Do I speak better?: A longitudinal study of lexical chunking in the spoken language of two Japanese students

Leedham, Maria (2006). Do I speak better?: A longitudinal study of lexical chunking in the spoken language of two Japanese students. East Asian Learner, 2(2)



The prominence of lexical chunks or prefabricated language has grown over recent years, however there have been few longitudinal case studies exploring changes in non-native speaker (NNS) speech and little work done involving NNSs in identifying chunks in their own speech. This study attempts to track changes in two intermediate-level Japanese students’ spoken usage of lexical chunks over a period of five months in the UK. Each NNS was recorded three times in conversational long turns at two-month intervals.

Twelve native speakers (NSs) were asked to order transcripts of each student’s speech by perceived fluency level and three also underlined the lexical chunks; however there was little coherence amongst NSs in these tasks. Identification of chunks using Wordsmith software suggests an overall rise in the percentage of talk within chunks and a reduction in ill-formed chunks over the five months.

Following some awareness-raising training on identifying lexical chunks, the Japanese students themselves were asked to identify chunks within their own transcripts. Despite the difficulty of the task, they were able to do this and additionally offered insights into which chunks were common for them. These insights included an awareness of typical Japanese phrases and how they felt their speech had changed overall. A further recording and transcribing cycle suggests that this training resulted in some short-term uptake as the percentage of chunks used increased after the lessons. Both students found it highly motivating to record and analyse transcripts of their talk as they could see progress in their own spoken language development.

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