This study investigated the role of an instruction in the principle of phonological syllabification—the division of polysyllabic words into their constituent syllables—in facilitating Taiwanese EFL learners’ acquisition of English polysyllabic words.
Participants were 31 first-year Applied English majors in a two-year program at an institute of technology in northeastern Taiwan. They took two parallel versions (serving as the pretest, the posttest, and the retention test) of the Syllabification Skills Test consisting of four subtests. Over a period of three weeks, they received the Phonological Syllabification Instruction for five class periods. Data were analyzed using the nonparametric Spearman rank-order correlation coefficient and a one-way repeated measures ANOVA.
Statistically significant positive correlations were found between the participants’ mean scores on the Subtests B (syllable counting) and C (syllable division), C and D1 (dictated spelling, scores assigned to fully correct spellings of words), as well as C and D2 (scores awarded to correctly spelled syllables in words) in all three tests. However, no such correlation existed between the participants’ performance on the Subtest A (phoneme counting) and their performance on the Subtest B. The results of ANOVA showed that there was a significant difference in the participants’ mean scores on the dictated spelling subtest across all three tests, when their written spellings were rated according to the number of correctly spelled syllables in words. The overall results of the Participant Perception Survey Questionnaire revealed that the participants felt that the Phonological Syllabification Instruction, as a whole, was conducive to improving their ability to learn and memorize English polysyllabic words. Finally, an in-depth qualitative analysis indicated that the participants made spelling errors on almost all linguistic features identified in each of the three broad linguistic categories: phonology, orthography, and morphology. These results suggest that the Phonological Syllabification Instruction does have a role in the learning of English polysyllabic words in Taiwanese EFL learners.
The findings from this study have important implications for English Language Teaching in Taiwan. First, Taiwanese EFL learners need to master letter name knowledge, sound–spelling correspondences, and the distinction between sounds and letters. Second, teachers may teach learners to “divide and conquer” polysyllabic words syllable by syllable, using the multisensory approach proposed in this study. Above all, it is suggested that educators teach learners to integrate knowledge of the three linguistic categories that is required to master English polysyllabic words effectively.