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September 17, 2010

A Modest Proposal

Ever wonder how you would design your own language learning program? Sometimes I think that it just might work to...

...teach adults a second language the way young children learn their first language.

As I mentioned in my previous post, children listen to every sound, accent and word and do their best (perhaps unconsciously) to copy what they hear.

But take note of what else they do - they try out all kinds of alternate sounds.

Did you ever notice how children hum, buzz, squeal and just plain ramble on in words and random noises?

Maybe adults should do that. Most adults are just too shy - even when they are by themselves - to "try out" different sound effects.

Asian students in particular need to practice, practice, practice. They especially need to work on those troublesome sounds not found in their own language.

The worst - meaning most difficult - is the "th" sound.

If you don't get this right, and almost ALL Asian students don't - it makes "mouth" sound like "mouse", "North" sounds like "Norse" and "south" sounds like "souse".

Needless to say, messing up these words can make your sentences awkward if not completely misleading.

I had to work with my Asian students one-on-one to get them to make the "th" sound. The only way to do it is to (literally) stick out your tongue (barely).

Once students get used to this - and hear each other make this strange sound - they will at first laugh in an embarrassed way and then - usually with a sense of discovery and amazement - they will realize that they have mastered perhaps the trickiest pronunciation of the English language.

The first breakthrough is to get past the initial embarrassment of making a new and peculiar sound in public. The second barrier is far easier - but most students don't do it; yes, you must practice, practice, practice.

Little kids do it. We've all done it, and students need to not be afraid to do it. That's pretty much how we all learn any language. It just might be how we learn everything. Practice, practice, practice.

What are some questions you have about learning or teaching English - or any language?

Let me know what it is about English that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle). Morf prefers international and independent films, foods he can't pronounce, music no one else has heard of and riding his bicycle in foreign cities. Morf is currently a radio host (tacoma.fm) and a newspaper columnist http://www.thenewstribune.com/opinion/columnists/morf_morford/. More than one student has remarked on how much Morf resembles Santa Claus...

Posted by mmorf at September 17, 2010 09:20 PM

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