The idea that you have to be able to perceive a sound in order to produce it is somewhat intuitive. No? I’m referring to what is known as the perception – production link. It is a much-discussed topic in L2 teaching literature, and the most influential speech theories, Speech Learning Model, the Perceptual Assimilation Model, and the Native Language Magnet Theory all agree that speech perception and production are related. They differ in explaining why and how they are related, but the theories agree that the connection exists. The current status of the perception-production link, it’s safe to say, is one of general acceptance.
The evidence is inconsistent, however. Some research has found that non-native speakers can learn to produce L2 phonemes without being able to perceive them. Most of these results, however, are due to specific articulation practice. For example, students can learn to stick the tip of their tongue beyond their teeth and make a /th/ without being able to consistently distinguish the sound from /s/. Such exceptions, however, do not disprove the studies showing that, in general, accurate perception is necessary for accurate production.
Importantly, a couple of studies published by Kazuya Saito claim the connection between perception and production is greatest in the early stage of learning and that listening alone is important during this stage of learning. In one article he says:
These results … highlight two crucial implications in regards to the perception-production link in interlanguage phonology. First, the perception-production link may be relatively strong at the early, initial phase of L2 speech learning, as good perception ability may induce L2 learners to improve the intelligibility of their L2 controlled and spontaneous production alike… (2015)
The second article:
The EFL Japanese learners in this study had minimal opportunities to use English on a daily basis and had yet to have much phonetic knowledge of the target sound /ɹ/ at the time of the project. Thus, the results in turn suggest that these beginners need to focus more on noticing the perceptual aspects of new sounds in a receptive mode in order to start establishing relevant phonetic representations of the sounds before processing production enhancements, such as pronunciation-focused recasts. (Bolding mine. 2018)
These articles point to the benefits, especially for beginners, of just listening. To what? Well, now for the plug… Aka-Kara.com has free practice with minimal pairs, tongue twisters, and music aimed at young learners. This is one place to start. Have your students or their parents, look for “Free Practice” in the menu. They can listen on their mobile devises.
Listening practice: that is what b4 does.
Communicative focus on second language phonetic form: Teaching Japanese learners to perceive and produce English /ɹ/ without explicit instruction, in Applied Psycholinguistics36(2015), 377–409, doi:10.1017/S0142716413000271
The perception-production link revisited: The case of Japanese learners’ English /r/ performance in,International Journal of Applied Linguistics(2018) DOI: 10.1111/ijal.12175