March 28, 2013

Affective Language Acquisition Stages: Speech Emergence

It is with great pleasure that I continue Affective Language Acquisition Stages, a collection of 5 posts that explore  the stages of pre-production, early production, speech emergence, intermediate fluency, and advanced fluency through an affective perspective. We will explore how language teachers can interact with young learners to provide them a supportive, meaningful, and productive language environment.

These posts reflect the pedagogic work done at Juan Uribe Ensino Afetivo, a language school where children learn English affectively through play in small monolingual groups. The strategies presented below have been developed and refined for 20 years and I understand that they might require adaptation to be implemented in other realities.  

Make sure you read the silent period and the early production  posts  before reading this one, so you can understand how children evolve since their silent period.  

Ready or not, here we come!

During the stage of speech emergence we want  young learners to feel and think the following: 


I can understand and speak English on my own.

I still need time to remember. Help me when I don’t. 

I use English to make friends, learn and play.

In the Speech Emergence Stage, speech production will significantly improve in both quantity and quality. After having gone through a phase in which they needed constant support to express themselves, students start speaking more independently as they connect words to make their own novel sentences. Learners play with vocabulary, verbs, expressions, and intonation glueing all these precious pieces with their own grammar.  All this language emergence makes students and teachers feel very good during class!

I compare the stage of speech emergence to the blossoming of a flower with its own beauty and rhythm. In this process of creating their own speech, young learners test and confirm their hypotheses of how sentences can be built. The brain was chosen to symbolize this stage due to this intense cognitive integration, thinking, and building of language.

Before we move on, please note that the name of this stage is speech emergence. During my many years at school I heard teachers saying that their students were in speech emergency. No!!!

Students in speech emergence can:

Understand the educator at all moments with almost no extra-linguistic support
Understand clear language in songs, videos, movies, and tv 
Understand the main idea of a text read to them 
Understand simple jokes
Build simple sentences about themselves
Express their likes and dislikes
Tell simple stories with a model
Ask questions with details
Explain how things work with frequent support of specific language
Engage in simple conversations in English
Build sentences with auxiliaries and verbs in the past with frequent imperfections.

Typical production at this stage:

I go to kitchen fast you wait here!
I think you like this game because you bring it a lot.
You went to the beach this weekend?
The king is not a very good guy.
I eated everything.
In Japan have many volcanoes. 
I am going to show you an interesting thing.

Educators should focus on:

Using English during the whole class to provide a rich language acquisition environment.

Fostering a positive, dynamic, and challenging environment in which students produce with confidence, autonomy and pleasure.

Giving time for students to make, test, and confirm their linguistic hypothesis. 

Educators are expected to:

·      Speak only in English with normal speed, explaining in English new words
·      Tell personal stories with a lot of details to involve students interested in narrative
·      Engage students in retelling stories 
·      Guide activities in which children can speak only in English
·      Engage students in composing brief stories based on personal experience
·      Work on stress,  articulation, and intonation through rhymes, songs and jazz chants
·      Play games of all sorts using abstract language present in the instructions 
·      Expose children to different sources of recorded material 
·      Explore language in its other genres: advertisements, signs, and poetry, among others
·      Include cultural aspects of English speaking countries 

Language resources for students at speech emergence:

1. Advanced two-answer questions: this resource helps learners to produce in a very safe way by choosing and repeating one answer which was just said. In speech emergence the possible answers should be longer and have different verbs and expressions. These are also a great way to present new language that students can deduce from context. 
Example: T: Do you think it's better for us to give this boardgame a try or check out the new horror book that I brought? 
                S: Let's check out the horror book you brought.

2. Receptive Rephasing: here we provide students more adequate models of what they have just said partially or totally in English. It's essential that their language is presented in a communicative way, which engages them in meaningful conversation. Note that this interaction does not expect the student to produce the sentence again in English. Just correcting what they have just said creates what we call echo
Example: S: I eat very delicious cake in my grandmother's house. 
               T: Humm, good you ate cake. I love chocolate cake. What kind of cake did you eat at your grandma's? 
               Echo (not adequate): Oh, you ate cake at your grandma's? - conversation ends here. 

3. Active Rephrasing: we can use this resource when students say sentences partially or totally in English and we would like them to say these in a more adequate way. Note that sentences we select for active rephrasing shouldn't be long and there should be speech gaps for us to pose the invitation. Remember that students can accept or decline invitations.  
Example: S: This was the best party I go in my life. 
               T: Best party I've gone in my life. 
               S: Best party I've gone in my life!

4. Zoom in:  at this stage this interaction can be used to show students we would like them to say a sentence in English or to show a student that a word was misused or mispronounced.  In this case, the student should be able to self-correct.
Example: S: Eu quero te mostrar o lego que montei.
               T: I...
               S: I wanna show you the lego I mounted
               S: Help me open the garden door.
               T: the garden ...
               S: the garden gate.
               T: Help...
               S: Help me open the garden gate. 

5. Backward build up: sometimes learners will need help to produce sentences with 10 or more words.  These might have been built slowly by the student or with our support. By helping students to say their ideas in a constant flow with the different word blending, we allow them to taste an listen their speech. We  split the discourse in two parts, work with each chunk individually, and then put them together again. You might want to add any particles or words that can make the sentence a better one. 
Example: S: I will show you ..... how we ..... turn this on. 
               T: How we turn it on. 
               S: How we turn it on. 
               T: I will show you how.
               S: I will show you how. 
               T: I will show you how how we turn it on.
               S: I will show you how how we turn it on.

6. Inducing: we can invite students to produce the language they need even it they do not say it in their native language or in English. Here interactions should again be in the first person. 
Example: S: (Student has a hard time getting something)
               T: I just can't reach it. Give a me hand!
               S: I just can't reach it. Give a me hand!
7. Modelling: in this interaction we present a model of expression and students can copy it substituting our words with theirs. Modelling serves as structures of the type and length of constructions students are supposed to make. 
Example: T: One place I like going to is Cambury. It is a small beach two hours away from São Paulo. I enjoy going to Cambury because there is a beautiful combination of the beach and the native forest. I usually relax, surf, and eat fish when I am there. 
               S: One place I like going is .....   I enjoy.....   I usually.....

8. Expansion: here we can grow sentences learners produce only in English by adding missing words, pronouns, or anything that can refine meaning. We can also present expressions or sentences that match the student's intention. We present language with the intonation of active rephrasing as if the student had said the full sentence in their mother tongue.
Example: S: This is easy, I know how to do it, I always do it. 
               T: This is easy. I've got the hang of it. 
               S: This is easy. I've got the hang of it. 

9. Transformation: here we invite students to say their sentences in a more elaborate way by giving them a structure that should be present in the new construction. Students may need to change some aspects of their sentences to make them work.  Note that the sentences students produce here are perfectly fine. This is a way of scaffolding the quality of their oral production. 
Example: S: Give me that car, please. 
               T: Could you...
               S: Could give me that car, please?

               S: Let's go to my house. 
               T: How about...
               S: How about going to my house? 

10. Leaving gaps:  here we adding prepositions and conjunctions at the end of sentences said by the students in order for them to expand their sentences. It’s also great fun! 
Example: S: I went to the beach
               T: with... 
               S: my family
               T: because...
               S: we like it very much

11. Confirmation: here students can retell commands and instructions that appear during free play and games. Confirmation can be used at first with small commands and then instructions become full chains of sentences. The teacher can help with gestures for students to remember the different parts of the instructions. 
Example: T: (while playing) Go to the forest, get two stones, and a pail full of water. Remember to be careful with bears. Ok? Let me see if you got it right. First...
               S: I go to the forest, then I ....


Time is very important for students to build their own sentences. The educator’s sensibility will dose  how much time should be given before stepping in and helping. When students do not know how to say something, there is no point in giving them more time.

Make sure every interaction has something new (i+1) for them.
Ex. In this stage use different way of asking “How are you?” and expressing likes and dislikes. 

Active rephrasing should only be used when there is truly new language involved. Otherwise we are patronizing students and giving them what they should be producing on their own.

Sosô and Juan’s secret hints

In some moments it might be interesting for you to remind students that they can say words or expressions in their native language. Some students might have the idea that once they have switched to only English they can not go back to their native language.  This very specific  language students use can show you new relevant areas to work on. 

Wow, one more long post. Thank you for still being here! 
Do you have any questions? Comments? 
Would love to hear from you! 

Send you a big hug!


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Boy thinking image courtesy of Poonsap -


  1. Hi Juan! As usual... I'll leave my comment and as usual... I love what you write!
    I totally agree with all you say, however, I've found it very difficult to speak English all the time in my class. When I do it, students keep looking at me as if I were an Alien! :) I insist and insist... but... always the same response. I've even taken some realia for them to associate and speak but... still... nothing! I go back to Spanish (our L1 in Argentina). My resource bank is out of ideas of how to make my students speak more and all in English! Any help, suggestion or idea? TIA, smiles, Maria :)

  2. Hi Maria!

    I love your comments and your feedback motivates even more to continue writing.
    Thank you for sharing the challenge you are living and inviting me to reflect with you.

    I would say that students may look at us as if we were aliens for some reasons or even the combination of these. There are also surely other factors that I can not see now and you might help me.

    The first reason might be that students really can not access the meaning of the words and sentences of what we are saying. The teacher's discourse is noise when they are not able to break the discourse flow and grasp words and get our ideas. This might happen too when students can not hear you due to external noise or the seating arrangement. You are on the right track when you take realia and grade your language so then students can understand you.

    The second reason I raise now is that the topic is so far from their reality that they feel alienated. Textbooks today cater millions of students in very diverse settings and to make this possible publishers write for an universal learner, who simply does not exist. You might have course material describing buying a house and you are teaching teenagers. The way here would be to rely as much as possible on their world and give them the language they need to express themselves to the world. Digital Storytelling is amazing for students to connect themselves.

    A third possibility is an imbalance of power in the classroom. This could be due to lack of student participation, strict routines, devaluation of student's previous history and knowledge, and patronizing discourse, among many others. The development path here is in the sphere of beliefs and it requires the teacher to go through an affective transformation.

    By what we have exchanged, I believe that these possible reasons probably might not apply to your context.

    Some other suggestion include:

    Have surveys, theater, conversation through which students can share how they feel in class. This will allow you to start a dialogue with them and create a more appropriate learning environment. These would happen in Spanish so then they can express themselves freely. Tell them how you feel and ask for their help.

    Get a diary and to write down activities that you noticed they understood well and then to reflect on why you think it happened.

    Have students paraphrase you to the class. Students almost always understand other students.

    Give instructions one at time. Wait until they complete one task, before giving the next task.

    This is the beginning of our dialogue. Do these ideas make sense to you?
    Where do you think their not understanding might be more specifically located?

    Enjoying our conversation!

    Un abrazo,


    1. Hi Juan! Thanks a lot for your reply!

      I'll clarify my situation before going on. My students are between 10 to 12 years old and my classes are divided into 2 groups: a) those who know nothing and b) those who have studied English for some time.

      The ones who know "nothing" are complete beginners, they "see, listen, read and speak" English for the 1st time with me (though they might listen to it on TV, music, etc.) When it's time to speak in class, I cannot find the way to do it in L2 as I said they look at me as if I were an Alien. They are very shy and afraid of pronouncing one single word.

      On the other hand, those who know a bit (because they study privately in English Academies or Institutes as we call them here in Arg.) speak all the time, know all I teach and of course, get bored.

      The level of "mixability class" is too high. Due to government polices, I have to start from zero so... what do I do for them not to get bored or not to feel ETs!!?? I've been doing my best with realia, with posters, with lots of things, however, L1 is still spoken. I cannot speak L2 all the time!
      I swear I do all I can but still... I cannot find the solution or any simple clue to my problem. Even among themselves, they speak in Spanish when they know the English version to the word or phrase.
      Should I speak L2 all the time as if they understood all I say?

      My topics are really basic! I'm teaching greetings, school vocabulary, basic phrases like "Can I go to the toilet, please"?; I haven't even started with the verb "to be"!!! The process is too slow. I don't have one single book in the primary school as the modality is "workshop" (the government gives us the modality) so I need to prepare every single class in a very different way. I prepare the class and the material from a variety of sources though the topics or core units were taken from one printed book.

      Maybe my explanation is too complicated to follow, my head is a mixed salad as I want to explain tons of things so you can understand the whole situation. Your ideas make sense, of course and I hope we can talk much more about this topic.

      Again, thanks for your help and your reply!
      Lots of smiles
      Maria :)


Thank you for your comment!