Is it best to teach pronunciation during early childhood?

Here is another interesting question from the Oxford TEFL Online Diploma course I was involved with last month, this one from Clare Sheppard:

Hi Adrian,   Kelly says that after childhood our ability to adopt an unfamiliar set of sounds diminishes somewhat (p.4). Therefore I wonder whether it is best to teach pronunciation during early childhood. How would you approach teaching pronunciation to very young learners, and could the chart come into play at all with such a set of students?  Thanks!

Hi Clare,   I think it is always helpful to have pronunciation in circulation as an available focus of challenge, from the very start of the course at whatever age and throughout every lesson. Pron is the physical aspect of language. Without this physical connection the learning process can get stuck in our cognitive mind processes. Sure pron is easier at the younger age, but it is necessary all the time and for all ages, whether more difficult or not.  We must do what needs to be done, regardless of perceived difficulty, at any age and for any learner. Without the physical discipline of pronunciation the different parts of the language cannot hang together and support the learning of each other. Without pron the integrity of the language is eroded. If students are always practising pron as it comes up in the lesson that means they are all the time practising and whatever the language of the moment is. Whenever you practice pron you also rehearse vocab and grammar, so you practise pron kind of free of charge! And the bonus is that repeating is not really repetition, because though they might have the right words in the right order, the pron can always be challenged by immediate feedback from the teacher inviting the student to say it faster, slower, clearer, more connected, more expressive, containing stress, containing delight, clarifying word endings, more relaxed, and so on according to the different needs of each student. So the language is being practised while the pron is being challenged.

The chart is not something to teach. It is a help for the process of learning. The chart is to pron what the white board is to grammar and vocab. Use the chart with kids just the same. They love it. If you don’t have a chart arrange their shoes at the front of the room for the twelve vowels and gather round and practice, or distribute the twelve vowels to 12 pupils like this:

“So, who want to be /i:/ today?…. You? OK, So, who are you?”

“I’m /i:/”

“ OK, who’s she?”

“She’s /i:/”

“Yes, now, can you point to yourself on the chart?”

“Ok, so now, who’s going to be /u:/ today?”

…..and so on… and then:

“Ok here is the word me, what’s the vowel?”

“It’s /i:/….”

“Right, so, who is that?… ok stand up if you think it’s you….?”

……and so on….

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