difficulties by Chinese learners of Portuguese as L2, since these difficulties may have an impact in terms of production and comprehension.
A group of 35 Chinese students (graduation on Portuguese studies) participated on a perception test where several contexts of minimal pairs were represented. In general, results showed that the pairs [t], [d]; [p], [m], [p], [b] and [f], [v], are difficult (in initial or CVC context) to identify by the majority of the students. These difficulties are an obstacle on learning European Portuguese. It is possible to notice that students have the same discrimination problems on writing or talking. For these speakers perception, comprehension and even production are strictly related.
Keywords: Foreign language acquisition; Speech perception, Cantonese, European Portuguese