Sound detectives

A truly adorable sound detective.

A truly adorable sound detective.

I have been working with an English Language Program for adults in my community. They asked me to write some short weekly posts to frame adult English language learning experiences for the volunteers - some of whom have not had the experiences of immigrating or learning a second language as an adult. I want to share those posts here as well, and this is the first one! 

Part of the language learning job of a baby is to find out what type of language-related information is important. By ten months they stop detecting sounds that are not found in their language – this helps them focus on the information that is important for learning to communicate with the people around them. For example there is no “th” sound in Spanish, so at ten months, babies who only hear Spanish stop detecting this sound so that they can pay more attention to the sounds relevant for Spanish. This is one of the reasons we say not to focus so much on correcting your students' pronunciation, because trying harder or knowing that they're doing it "wrong" isn’t going to make their English pronunciation better. The best thing you can do to help with pronunciation is to make the weekly recordings for them so they can listen to the English sounds – and slowly, and over time get used to detecting sounds like “th” as a part of their language system.

For more information, check out this article from The New York Times.

Photo from Creative Commons user, somedragon2000.