UT Sound Lab studying connection between memorization and speaking styles

Mengyuan Dong

For non-native speakers, memorizing in English can be challenging, but UTsoundLab is testing if reciting in a clearer speaking style could make this process easier.

Sandie Keerstock, a linguistics doctorate student who works in the UTsoundLab, launched the new study as part of her dissertation. The study examines the connection between clear speaking styles and better memory retention.

“I’ve been looking at the link between speech clarity and memory and whether it works the same to native and non-native (speakers),” Keerstock said. “But what I’m curious about now is, what if you try to make to an effort of speaking clearly yourself?”

Students participating in the ongoing study are asked to recite several sentences first in a casual style and then in a clearer style. After that, participants are shown a series of sentences, and their memories are then tested by asking them to indicate which sentences they have seen before.

Participant Abhishek Singh, an engineering management graduate student from India, said he felt he was able to memorize sentences better when he spoke them in a clear style. Singh also said he thinks different speaking styles might challenge non-native speakers when doing group projects with classmates.

“Non-native speakers tend to be distrusted due to their differences in accent and level of clarity in speaking,” Singh said.

As a non-native speaker from France, Keerstock stressed the importance of pronunciation in language learning, although it can be difficult for non-native speakers.

“I can probably speak clearly and precisely in French,” Keerstock said. “But in English, I can’t really be clear if I’m not sure of the pronunciation of a word, because I’m not sure of what direction to do.

In addition to differences in producing speech, non-native speakers could find it hard to understand something solely based on listening, said Rajka Smiljanic, UTsoundLab principal investigator.

“I remember when I first arrived in the U.S. as a graduate student having difficulty communicating over the phone where I couldn’t see the person I was talking with or in (a) noisy environment,” Smiljanic said.

The challenge of listening to the second language arises in part because the sound system of the first language is mistuned to the sounds of the second language, Smiljanic said. 

In that case, Smiljanic said the clarity of input especially cannnot be overlooked.

“On the practical side of things, one thing to do is practice a lot,” Smiljanic said. “Exposure is critical to acquiring the new sound system.”