Date of Award

December 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics


Amanda Brown


L2 Tonal Language, L2 Tone Teaching, Musical Training, Perceptual Training, Tonal Languages

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


In the study of teaching second languages, there has been limited research on the teaching of tonal languages as a second language (L2). Despite this, perceptual training and a background in musical training has been found to be useful for perception, discrimination, and identification of L2 tones. This study examined and compared the effects of two different training techniques, musical training (i.e., using musical concepts and/or instruments) and perceptual training (i.e., listening to targeted contrasts in tones), between musicians and nonmusicians on the learning of L2 tonal perception, discrimination, and identification (TPDI) accuracy.A within-participants intervention research design was used, where each participant experienced both kinds of training, implemented in a counterbalanced order across training groups. The shelter-in-place mandate due to COVID-19 resulted in key changes to the planned methodology, principally an abrupt transition to online training and the reduction of training length from two days to one day. Extensive analyses of learner TPDI performance included in each training type at both the word and vowel level, as well as the ability to generalize to new tones and new tonal melodies, were conducted by individual participant as well as by group, including by level of musical background. Participant views of the training methods were also analyzed. Perceptual training was found to be almost universally descriptively superior to the musical training, and at times also inferentially superior across all participants, and also within each group (i.e., musician vs. nonmusician). Between each group, the musicians descriptively outperformed the nonmusicians almost universally at the start and end of the study regardless of training. Perceptual training also enabled nonmusicians to narrow the performance gap to some extent between themselves and musicians. Regarding the ability of participants to generalize their combined trainings, analyses revealed little if any effect on the ability to perceive, discriminate and identify new tones and tonal melodies. All above patterns were similar across word and vowel TPDI accuracy. In the post-training survey of attitudes, more than two thirds of all participants expressed a preference for the musical training compared to the perceptual training, citing that the musical training was more interactive. However, while the majority of musicians (six of seven musician participants) favored the musical training, only about half of the nonmusicians (five of nine nonmusician participants) favored the musical training as opposed to the perceptual training.


Open Access



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