Skip to main content


  • Kazuya Saito (a1), Yui Suzukida (a2) and Hui Sun (a3)

The current study longitudinally examined the influence of aptitude on second language (L2) pronunciation development when 40 first-year Japanese university students engaged in practice activities inside and outside English-as-a-Foreign-Language classrooms over one academic year. Spontaneous speech samples were elicited at the beginning, middle, and end points of the project, analyzed for global, segmental, syllabic, prosodic, and temporal aspects of L2 pronunciation, and linked to their aptitude and experience profiles. Results indicated that the participants generally enhanced the global comprehensibility of their speech (through reducing vowel insertion errors in complex syllables) as a function of increased classroom experience during their first semester, and explicit learning aptitude (associative memory, phonemic coding) appeared to help certain learners further enhance their pronunciation proficiency through the development of fluency and prosody. In the second semester, incidental learning ability (sound sequence recognition) was shown to be a significant predictor of the extent to which certain learners continued to improve and ultimately attain advanced-level L2 comprehensibility, largely thanks to improved segmental accuracy.

Corresponding author
*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Kazuya Saito, Birkbeck, University of London, Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication, Room 334, 25 Russell Square, London, United Kingdom WC1B 5DQ. E-mail:
Hide All

We are grateful to Peter Skehan, the journal associate editor, Andrea Révész, and two anonymous SSLA reviewers for their constructive feedback on an earlier version of the manuscript. We also acknowledge Keiko Hanzawa, Takumi Uchihara, George Smith, and Ze Shan Yao for their help for data collection and analyses. The project was funded by the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research in Japan (No. 26770202) and the Birkbeck College Additional Research Support.

The experiment in this article earned an Open Materials badge for transparent practices. The materials are available at

Hide All
Abrahamsson, N., & Hyltenstam, K. (2008). The robustness of aptitude effects in near-native second language acquisition. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 30, 481509.
Ahmadian, M. J., & Tavakoli, M. (2011). The effects of simultaneous use of careful online planning and task repetition on accuracy, complexity, and fluency in EFL learners’ oral production. Language Teaching Research, 15, 3559.
Bosker, H. R., Pinget, A.-F., Quené, H., Sanders, T., & De Jong, N. H. (2013). What makes speech sound fluent? The contributions of pauses, speed and repairs. Language Testing, 30, 159175.
Bundgaard-Nielsen, R., Best, C., Kroos, C., & Tyler, M. (2012). Second language learners’ vocabulary expansion is associated with improved second language vowel intelligibility. Applied Psycholinguistics, 33, 643664.
Carroll, J. B. (1965). The contributions of psychological theory and educational research to the teaching of foreign languages. The Modern Language Journal, 49, 273281.
Carroll, J. B., & Sapon, S. M. (1959). Modern languages aptitude test. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.
Cebrian, J. (2006). Experience and the use of non-native duration in L2 vowel categorization. Journal of Phonetics, 34, 372387.
Darcy, I., Park, H., & Yang, C. L. (2015). Individual differences in L2 acquisition of English phonology: The relation between cognitive abilities and phonological processing. Learning and Individual Differences, 40, 6372.
De Jong, N. H., Steinel, M. P., Florijn, A., Schoonen, R., & Hulstijn, J. H. (2012). The effect of task complexity on functional adequacy, fluency and lexical diversity in speaking performances of native and nonnative speakers. In Housen, A., Kuiken, F., & Vedder, I. (Eds.), Dimensions of L2 performance and proficiency: Complexity, accuracy and fluency in SLA (pp. 121142). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamins.
Derwing, T. M., & Munro, M. J. (1997). Accent, intelligibility, and comprehensibility: Evidence from four L1s. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 12, 116.
Derwing, T. M., Thomson, R. I., & Munro, M. J. (2006). English pronunciation and fluency development in Mandarin and Slavic speakers. System, 34, 183193.
Derwing, T. M., Munro, M. J., & Thomson, R. I. (2008). A longitudinal study of ESL learners’ fluency and comprehensibility development. Applied Linguistics, 29, 359380.
Gathercole, S. E., Frankish, C. R., Pickering, S. J., & Peaker, S. (1999). Phonotactic influences on short-term memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 25, 8495.
Gkonou, C., Daubney, M., & Dewaele, J. M. (2017). New insights into language anxiety: Theory, research and educational implications. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Granena, G. (2013). Individual differences in sequence learning ability and second language acquisition in early childhood and adulthood. Language Learning, 63, 665703.
Granena, G., & Long, M. H. (2013). Age of onset, length of residence, language aptitude, and ultimate L2 attainment in three linguistic domains. Second Language Research, 29, 311343.
Gullberg, M., Roberts, L., Dimroth, C., Veroude, K., & Indefrey, P. (2010). Adult language learning after minimal exposure to an unknown natural language. Language Learning, 60, 524.
Hulstijn, J. H. (2003). Incidental and intentional learning. In Doughty, C. & Long, M. H. (Eds.), The handbook of second language research (pp. 349381). London, UK: Blackwell.
Isaacs, T., & Trofimovich, P. (2012). Deconstructing comprehensibility: Identifying the linguistic influences on listeners’ L2 comprehensibility ratings. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 34, 475505.
Jenkins, J. (2002). A sociolinguistically based, empirically researched pronunciation syllabus for English as an international language. Applied Linguistics, 23, 83103.
Lahmann, C., Steinkrauss, R., & Schmid, M. S. (2017). Speed, breakdown, and repair: An investigation of fluency in long-term second-language speakers of English. International Journal of Bilingualism, 21, 228242.
Larson-Hall, J. (2008). Weighing the benefits of studying a foreign language at a younger starting age in a minimal input situation. Second Language Research, 24, 3563.
Larson-Hall, J. (2010). A guide to doing statistics in second language research using SPSS. New York, NY: Routledge.
Li, S. (2016). The construct validity of language aptitude: A meta-analysis. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 38, 801842.
Lin, Y. (2001). Syllable simplification strategies: A stylistic perspective. Language Learning, 51, 681718.
Linck, J. A., Hughes, M. M., Campbell, S. G., Silbert, N. H., Tare, M., Jackson, S. R., & Doughty, C. J. (2013). Hi-LAB: A new measure of aptitude for high-level language proficiency. Language Learning, 63, 530566.
Mattys, S. L., Jusczyk, P. W., Luce, P. A., & Morgan, J. L. (1999). Phonotactic and prosodic effects on word segmentation in infants. Cognitive Psychology, 38, 465494.
Meara, P. (2005). LLAMA language aptitude tests: The manual. Swansea, UK: Lognostics.
Moyer, A. (2014). Exceptional outcomes in L2 phonology: The critical factors of learner engagement and self-regulation. Applied Linguistics, 35, 418440.
Muñoz, C. (2006). The effects of age on foreign language learning: The BAF project. In Muñoz, C. (Ed.), Age and the rate of foreign language learning (pp. 140). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Muñoz, C. (2014). Contrasting effects of starting age and input on the oral performance of foreign language learners. Applied Linguistics, 35, 463482.
O’Brien, I., Segalowitz, N., Collentine, J., & Freed, B. (2006). Phonological memory and lexical, narrative, and grammatical skills in second language oral production by adult learners. Applied Psycholinguistics, 27, 377402.
Plonsky, L., & Oswald, F. L. (2017). Multiple regression as a flexible alternative to ANOVA in L2 research. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 39, 579592.
Riney, T., Takada, M., & Ota, M. (2000). Segmentals and global foreign accent: The Japanese flap in EFL. TESOL Quarterly, 34, 711737.
Saffran, J. (2014). Sounds and meanings working together: Word learning as a collaborative effort. Language Learning, 64, 106120.
Saito, K. (2014). Experienced teachers’ perspectives on priorities for improved intelligible pronunciation: The case of Japanese learners of English. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 24, 250–227
Saito, K. (2017). Effects of sound, vocabulary and grammar learning aptitude on adult second language speech attainment in foreign language classrooms. Language Learning, 67, 665693.
Saito, K., & Hanzawa, K. (2016). Developing second language oral ability in foreign language classrooms: The role of the length and focus of instruction and individual differences. Applied Psycholinguistics, 37, 813840.
Saito, K., & Hanzawa, K. (2017). The role of input in second language oral ability development in foreign language classrooms: A longitudinal study. Language Teaching Research. doi: 10.1177/1362168816679030
Saito, K., Trofimovich, P., & Isaacs, T. (2016). Second language speech production: Investigating linguistic correlates of comprehensibility and accentedness for learners at different ability levels. Applied Psycholinguistics, 37, 217240.
Schmid, M. S., Gilbers, S., & Nota, A. (2014). Ultimate attainment in late second language acquisition: Phonetic and grammatical challenges in advanced Dutch–English bilingualism. Second Language Research, 30, 129157.
Schneiderman, E. I., & Desmarais, C. (1988). The talented language learner: Some preliminary findings. Second Language Research, 4, 91109.
Silbert, N. H., Smith, B. K., Jackson, S. R., Campbell, S. G., Hughes, M. M., & Tare, M. (2015). Non-native phonemic discrimination, phonological short term memory, and word learning. Journal of Phonetics, 50, 99119.
Skehan, P. (2016). Foreign language aptitude, acquisitional sequences, and psycholinguistic processes. In Granena, G., Jackson, D., & Yilmaz, Y. (Eds.), Cognitive individual differences in L2 processing and acquisition (pp. 1538). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamins.
Spada, N., & Tomita, Y. (2010). Interactions between type of instruction and type of language feature: A meta-analysis. Language Learning, 60, 263308.
Speciale, G., Ellis, N. C., & Bywater, T. (2004). Phonological sequence learning and short-term store capacity determine second language vocabulary acquisition. Applied Psycholinguistics, 25, 293321.
Trofimovich, P., & Baker, W. (2006). Learning second-language suprasegmentals: Effect of L2 experience on prosody and fluency characteristics of L2 speech. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 28, 130.
Trofimovich, P., & Isaacs, T. (2012). Disentangling accent from comprehensibility. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 15, 905916.
Yalçın, Ş., & Spada, N. (2016). Language aptitude and grammatical difficulty. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 38, 239263.
Yilmaz, Y., & Granena, G. (2016). The role of cognitive aptitudes for explicit language learning in the relative effects of explicit and implicit feedback. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 19, 147161.
Yilmaz, Y., & Koylu, Y. (2016). The interaction between phonetic coding ability and feedback exposure condition. In Granena, G., Jackson, D., & Yilmaz, Y. (Eds.), Cognitive individual differences in L2 processing and acquisition (pp. 303326). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamins.
Yuan, F., & Ellis, R. (2003). The effects of pre-task planning and on-line planning on fluency, complexity and accuracy in L2 monologic oral production. Applied Linguistics, 24, 127.
Zhang, X., & Lu, X. (2013). A longitudinal study of receptive vocabulary breadth knowledge growth and vocabulary fluency development. Applied Linguistics, 35, 283304.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Studies in Second Language Acquisition
  • ISSN: 0272-2631
  • EISSN: 1470-1545
  • URL: /core/journals/studies-in-second-language-acquisition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Saito et al. supplementary material
Saito et al. supplementary material 1

 Word (75 KB)
75 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 8
Total number of PDF views: 125 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 663 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 9th March 2018 - 14th August 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.