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Simona Sbranna

Institut für Linguistik - Phonetik
Herbert-Lewin-Str. 6
D-50931 Köln

E-Mail: s.sbranna(at)outlook.com

Telefon: (+49) 0221 - 470 7047
Fax: (+49) 0221 - 470 5938

Doctoral dissertation project

Developing linguistic competence in second language learning: Fluency and prosody in Italian learners of German

The most common and direct form of communication in our daily life is spoken interaction. However, in second language (L2) classrooms most attention is given to grammar and vocabulary, neglecting fundamental speaking-specific aspects, such as prosody and fluency. Prosody plays a central role in conveying the meaning of utterances and paralinguistic information about speakers’ attitudes. Fluency is an indicator of the amount of effort needed to speak an L2 and contributes to the perception of smoothness and naturalness of speech. Moreover, neglecting these aspects during L2 learning can undermine learners’ intelligibility and comprehensibility in oral communication. A shift in L2 teaching from a knowledge-centred method to a learner-centred method may greatly increase its effectiveness, as learners’ profiles, in particular their previous knowledge and language background, influence the learning process.

The present research project aims to shed light on the role of learner-specific profiles in L2 learning, investigating the effects of the native language (L1) on L2 fluency and prosody throughout the learning process. For this purpose, the development of L2 prosodic and interactional competence will be investigated in Neapolitan Italian learners of German at different levels of L2 proficiency.

The first section of the project is dedicated to the under-investigated field of L2 fluency in interaction. I will problematise the lack of methods in previous research to assess the co-created fluency by L2 speakers in dialogues and propose a possible procedure for its comprehensive analysis.

The second section focuses on L2 prosodic marking of information structure, including focus types and domains and degrees of givenness. Previous studies using a binary classification (accented or deaccented) show that Italian speakers do not distinguish between new and given items post-focally, a feature that they negatively transfer to their L2 German, a language that is reported to mark post-focal given information with deaccentuation. I will analyse the continuous modulation of prosodic parameters and show that these measures provide additional and important information for the understanding of this phenomenon in both native Italian and L2 German. These parameters will also be applied to native German dialogues.

This research will extend the body of knowledge on L2 learning of prosody and fluency. Its findings will not only provide the theoretical basis for the teacher’s need to focus on learner-specific profiles, increasing the chance of effective transmission of knowledge and skills, but will also lay the groundwork for devising training programmes for Italian learners of German. Indeed, once learners’ difficulties have been identified, it will be possible to create effective educational tools to improve their communicative skills in L2, dealing with the deviations which have the most detrimental effect on communication, as assessed by native listeners.

Short biography

Simona Sbranna graduated in 2018 in Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Salerno (Italy) with a focus on linguistics and language teaching. During her studies, she spent two semesters at the University of Cologne, concluded a traineeship at the Dante Alighieri Institute of Seville as a teacher of Italian as a foreign language, and a traineeship at AISV (Italian Association for Voice Sciences). After the M.A. she was employed for a semester at the University of Salerno as a graduate teaching and research assistant. 2018 she was awarded a “Predoc” scholarship by a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities. Since 2019 she is a doctoral student within a.r.t.e.s. Integrated Track and carries out her research project under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Martine Grice.

Publications

  • Alfano I., Savy R., Sbranna S., Schettino L. (2018) “Strategie discorsive in spagnolo L1 e L2 a confronto: un’indagine su corpora dialogici”, CHIMERA: Romance Corpora and Linguistic Studies, Vol 5, No 1, pp. 27–52.
  • Sbranna, S., Cangemi F. and Grice, M. (under review) “Quantifying L2 interactional competence”, In: Language variation under contact conditions: acquisitional contexts, languages, dialects and minorities in Italy and around the world – XVI AISV Conference Proceedings, Università della Calabria, Rende (Italy), 29–31 January 2020.

Presentations

  • Sbranna, S., Cangemi F. and Grice, M. (2019), “Towards quantifying conversational competence in second language learning”, Conference: Phonetik und Phonologie 2019, Heinrich-Heine-Universität, Düsseldorf, 26–27 September 2019. [Poster]
  • Sbranna, S., Cangemi F. and Grice, M. (2020), “Quantifying L2 interactional competence”, XVI AISV Conference “Language variation under contact conditions: acquisitional contexts, languages, dialects and minorities in Italy and around the world”, University of Calabria, Rende (CS, Italy), 29-31 January 2020. [Talk]
  • Sbranna, S., Ventura, C., Albert, A. and Grice, M. “Prosodic marking of information status: an exploratory study on L1 Italian and L2 German”, Workshop “Trends in pedagogical transmission of prosody – TiPToP”, Universität Konstanz, Konstanz, 24-25 June 2020. (postponed to 12-13 October 2021). [Talk]
  • Sbranna, S., Cangemi F. and Grice, M. “Reconceiving fluency as an indicator of L2 interactional competence”, Conference: Phonetik und Phonologie 2020, Universität Trier, Trier, 10-11 September 2020. [Talk]
  • Sbranna, S., Ventura, C., Albert, A. and Grice, M. “Prosodic marking of information status in L1 Italian and L2 German”, XVII AISV Conference “Speaker Individuality in Phonetics and Speech Sciences: Speech Technology and Forensic Applications”, University of Zürich, 4-5 February 2021. [Talk]
  • Sbranna, S., Ventura, C., Albert, A. and Grice, M. “Prosodic expression of information status in Italian”, 4th PaPE – Phonetics and Phonology in Europe, 21-23 June, 2021. [Poster]

Organised events

  • Summer Semester 2019. Kinderuni workshop  “Unsere Stimme“, University of Cologne, Germany.
  • May, 2021. Paris-Cologne Collaborative Meeting (PCCM) 7 "Quantifying and interpreting variability in speech", Université Paris Diderot (Paris 7), France, and University of Cologne, Germany.

Teaching experience

  • Summer Semester 2018. Seminar “Applied Linguistics”, Department of Humanities, Università degli Studi di Salerno, Italy.
  • Summer Semester 2021. Seminar “The Phonetics of Second Language Learning”, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Cologne, Germany.

Awards

  • 2019, Travel grant from CCLS for summer school SMLP 2019 Introductory Frequentist Statistics at University of Potsdam, Germany.

  • 2019, Travel grant from CCLS for conference Phonetics and Phonology in Europe 2019 in Lecce, Italy.

  • 2019, DAAD Research Grants – One-Year Grant (unable to accept owing to concurrent a.r.t.e.s. scholarship).

  • 2019, a.r.t.e.s. Integrated Track scholarship.

  • 2018, a.r.t.e.s. “Predoc” scholarship.

  • 2017, Scholarship “Erasmus Traineeship” for “Dante Alighieri” Institute, Seville, Spain.

  • 2016, Erasmus + scholarship for exchange semester at University of Cologne, Germany.

  • 2015, Erasmus + scholarship for exchange semester at University of Cologne, Germany.