This Question Came to My Inbox: “Vietnamese language doesn’t have ending sounds, so when I ask a Vietnamese adult and a 2-year-old Vietnamese child to repeat “/kæts/” (cats) after me, the adult never pronounces the “/s/”, but the child does. Why do you think that is?”

Children are more susceptible to language than adults. Children have recently learned or are learning to speak their first language. They are great mimics and great at figuring out what people have to say from context. They learn grammar and pronunciation innately. My daughter,, at at two years old, was speaking perfect Romanian just from listening to the people. She was using complicated grammatical patterns that it took my studying and thinking to figure out and understand because that is what she had heard. When I was in elementary school, they taught me French, and the French I learned because as real to me as English because I learned it so young. When I meet French speakers, they insist that I am a French speaker, but even know I understand what is going on in French and can speak some, after elementary school, I didn’t study French. I learned it before I know what grammar was. I learned it while I was still speaking with a British accent from living in English, but now I use an American accent because I am American. When I acted in America, the British accent was very easy to bring back because I learned it so young.

Adults learned their first language a long, long time ago. Most of them have forgotten the art of learning a language as if it is their first language. They only think in their first language, unlike children. Their mouths are used to making the sounds in their first language. Their mouths have been trained. They have lost the art of learning like a child. Adults need to study grammar. Most of them can’t learn by listening like children. Adults want to dissect things and don’t just relax and say what they hear. They find it harder to figure out what people are saying from context because they have been relying on their first language for so long to tell them what is going on. It is like a car that has gone in a rut so many times that it is hard for it to get out. If the adults push hard and try, they can do it, but just saying something in a foreign language and expecting them to copy it doesn’t work with most adults, Adults have lost a special skill that children have to develop to learn their first language. If the child learns a second language young enough, they still know that art, but if they wait until they are adults, many can’t jump the gulf anymore.

Adults find drawing pictures of what is happening in the mouth very helpful.

When I teach adults a second language, I have learned all kinds of tricks to get them to say the letters. If I teach someone that has a Spanish or a Romanian background, they have a blunter “t” than English, so I show them that in English, we hold a piece of paper up in front of our mouth and say a crisper “t.” I show them that when we say their “t,” the paper doesn’t move, but when we say the English “t,” the paper moves because it kind of explodes the air. I model it for them. I draw diagrams on the board of where they must put their tongue, and I let them practice and practice until they get it right. They smile, enjoy it and learn it. If I teach Japanese or Koreans, they have trouble separating our “L” and “R” because they are blended into one letter for them. I draw a chart on the board of the side of the mouth. I show where they put their tongue for each letter and then let them practice. Sometimes, I even get silly and for the “L” sound begin singing, “La, la, la, la, la, la!” They enjoy playing with it too. If I teach Americans to speak Spanish or Romanian, I always have to teach then how to trill their “R’s.” I begin telling then things like, “growl and flap your tongue” or “remember what you used to say when you were small and used to play cars.? I might get them to think they are cold and say, “Brrr!” I ask them to loosen up and learn to play, and then I let them practice. I even show them a better place to put their tongues with a chart on the board. Koreans have the tendency to leave the “s” out on the end too that means plural. Their major problem is that in Korean, they have something that means that “s,” but it is optional in Korean, so they usually just leave it out. I have to explain to them how important the “s” is in English because English is more specific than Korean, and they eventually remember to put the “s” on the end for plural.

The roads have already been built in the adults brain, and we have to built new roads for them. The child is just beginning to build these roads in their brain and know how to do it better because they are still learning or have just learned their first language.

I could just continue explaining what I do for certain letters for certain people groups, but this should give you the idea. Children don’t need these things explained because they still know the art of listening and copying that they used to learn their first language. Most adults are set in their ways, even if they are teenagers. They have forgotten how to learn a first language, and their mouth is trained for the sounds and grammar of their first language. As a teacher, you have to teach them how to make those sounds. You have to figure out ways that work that teach them to make those sounds.

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