Inhibition in Pronunciations – Cause and Strategies in Overcoming It

In 1964, Benjamin Bloom expressed his belief that there are two domains of learning: the cognitive and the affective. Unfortunately affective variables have not been thoroughly studied in the various researches and papers having as subject the process of second language acquisition and learning. Empathy, aggression, anxiety, imitation, inhibition, introversion and extroversion are affective variables that have only been slightly tackled by specialists in the domain of SLA (Brown, 2006).

Becoming bilingual is a way of life. Your whole person in affected as you struggle to reach beyond the confines of your first language and into a new language, a new culture, a new way of thinking, feeling and acting” (Brown, 1994). According to Douglas Brown and not only the learning of a foreign language is a process that requires a lot of energy and dedication, and which at the same time comprises a series of psychological, intellectual and emotional variables.

According to Xu and Huang (2010), the emotions that affect language acquisition can be classified in personality factors and factors related to the relationship extant between the teacher and the students. The personality factors include motivation, self-esteem, anxiety and inhibition. The other category includes empathy, classroom transactions and cross-cultural processes.

Inhibition in pronunciation

Inhibition is considered a personality factor that reflects a very close relationship with self-esteem. Inhibition in pronunciation may manifest itself in the case of perfectionist students who have more difficulties in learning a second language than those who are more open and have a higher tolerance of ambiguity. Some students are so embarrassed and self-conscious that they do their best to avoid classroom conversation activities which are essential for the development of language skills.
The second language is not a comfortable language not even for those who have lived in the culture of the respective language and have attended schools where teaching was done in the second language. Adults possess many inhibitions and attitudes about speaking a foreign language and therefore they are less likely to attempt meaningful learning.

Cause of inhibition in pronunciation

Brown (1994) pointed out that many students are inhibited during foreign language classes because learning a language involves a certain amount of self-exposure and making mistakes. Students may consider these mistakes as a threat to their self-esteem.
Speaking activities can fail due to students’ inhibition. These activities imply exposure in front of the whole class and this can give shier students stage fright. Students might be inhibited about being criticized or being laughed at.  SLA students often do not have confidence in their speaking abilities and believe that do not have enough language skills to express what they want to say.

The teacher’s attitude towards mistakes is of utmost importance. If the teacher has a negative attitude, than he/she can create learning blocks which can hinder the acquisition of language. However, nowadays more and more foreign language teachers are focusing their attention on the students’ abilities and not on their weak points. Behaving as such, they manage to determine their students to overcome their inhibition in pronunciation (Brown, 2000).

Dominant students are also a source of language inhibition. There are always students as such in almost every SLA class and they hinder the shier students to express their opinion and knowledge. Dominant students interrupt and constantly look for teacher’s attention thus creating a class environment in which timid students stand happily aside.

Good pronunciation is also hindered by the constant usage of the mother tongue during the SLA classes. Students who insist in using their first language are afraid of being criticized and therefore, the teacher has to encourage them to speak in the target language. The learners’ must understand that the usage of their mother tongue slows down the oral progress.

Brown (2000) considers that inhibition in pronunciation is also due to the learners’ inability to speak with a proper accent. Lots of people consider that a native-like accent is an extremely important proof of successful acquisition. Many adults who acquired a second language can master grammar and communicative functions, but they still have not a foreign accent.This does not mean that their acquisition of the second language was not successful.

Teaching strategies for overcoming inhibition in pronunciation

There are many teaching strategies that can be used to help students overcome their inhibition in pronunciation. Certain strategies may be more effective with certain leaners than with others. There are students who may benefit a lot from the regular application of the same strategies. Other students may need more strategies applied.

The teacher plays a very important role in helping students overcoming their language inhibitions. He/She must be very alive, dramatic and enthusiastic. The more uninhibited the teacher, the more likely the students will lose their inhibitions (Harmer, 2006).

As Harmer (2006) points it out the teacher has to be active; he or she must raise the arms, click the fingers and point to the student in order to get him/her to respond. Students must not be asked to “Repeat after me”, but they have to be trained to answer in a quick-fire fashion to the teacher’s movements. Students should be encouraged to use dramatic and exaggerate gestures when role playing or when reading dialogues.

The teacher has to be unpredictable. For example, when students are repeating sentences and then using substitutions in the sentences, the teacher should spin around, as he points to the student expected to answer. This has to be done in a random way so the students are kept alert, not knowing who is going to be asked next (Harmer, 2006).

Position of students’ desks is also important in order to overcome inhibition. Thus, the best solution would be to put the desk in a circle so as to create open space and room for movement (Harmer, 2006).

When students use words and gestures in ways they have never done before, their self-confidence increases since they know that during the class, they can become a different person. This helps students a lot in overcoming their language inhibition thus leading to a successful acquisition of the second language.


prof. Andreea Fundeanu

Școala Gimnazială Nr. 1 Voluntari (Ilfov) , România
Profil iTeach:

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