Vowel blindness: Computer-mediated help options for Arabic EFL learners

Date created: 
Vowel blindness
Help options
Input enhancement
Arabic EFL learners

This dissertation investigates the impact of different types of help options, specifically input enhancement and form-focused glosses, on reducing vowel blindness of Arabic EFL learners. Vowel blindness is the term commonly used for Arabic ESL/EFL learners’ difficulty in decoding English vowels by transferring L1 habits of relying heavily on consonants and giving little attention to vowels.Two hundred-fifty Saudi Arabian EFL students at a beginner to low-intermediate level participated in a study based around a specially designed piece of online software, VALE (Vowel-Assistant for Arabic Learners of English) which incorporates English vowel training through input enhancement and form-focused glosses implemented in the context of reading tasks. Input enhancement was achieved typographically by highlighting the vowels in target words in yellow. The form-focused glosses were designed to include segment-focused glosses, syllable-focused glosses, or segment-syllable focused glosses. Each of the four types of support was experienced by a separate experimental group, while a control group received no such help. VALE also delivered most of the data gathering instruments of the study which included a background questionnaire, pre-test, post-test, delayed post-test, and attitude questionnaire. Retrospective interviews were also conducted with 40 participants.Three sets of research questions are asked to address the effect of VALE help options on reducing vowel blindness. The first and second sets address the effect of type of support on treated/targeted words and on untreated/nontargeted words, in three stages: initial effect (pre-test - post-test change), retention effect (post-test - delayed post-test), and overall effect (pre-test - delayed post-test). The third set of research questions explores the impact of VALE on raising participants’ awareness of the vowel blindness problem and on their attitudes towards VALE.The results for the first set of research questions revealed significant decreases in vowel blindness errors in the short term for treated words, with significant differences between the experimental groups and the control group. Yet, a significant re-increase in vowel blindness errors occurred in the longer term but an overall vowel blindness reduction effect was found over the entire period of the study, particularly for the segment help option. The second set of research questions again found a significant decrease in vowel blindness for untreated words in the short-term, similar for all VALE help options. In the longer term, a major loss of retention occurred for all the help groups; nevertheless, a significant change in vowel blindness errors was still found over the entire period of the study for the untreated words, particularly for the input enhancement help option. Finally, the third set of research questions revealed through the interview data that the learners generally perceived their help option treatment as positively impacting their awareness of the vowel blindness problem. Interview data and attitude questionnaire also showed mostly positive attitudes towards the technical design of VALE and segment help obtained the highest number of positive responses.

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Senior supervisor: 
Trude Heift
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Linguistics
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ph.D.