Skip to main content


  • Chenjie Yuan (a1), Santiago González-Fuente (a1), Florence Baills (a1) and Pilar Prieto (a2)

Recent studies on the learning of L2 prosody have suggested that pitch gestures can enhance the learning of the L2 lexical tones. Yet it remains unclear whether the use of these gestures can aid the learning of L2 intonation, especially by tonal-language speakers. Sixty-four Mandarin speakers with basic-level Spanish were asked to learn three Spanish intonation patterns, all involving a low tone on the nuclear accent. In a pre-post test experimental design, half of the participants received intonation training without the use of pitch gestures (the control group) while the other half received the same training but with pitch gestures representing nuclear intonation contours (the experimental group). Musical (melody, pitch) abilities were also measured. The results revealed that (a) the experimental group significantly improved intonational production outcomes, and (b) even though participants with stronger musical abilities performed better, those with weaker musical abilities benefited more from observing pitch gestures.

Corresponding author
*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Chenjie Yuan, Department of Translation and Language Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Roc Boronat 138, 08018 Barcelona, Spain. E-mail:
Hide All

This research has been funded by two research grants awarded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation (FFI2015-66533-P) and the Generalitat de Catalunya (2014 SGR-925), both to the Prosodic Studies Group. The second author also acknowledges a FPU 2012-05893 grant awarded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. Our gratitude goes to Ms. Huan Zhang, Mr. Wei Cao, and Ms. Nan Huang, who provided us with multimodal experimental classrooms and helped us to collect the oral data at Xi’an International Studies University in Xi’an, China. We are indebted to Joan Carles Mora, who read a first version of the manuscript and offered us many insightful comments and suggestions. We would also like to thank Joan Borràs-Comes, who helped us with the statistics. Special thanks also go to two anonymous reviewers and the editors, Susan Gass and Bill VanPatten, for invaluable comments and feedback.

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

Hide All
Alexander, J. A., Wong, P. C. M., & Bradlow, A. R. (2005). Lexical tone perception in musicians and non-musicians. In INTERSPEECH (Ed.), Proceeding of the (Eurospeech) 9th European Conference on Speech Communication and Technology (pp. 397400). Lisbon: ISCA.
Anderson-Hsieh, J., Johnson, R., & Koehler, K. (1992). The relationship between native speaker judgments of nonnative pronunciation and deviance in segments, prosody, and syllable structure. Language Learning, 42, 529555.
Baills, F., Suárez, N., González-Fuente, S., & Prieto, P. (ms.). Observing and producing pitch gestures enhance the acquisition of Mandarin Chinese tones and words.
Barto, K. A. (2015). Mandarin speakers’ intonation in their L2 English (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona.
Bernardis, P., & Gentilucci, M. (2006). Speech and gesture share the same communication system. Neuropsychologia, 44, 178190.
Bidelman, G. M., Gandour, J. T., & Krishnan, A. (2011). Cross-domain effects of music and language experience on the representation of pitch in the human auditory brainstem. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23, 425434.
Billmyer, K., & Varghese, M. (2000). Investigating instrument-based pragmatic variability: Effects of enhancing discourse completion tests. Applied Linguistics, 21, 517552.
Blum-Kulka, S., House, J., & Kasper, G. (1989). Investigating cross-cultural pragmatics: An introductory overview. In Blum-Kulka, S., House, J., & Kasper, G. (Eds.), Cross-cultural pragmatics: Requests and apologies (pp. 134). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Bongaerts, T., Van Summeren, C., Planken, B., & Schils, E. (1997). Age and ultimate attainment in the pronunciation of a foreign languages. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 19, 447465.
Braun, B., & Tagliapietra, L. (2010). On-line interpretation of intonational meaning in L2. Language and Cognitive Processes, 26, 224235.
Brown, S., Martinez, M. J., & Parsons, L. M. (2006). Music and language side by side in the brain: A PET study of the generation of melodies and sentences. European Journal of Neuroscience, 23, 27912803.
Chandrasekaran, B., Krishnan, A., & Gandour, J. T. (2009). Relative influence of musical and linguistic experience on early cortical processing of pitch contours. Brain and Language, 108, 19.
Chobert, J., & Besson, M. (2013). Musical expertise and second language learning. Brain Sciences, 3, 923940.
Comisión orientada de la enseñanza de lenguas extranjeras en las universidades, sección de español. (1998). Programa de Enseñanza para Cursos Básicos de las Especialidades de Lengua Española en Escuelas Superiores Chinas. Shanghai: Editorial de la enseñanza de lenguas extranjeras de Shanghai.
Connell, L., Cai, Z. G., & Holler, J. (2013). Do you see what I’m singing? Visuospatial movement biases pitch perception. Brain and Cognition, 81, 124130.
Cortés Moreno, M. (1997). Sobre la percepción y adquisición de la entonación española por parte de hablantes nativos de chino. Estudios de Fonética Experimental, 5, 67134.
Cortés Moreno, M. (2001). Percepción y adquisición de la entonación española en enunciados de habla espontánea: El caso de los estudiantes taiwaneses. Estudios de Fonética Experimental, 11, 90119.
Cortés Moreno, M. (2004). Análisis acústico de la producción de la entonación española por parte de sinohablantes. Estudios de Fonética Experimental, 13, 80110.
Cruz-Ferreira, M. (1989). Non-native interpretive strategies for intonational meaning: An experimental study. In James, A. & Leather, J. (Eds.), Sound patterns in second language acquisition (pp. 103120). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Foris.
Dolscheid, S., Willems, R. M., Hagoort, P., & Casasanto, D. (2014). The relation of space and musical pitch in the brain. In Bello, P., Guarini, M., McShane, M., & Scassellati, B. (Eds.), 36th annual meeting of the cognitive science society (CogSci 2014) (pp. 421426). Quebec: Cognitive Science Society.
Dong, Y. S., & Liu, J. (2014). Español Moderno, Libro del Alumno I. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.
Faßhauer, C., Frese, A., & Evers, S. (2015). Musical ability is associated with enhanced auditory and visual cognitive processing. BMC Neuroscience, 16, 59.
Félix-Brasdefer, J. C. (2010). Data collection methods in speech act performance: DCTs, role plays, and verbal reports. In Martínez-Flor, A. & Usó-Juan, E. (Eds.), Speech act performance: Theoretical, empirical, and methodological issues (pp. 4156). Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.
Flege, J. (1991). Orthographic evidence for the perceptual identification of vowels in Spanish and English. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 43, 701731.
Fonseca-Mora, M. D. C., Jara-Jiménez, P., & Gómez-Domínguez, M. (2015). Musical plus phonological input for young foreign language readers. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 286.
Gao, G., & Qin, H. W. (2012). The influence of Chinese experience on English phonetic acquisition at suprasegmental level. Shandong Foreign Language Teaching Journal, 151, 5257.
Gluhareva, D., & Prieto, P. (2017). Training with rhythmic beat gestures benefits L2 pronunciation in discourse-demanding situations. Language Teaching Research, 21, 609631.
Goldin-Meadow, S. (2003). Hearing gesture: How our hands help us think. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
González-Fuente, S., Escandell-Vidal, V., & Prieto, P. (2015). Gestural codas pave the way to the understanding of verbal irony. Journal of Pragmatics, 90, 2647.
Gullberg, M. (2006). Some reasons for studying gesture and second language acquisition (Hommage à Adam Kendon). IRAL—International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 44, 103124.
He, X. L., van Heuven, V. J., & Gussenhoven, C. (2011). Choosing the optimal pitch accent location in Dutch by Chinese learners and native listeners. In Wrembel, M., Kul, M., & Dziubalska-Kolaczyk, K. (Eds.), Achievements and perspectives in SLA of speech: New sounds 2010 (pp. 125137). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Verlag.
He, X. L., van Heuven, V. J., & Gussenhoven, C. (2012). The selection of intonation contours by Chinese L2 speakers of Dutch: Orthographic closure vs. prosodic knowledge. Second Language Research, 28, 283318.
Heffner, C. C., & Slevc, L. R. (2015). Prosodic structure as a parallel to musical structure. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1962.
Hirata, Y., & Kelly, S. D. (2010). Effects of lips and hands on auditory learning of second-language speech sounds. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 53, 298310.
Hirata, Y., Kelly, S. D., Huang, J., & Manansala, M. (2014). Effects of hand gestures on auditory learning of second-language vowel length contrasts. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 57, 20902101.
Hong, W. (2012). An experimental study of Chinese students’ English intonation pattern (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). China: Nankai University.
Hualde, J. I., & Prieto, P. (2015). Intonational variation in Spanish: European and American varieties . In Frota, S. & Prieto, P. (Eds.), Intonation in romance (pp. 350391). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
IBM Corporation. (2015). IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 23.0. Armonk, NY: IBM Corporation.
Ji, X. L. (2010). Acquisition of intonation by Chinese EFL learners—An empirical study based on experimental phonetics (Unpublished master’s thesis). China: Zhejiang University.
Ji, X. L., Wang, X., & Li, A. J. (2009). Intonation patterns of yes-no questions for Chinese EFL learners. In IEEE (Ed.), 2016 Conference of the Oriental Chapter of International Committee for Coordination and Standardization of Speech Databases and Assessment Techniques (O-COCOSDA). New York: Curran Associates, Inc.
Jia, L., & Wang, J. Q. (2013a). The effects of visual processing on tone perception by native English-speaking learners of Chinese. Chinese Teaching in the World, 27, 548557.
Jia, L., & Wang, J. Q. (2013b). On the effects of visual processing on tone production by English-speaking learners of Chinese. TCSOL Studies, 52, 3034.
Kendon, A. (1980). Gesticulation and speech: Two aspects of the process of utterance. In Key, M. (Ed.), The relationship of verbal and nonverbal communication (pp. 207227). The Hague: Mouton.
Kendon, A. (2004). Gesture: Visible action as utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lakoff, G. (1993). The contemporary theory of metaphor. In Ortony, A. (Ed.), Metaphor and thought (pp. 202251). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Law, L. (2012). Assessing and understanding individual differences in music perception abilities (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). York: University of York.
Law, L. N., & Zentner, M. (2012). Assessing musical abilities objectively: Construction and validation of the profile of music perception skills. PloS One, 7, e52508.
Lee, C. Y., & Huang, T. H. (2008). Identification of Mandarin tones by English-speaking musicians and nonmusicians. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 124, 32353248.
Levinson, S. C., & Holler, J. (2014). The origin of human communication. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, B: Biological Sciences, 369, 227246.
Liu, Y. H. (2003). La entonación del español hablado por taiwaneses (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Barcelona: Universitat de Barcelona.
Ludke, K. M., Ferreira, F., & Overy, K. (2014). Singing can facilitate foreign language learning. Memory and Cognition, 42, 4152.
Marques, C., Moreno, S., Castro, S. L., & Besson, M. (2007). Musicians detect pitch violation in a foreign language better than nonmusicians: Behavioral and electrophysiological evidence. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19, 14531463.
McCafferty, S. G. (2006). Gesture and the materialization of second language prosody. IRAL—International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 44, 197209.
McMullen, E., & Saffran, J. R. (2004). Music and language: A developmental comparison. Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 21, 289311.
McNeill, D. (1992). Hand and mind: What gestures reveal about thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mennen, I. (2015). Beyond segments: Towards a L2 intonation learning theory. In Delais-Roussarie, E., Avanzi, M., & Herment, S. (Eds.), Prosody and language in contact (pp. 171188). Berlin and Heidelberg: Springer.
Mennen, I., & de Leeuw, E. (2014). Beyond segments, prosody in SLA. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 36, 183194.
Morales, S. P. (2008). Enseñanza de la pronunciación del español en estudiantes chinos: La importancia de las destrezas y los contenidos prosódicos. In Cesteros, S. P. & Martin, S. R. (Eds.), La evaluación en el aprendizaje y la enseñanza del español como lengua extranjera/segunda lengua: XVIII Congreso Internacional de la Asociación para la Enseñanza del Español como lengua Extranjera (ASELE) (pp. 497503). Alicante: Universidad de Alicante.
Morett, L. M., & Chang, L. Y. (2015). Emphasising sound and meaning: Pitch gestures enhance Mandarin lexical tone acquisition. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 30, 347353.
Munro, M. J., & Derwing, T. M. (1995). Foreign accent, comprehensibility, and intelligibility in the speech of second language learners. Language Learning, 45, 7397.
Ortega-Llebaria, M., & Colantoni, L. (2014). L2 English intonation, relations between form-meaning association, access to meaning, and L1 transfer. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 36, 331353.
Ortega-Llebaria, M., Nemogá, M., & Presson, N. (2015). Long-term experience with a tonal language shapes the perception of intonation in English words: How Chinese–English bilinguals perceive “rose?” vs. “rose.” Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 11, 117.
Ostrom, A. B. W. (1997). Acquisition of American English intonation patterns by non-native speakers: Use of real-time computer-mediated visual feedback (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Austin, TX: The University of Texas at Austin.
Patel, A. D. (2011). Why would musical training benefit the neural encoding of speech? The OPERA hypothesis. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 142.
Patel, A. D. (2014). Can nonlinguistic musical training change the way the brain processes speech? The expanded OPERA hypothesis. Hearing Research, 308, 98108.
Prieto, P., & Roseano, P. (2010). Transcription of intonation of the Spanish language. München: Lincom.
Rasier, L., & Hiligsmann, P. (2007). Prosodic transfer from L1 to L2: Theoretical and methodological issues. Cahiers de Linguistique Française, 28, 4166.
Shimizu, M., & Taniguchi, M. (2005). Reaffirming the effect of interactive visual feedback on teaching English intonation to Japanese learners. Paper presented at the Phonetics Teaching and Learning Conference 2005. London: University of London.
Slevc, L. R. (2012). Language and music: Sound, structure, and meaning. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 3, 483492.
Slevc, L. R., & Miyake, A. (2006). Individual differences in second-language proficiency: Does musical ability matter? Psychological Science, 17, 675681.
Su, Z. B., & Hu, D. (2011). An empirical study on SLA learners’ intonation acquisition of general questions, focusing on the syllable number of the last word. Journal of Hubei University of Education, 28, 9497.
Taniguchi, M., & Abberton, E. (1999). Effect of interactive visual feedback on the improvement of English intonation of Japanese EFL learners. Speech, Hearing and Language: Work in Progress, 11, 7689.
Tavakoli, H. (2013). A dictionary of research methodology and statistics in applied linguistics. Tehran: Rahanama Press.
The Personality, Emotion and Music Laboratory. (2017, July 30). The Profile of Music Perception Skills (PROMS). Retrieved July 30, 2017, from
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.
Wong, P. C. M., Skoe, E., Russo, N. M., Dees, T., & Kraus, N. (2007). Musical experience shapes human brainstem encoding of linguistic pitch patterns. Nature Neuroscience, 10, 420422.
Xu, H. M. (2009). A survey study of Chinese EFL learners’ acquisition of English intonation: A functional perspective (Unpublished master’s thesis). China: Jiangsu University.
Zhao, T. C., & Kuhl, P. K. (2015). Effect of musical experience on learning lexical tone categories. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 137, 14521463.
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? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed