Studying the sounds of language

10 March 2020

French applied linguist Dr Solène Inceoglu continues to reform her teaching style at ANU by using technology to constantly review and adapt to the needs of her students.

Solène, who is the Convenor of French Studies at the ANU School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics, has received an Australian Award for University Teaching citation for Outstanding contribution to student learning. This award is given to recognise innovation, leadership or scholarship that has influenced and enhanced learning and teaching.

Solène's interest in teaching language is more than just teaching the language itself but about a person's ability to learn a second language. Her current research focuses on the development of second language speech perception and pronunciation, and how phonetics and pronunciation instruction can enhance successful communication.

"A lot of students are pretty good with French but their pronunciation is not there yet, so they might be able to write, might be able to speak and maybe sympathetic listeners will understand what they're saying but they're not fully intelligible," she says.

"It's not that they have an accent-we all do-, the issue is if you're not intelligible by someone who is not sympathetic to you, then they might have difficulty understanding you."

Because of these complexities, Solène developed The Sounds of French: Pronunciation

and Phonetics (FREN3515/FREN6515) a few years ago when she came to ANU. In this course, she uses technology to respond to individual student needs and improve students' learning experiences. Ultrasound imagining technology, for instance, allows her to see where a student's tongue sits in their mouth when pronouncing French words.

"I use the ultrasound on myself to highlight and model how the tongue should be placed in the mouth to produce challenging vowels, like the French 'u' and 'ou' sounds. I then work one-on-one with the students to make them aware of their pronunciation difficulties and guide them with their articulation of sounds. So instead of learning pronunciation just orally, they also have the visual information that will help them."

"Recently, I have started to explore how Automatic Speech Recognition-based dictation practice on mobile phones can enhance autonomous learning and help students monitor their speech through the provision of written feedback, eventually-and hopefully-leading to improvement in pronunciation."

Over the past year, Solène has worked with the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science to create a speech perception app, which she hopes to trial in her teaching this semester with a plan to do a full rollout as part of her curriculum next semester before expanding her app to other languages. Solène was able to develop the app from a $10,000 College of Arts and Social Sciences Teaching and Learning Fellowship she received last year.

"Every week students will practice identifying French vowels and will receive immediate feedback, and I can then see in my reports who did what and what was problematic. It will help me to have a better understanding of what's going on when learners of French perceive vowels and what each student should focus on."

"And every student is different so for me to be able to see what their problem is, if there is any problem, then I can approach students individually and say 'I've noticed that you have trouble with those two vowels' and then give them tips to distinguish them."

Solène, whose mother is French and father is Turkish, did her PhD in Second Language Studies at Michigan State University (graduated in 2014).

She says her passion for second language acquisition and teaching also comes from her bi-cultural roots.

"My partner is German and most of my friends are also from other countries so I've always been interested in second language acquisition and why some people are better than others at learning languages even if you are just as motivated."

She also sees a need to keep up to date with the latest teaching trends.

"First it's my passion but also I think it's evolving so much that you could easily fall behind and I don't want to be a traditional teacher doing the same thing over and over again, I want to experiment new techniques and be at the forefront of language teaching and second language acquisition research."