ESR10: Phonetic alignment in a non-native language

PhD Fellow: Zheng Yuan

I am a computational linguist with research interests in developing computer applications for language learning and evaluation, and also in the cognitive mechanism underlying perception and language acquisition. Currently, I work as a PhD fellow at the Center of Translational Neurophysiology for Speech and Communication, Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), hosted by the University of Ferrara.

From 2015 to 2019, I was Visiting Lecturer in Chinese Language at the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia) and then the University of Sheffield (UK). I obtained an MSc. in Computer Science with Speech and Language Processing (Sheffield, UK), an MA in Translation Studies (Shanghai, China), and a BA in Linguistics and English Literature (Kunming, China).

The research project that I am working on is called Phonetic Alignment in a Non-native Language, and is supervised by Prof Alessandro D’Ausilio. We will explore the dynamics of the phonetic and prosodic convergence of speech communication using deep learning and state-of-the-art speech technologies, and apply the theoretical findings to build a software tool for second language teaching and acquisition. 


For adults, mastering the segmental and supra-segmental aspects of a second language (L2) is particularly challenging. Although we know that such a capability is partially maintained during adulthood, we do not know yet how to facilitate effective and long-lasting L2 learning. This project is based on the hypothesis that when people engage in meaningful social interactions, they automatically and implicitly align at multiple linguistic levels, including the phonetic one. ESR10 will tackle the fundamental scientific question of phonetic alignment in L2 and whether it drives long-lasting improvements in L2 skills. Key objectives are (i) to investigate the dynamics of alignment in L2 (English) and (ii) to quantify improvements when participants are engaged in a conversation with native speakers.}

Expected results:

  • Full description and validation of a set of game-like tools to quantify L2 segmental and suprasegmental alignment;
  • Exhaustive investigation about phonetic alignment in L2, its relation with L2 proficiency before training and long term retention of L2 improvements.

Based in Ferrara, Italy

Full-time three-year contract, starting September 2020

PhD enrolment at: University of Ferrara

Main supervisor’s institution: IIT, Ferrara

Main supervisor: Prof Alessandro D’Ausilio


  • IISAS, Bratislava: training on methods for analysing acoustic-prosodic alignment in dialogues (5 months);
  • DAVI, Puteaux: training on how to design effective game-like tools to explore alignment in L2 (5,5 months).

Co-supervisors’ institutions:

  • IISAS, Bratislava, Slovakia
  • DAVI, Puteaux, France

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