Overcoming the Native Language Magnet Theory for Second Language Adult Learners

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Dhapanita Sanguanbhokai
Archaree Phiphadkusolkul
Celine Villegas
Julien Laforge-Ravet


When learning a new language, most learners, if not all, desire to attain native-like fluency without noticeable foreign accentuation. However, despite being immersed in a native-speaking environment with daily social interaction with native speakers and exposure to mass media, some still speak with a recognizable accent that persists even after years. Does this make sense? The underlying root cause is believed to involve both the process of acquiring phonemes and the ability to reproduce them accurately. The Native Language Magnet Theory expanded (NLM-e) states that when adult listeners encounter an unfamiliar phoneme from a foreign language, they tend to perceive it as a sound similar to one of the phonemes from their own native language that is closest in pronunciation. Learners who are unable to accurately recognize a certain phoneme in a foreign language will struggle to correctly produce it. In addition, the more they practice, the more they reinforce their difficulties in perceiving it accurately. Consequently, their pronunciation may not improve or may even worsen over time. The detection of different phoneme pronunciations is subjective. It becomes more challenging for adult learners of French when taught by non-native French teachers, as their perception may be impaired. It was concluded that to overcome perception distortion from the Native Language Magnet effect that occurred at the brain neural network level, an adult learner needs to use alternate sensorial feedback other than an aurally distorted channel. The authors propose perception correction and training guidelines based on objective measurement and visualization of phoneme formants compared to native formant reference positions. This information provides ideas for correcting articulatory organ movements according to the differences observed.

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Sanguanbhokai, D., Phiphadkusolkul, A., Villegas, C., & Laforge-Ravet, J. (2023). Overcoming the Native Language Magnet Theory for Second Language Adult Learners. Journal of Multidisciplinary in Humanities and Social Sciences, 6(6), 3211–3224. Retrieved from https://so04.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/jmhs1_s/article/view/267054
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