Difficult contrasts: an analysis of phonemic distinctions in the English of young Norwegian learners seen against the backdrop of incidental foreign language learning
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionRugesæter KN. Difficult contrasts: an analysis of phonemic distinctions in the English of young Norwegian learners seen against the backdrop of incidental foreign language learning. Acta Didactica Norge - tidsskrift for fagdidaktisk forsknings- og utviklingsarbeid i Norge. 2014;8(1)
Norwegian children in the 21st century are quite massively exposed to English as an L2, primarily through subtitled television programmes, films and various computer-based activities. The article investigates to what extent this passive exposure influences their basic phonological competence in the L2 by analyzing their ability to actively distinguish between certain phoneme pairs in English which are considered difficult for Norwegian learners, mainly due to interference from the phonemic system in their L1. The data material was collected through 136 recordings of 11-16 year old pupils in ten Norwegian state schools. By comparing the results to similar studies made in Norway 20-35 years ago, at a time when young people's exposure to English was considerably more limited, the article discusses the effects of incidental foreign language acquisition on young people's L2 competence. The discussion is also placed in the light of recent, international research in this field. By critically investigating some of the findings of that research, the article furthermore attempts at problematizing the concept of L2 acquisition by focusing on the distinction between active and passive language competence. The findings indicate that basic L2 phonological competence is in no way automatically enhanced by passive exposure to the language. The article points to the necessity of structured teaching programmes to counterweight the complexity and variations in the L2 input that young people encounter in their media based exposure to the L2.