A mother yesterday asked an advisor at MY an odd question:
My daughter keeps saying, ‘Ah-peh-ne,’ after eating. I think she’s saying something in English. Do you know what she means?
Stumped, the advisor passed the question to me.
The three-year-old girl has recently had exposure to English through our immersion kindergarten, so it would make sense that she is trying to express something in English, but “Ah-peh-ne”?
Ah-peh-ne? Is that even English?
In my head, I started trying to peel back the layers of phonology, morphology, syntax, and context that intersect in early language acquisition.
Ah-peh-ne? Does that sound like any phrase in English? Nothing sprang to mind.
Break down the sounds. Are these separate words? Do they combine into one or more multi-syllable words? Which sounds is the three-year-old pronouncing correctly? Which sounds is she pronouncing incorrectly? Which sounds is she failing to pronounce? Still nothing.
What do kids typically say at the immersion kindergarten when they are done eating lunch? Ah-hah! My daughter also attended the immersion kindergarten some years ago. This context gave me the hint to what was happening with the child’s phonology and morphology. It took thirty seconds of fumbling to find an answer, but the puzzle pieces had fallen into place.
Ah-peh-ne. I’m finished.
That’s what the girl was saying. It’s what the immersion kindergarten kids are taught to say after lunch. The sounds and syllables match up:
The girl was missing the “m” sound in “I’m.” The “p” and “f” sounds are distinguished by one small change in lip position. She dropped the final “sh” and “-ed” sounds. But despite the missing and undeveloped sounds, “I’m finished” is undoubtedly what the girl was saying.
All this girl needs is a little mirroring with the correct pronunciation from her mother or other English speakers, and those small pronunciation mistakes will disappear.
This small moment reiterated to me why we use context and phonics as language teaching foundations at MY.
Without the context that this child said “Ah-peh-ne” after eating meals, the linguistic puzzle would have been almost impossible to solve. Speakers can make all manner of mistakes with language, but we can still be understood because context drives meaning.
Phonics is a useful tool because the phonics teaching method mimics how we develop the sounds of a language from a young age. Children under the age of five are still developing the basic sounds of their native languages. They misprounounce a lot. Little-by-little, through trial and error, with the exercise of muscles when speaking, phonology eventually works itself out for native speakers. For language students without a native background and with limited exposure to a foreign language with radically different phonology, they need targeted exposure to the basic phonemes before they can effectively morph those phonemes into intelligible words and phrases.
Thanks to this three-year-old girl and her mother for giving me a refresher course in how we teach!
Moving forward on MY’s TEFL certificate requirements
What to do with TEFL certificates? We have decided why we want teachers to be TEFL-certified. We have done our homework to understand positive … Continue reading "Moving forward on MY’s TEFL certificate requirements"
Three Bright Spots in the TEFL Industry (and lots of red flags to watch for)
The TEFL certificate industry has many good teacher trainers and rigorous certificate programs. It also has an alarming number of frauds and diploma mills. … Continue reading "Three Bright Spots in the TEFL Industry (and lots of red flags to watch for)"
The last time MY English School seriously considered the TEFL certificate question was over ten years ago, before I started teaching at MY. Some … Continue reading "Why TEFL?"
The TEFL Problem
The TEFL certificate industry exists to fill a need, but inconsistency, uncertainty, and even outright fraud cause confusion and frustration for teachers and school … Continue reading "The TEFL Problem"
Come Come, Really?
NHK’s Come Come Everybody doubles down on hundred years of largely failed English education, looking ahead to another hundred years of the same. NHK … Continue reading "Come Come, Really?"
New Teacher Voices
Editor’s note: John and Sam both started at MY English School in April 2021. They have graciously agreed to share about their first-year experiences … Continue reading "New Teacher Voices"
Working at One of the Best English Schools in Japan
Editor’s note: Andy has taught at MY during the past two years. As he relocates with his family back to his home country, he … Continue reading "Working at One of the Best English Schools in Japan"