Language Transfer vs. Language Talent? Individual Differences and Aptitude in L2 Phonology of Persian-Speaking Learners of English

  • Zhaleh Ghafoorian MaddahEmail author
  • Susanne M. Reiterer
Part of the English Language Education book series (ELED, volume 16)


Only little research regarding the phonology of Persian native speakers’ English has been conducted. In the present study, we compared different individual cognitive factors which result in ESL Iranian English pronunciation, such as cognitive ability and short-term memory (working memory and Llama_D), language aptitude (MLAT III, IV and V; Llama_D) and working memory (Tewes U, Hamburg-Wechsler-Intelligenz-Test für Erwachsene Revision. HAWIE-R, Bern, 1994). These measures were correlated with English pronunciation and phonetic measurements (vowel length measurement) of Persian ESL learners. The sample comprised 30 Iranians aged 20–40 years (mean age 26.08) with L1 Farsi and an academic education. Their age of onset of learning (AOA) ranged from 2 to 16 years (mean age 11.03). Three learner groups were identified based on their language proficiency, and results confirmed previous findings about the contribution of cognitive factors (Rota G, Reiterer SM, Cognitive aspects of pronunciation talent. In: Dogil G, Reiterer S (eds) Language talent and brain activity. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, pp 67–96, 2009), language aptitude and multilingualism in L2 phonological processing. We observed significant correlations between English pronunciation scores and these three factors: schwa length pronunciation (r = −0.8), MLAT III (r = 0.8) and working memory (r = 0.78). Schwa length pronunciation also correlated highly with the number of languages (r = −.74) and the age of onset of acquisition (r = .41). Our cross-linguistic results suggest that phonological native-like L2 achievement in ESL adult learners is possible, as individuals with higher L2 aptitude and working memory capacity can overcome the transfer of L1 phonological categories in L2 processing.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zhaleh Ghafoorian Maddah
    • 1
    Email author
  • Susanne M. Reiterer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Linguistics and Centre for Teacher Education, Unit for Language Learning and Teaching ResearchUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

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