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DeKeyser’s  ’16 TLT Interview

I came across an old TLT interview with Robert DeKeyser. It’s from May/June 2016, and in it he says what I have been saying since I started blogging. Namely, that grammar and vocabulary can be learned at any age. “Pronunciation” however,  “is clearly a function of age.” And this, as I have said perhaps too many times, is largely because children lose the ability to hear non-native sounds at a very early age. If they can’t hear the sounds they cannot learn to pronounce them.


DeKeyser has researched the effects of age on language learning, but it was in the ESL context. When asked in the interview about EFL, he mentions a study from Spain. I’m sure the study he’s referring to is the Barcelona Age Factor study by Carmen Munoz. This study is the definitive work on age and learning in an EFL setting, specifically learning in a foreign language classroom. In the study Munoz points out that older learners learn faster than younger ones, and that younger learners only have an advantage when they have more exposure. The one area where younger students have an obvious advantage is phonetics. DeKeyser says it is not a matter of starting young but of  “providing appropriate instruction for the learner’s age.”


Of course, I’m going to bring this all back to b4.


What DeKeyser and Munoz say is that the window for listening and pronunciation closes early. Grammar can be learned later, but listening and pronunciation need to be focused on early – with appropriate instruction. DeKeyser also says a few hours a week –  the norm for students in an EFL situation – is not enough to kick start the kind of natural learning that takes place in an ESL situation. “It is a mistake,” he says, “to think that starting young is enough.”


More appropriate input is needed. That would be homework. Something at home children can watch or listen to, with no stress, no hassle, for a few minutes whenever possible. Which brings me to a couple of articles I read recently. One:


The relative contribution of segments and intonation to the perception of foreign-accented speech(2016).


This study compares the impact of segmentals, (phonemes) and suprasegmentals (intonation etc.) on comprehensibility, accentedness, and intelligibility. In line with what other researchers have found, this study “suggests that segmental information contributes substantially more to the perception of foreign accentedness than intonation.” The sounds, in short, are important.


Another article is: The Role of Temporal Acoustic Exaggeration in High Variability Phonetic Training: A Behavioral and ERP Study.


This study showed the effectiveness of contrasting and exaggerating sounds when training learners to distinguish the sounds, phonemes. Both behavioral and electrophysiological data indicated significant improvement on Chinese EFL learners’ perception of English /i/-/I/ contrast. They did behavioral studies and ERP brain scans and, in their words, showed “evidence supporting the important role of temporal acoustic exaggeration with adaptive training in facilitating phonetic learning and promoting brain plasticity at the perceptual and pre-attentive neural levels.”


You put the sounds together and exaggerate them. Also, you have a number of different speakers. That is how you teach the sounds. If you are interested in what this might look like go here:


It shows what b4 does.

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