Monday, December 1, 2014

ESL Young learners: how to teach pronunciation skills?

                        retrieved from:

     English has spread around the globe as a Lingua Franca, that much is known. Still, only knowing how to write and read English does not seem to be enough anymore, for many people have had the need to be fluent speakers of this language. As a result, many parents have enrolled their children in English courses as early as they can in an attempt to provide them with an upper hand they will only enjoy when they are much older. As teachers, how do we deal with these young learners? Well, we must recognize that young learners might have an advantage when it comes to becoming almost native fluent English speakers; however, to achieve this goal, their characteristics must be considered in order to develop appropriate activities and develop pronunciation effectively.

     It is known that starting to study English at an early age (before seven years old) might be a big advantage in terms of acquiring native-like pronunciation. According to Rogerson-Revell (2011), many factors might influence the phonological acquisition of a foreign language, such as: exposure, attitude, motivation, aptitude, L1 interference and age. The author talks about the idea that after puberty native-like speech is impaired by neurological changes, but she also refutes that theory adding social and linguistic factors to why adults may not acquire native-like accents as easily as kids (Rogerson-Revell, 2011). The reasons might still be confusing, but fact is: children tend to learn a second language more easily than adults. As English teachers, we must not ignore the fact that adults can achieve fluency in speech and we are their facilitators in this task. We must, also, admit that it is easier to achieve such goal with kids, as long as we do not forget that, once again, we must facilitate the process. 

     Teachers must be aware of the characteristics that influence young learners’ language acquisition in order to ease them through the process of speaking accurately. Shin (2014) points out quite directly that we must always remember that, according to Piaget, children are active learners and thinkers. That means that a book-based and teacher-based approach will not let students live up to their potential. She also points out that, according to Vygostky, children learn through social interaction (Shin, 2014). Therefore, teachers must produce an environment that enables social interaction, not only between teachers and students, but also among students. Apart from these general rules to teaching kids, the author also scrutinizes some important aspects, such as: kids “acquire through hearing and experiencing lots of English, in much the same way they acquire L1; learn things through playing; they are not consciously trying to learn new words or phrases – for them it’s incidental; love playing with language sounds, imitating, and making funny noises; are not able to organize their learning; not able to read or write in L1, so it is important to recycle language through talk and play; and their grammar will develop gradually on its own when exposed to lots of English in context “. In summary, kids will not pick up English pronunciation consciously as adults do, so it is up to the teachers to expose them to English in different ways so that they can develop their phonological skills. To provide such exposure, teachers must be aware at all times of the characteristics of their young learners and apply them. 

     Once teachers have prepared themselves to the young learners they are teaching, it is time for them to apply this knowledge planning activities and classes accordingly. As Shin (2014) points out, in L2 learning environments, the language is more decontextualized, the use of L2 tends to be artificial, and learners may not be motivated. It is the role of teacher to overcome these natural obstacles of the L2 classroom providing a context with meaningful and communicative activities. Fransisca (2014) recalls that activities should be chosen according to the aims of the program as well as the developmental stage of the students, and the possibilities are many. Some useful activities are: role-playing, games (e.g. Chinese whisper), tongue twisters, songs, chants, storytelling and etc. We must remember that children learn by having fun (Shin, 2014) and it is the teacher’s job to provide fun, yet focused, activities to produce target language. Planning classes should not be overlooked by teachers, for it is the time to think about how the correct pronunciation can be acquired in a meaningful way. 

     No task comes to easy when we it comes to language acquisition, and teaching kids pronunciation is no exception: there are some difficulties, but none is impossible to be overcome. First of all, teacher must recognize that there are some phonemes and some qualities of connected speech that might be difficult for young learners to acquire (Fransisca, 214). Teachers cannot forget that kids are losing their baby teeth, using braces, and struggling with difficulties even when producing L1. It is the teacher’s job to understand young learner’s limitations and patiently help them develop skills and strategies to overcome them. Secondly, when planning, teachers must be aware that young learners have a limited attention span, so instead of having long activities, one must plan several varied activities that practice the pronunciation of the same target language. Thirdly, children need repetition to master speaking skills, but having the same activities might bore and disengage them. Finally, the teacher must always assess if and how are the students producing language, so that the lessons planned are being helpful to the group at hand. It is important to know the possible challenges of developing fluency in young learners so that such task will not be hindered. 

     For the kids that have the opportunity of studying English at an early age, the advantage must be acknowledged and used in their favor. Since they are not yet conscious of such advantage and of the significance of being fluent in English, it is one of the teacher’s tasks to engage them. To sum up, awareness is a key word for young learner’s teachers, for they must be aware of the characteristics of children, of their difficulties and of how they learn in order to teach them English pronunciation effectively.


Fransisca, E. (2014). Teaching Speaking To Young Learners. Retrieved from: on December, 1st, 2014.

Rogerson-Revell, P. (2011). English Phonology and Pronunciation Teaching. Continuum International Publishing Group.

Shin, J.K. (2014). Teaching English to Young Learners. Retrieved from: on December, 1st, 2014.

No comments:

Post a Comment