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Teaching Spanish pronunciation
Teaching Spanish pronunciation

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6 Reducing levels of FLA

In practice, there is no one single approach to adopt in all situations. Several factors might play a key role in a learner’s FLA. Therefore, it is important to understand what these factors are in each case before targeting the issue. Nevertheless, there are some general measures a language teacher can take to help students overcome anxiety when speaking the target language.

Detect and understand the fear

What exactly is the student afraid of? Is it fear of failure or fear of being negatively evaluated? You can ask students to reflect on how they feel when a Spanish person makes an effort to speak in English. Students might realise that people tend not to judge others negatively when they are making this kind of effort, so why should it be different in their case?

The desire for perfection

Some students will feel a compelling desire to achieve perfection while speaking in the target language. It seems advisable to make students understand that nobody starts speaking a foreign language fluently without first speaking a broken version of it. It is also very common for learners to aspire to native-like pronunciation. It is the teacher’s task to help them set realistic goals and explain that the goal should be intelligibility and comprehensibility, rather than passing for a native speaker. It is important to make students aware of the fact that they may feel frustrated when they are making mistakes, but mistakes form part of the overall process of acquiring the language. Grammatical and vocabulary mistakes are perfectly normal, as is incorrect pronunciation.

Listening skills

When students are not used to conversing in a foreign language, their brain needs time to process the incoming words, understand them, think of a response and deliver it; not to mention endeavouring to produce the desired sound. All this requires significantly more thought and effort than conversing in their native language.

Are students struggling more with formulating their sentences or with understanding what is being said to them in response? Very often it is the latter, which then has an impact on the former. 

  • Learners can improve their listening skills by exposure to target language media. Depending on their level, they can listen to native speech. Familiarity with the topic under discussion is very helpful and reduces the cognitive burden. 
  • Shadow reading improves both listening and speaking skills. 

Meaningful conversations

Insist on creating situations in which students will need to interact in the target language with their peers. Create a positive environment in the classroom, be it face-to-face or virtual, by promoting interaction in the target language among students. Let the classroom become a “country” in which the target language is the official language used.

Promote realistic conversational situations, but insist on the fact that if students speak slowly and clearly, this should encourage their conversational partner to speak slowly and clearly too, which will facilitate both understanding and production. Make students aware that some native speakers they encounter will be more cooperative than others, some more understanding, some simply better at understanding foreign accents. This should not put them off. Make sure they understand this also happens to some degree when speaking their mother tongue.

When a group of native speakers get together, the conversation will usually speed up and become more difficult for non-native speakers to follow. This is normal. One-to-one conversations are easier, therefore, and one-to-one lessons are a way to ensure the student gets this experience, while also benefitting from input from an expert.

Many conversations will come up again and again in everyday life, for example, ordering food in a restaurant or drinks in a bar, shopping, asking for information etc.  Most interactions stick to an established routine. Prepare your students to predict situations in which they will be using spoken Spanish. Learning these types of conversations helps build confidence and might be a way to experience interaction in the language. Tell students that when native speakers find out they are learning Spanish, they will probably be asked where they are from and why they are learning it. These conversations will help develop students’ confidence, which supports them in moving on to broader topics.

In summary

You can decrease students’ anxiety by creating situations in which the use and pronunciation of Spanish are part of the natural process of communication. Insist on the use of Spanish as a necessary tool to achieve communication. Make sure students do not over-estimate the “negative” outcome of making mistakes. Insist on the fact that mistakes are necessary to test their own speech in real situations and address them in order to achieve better results. Always be positive about their output and help them find ways to better pronounce the target language. 


Horwitz, E. K., Horwitz, M. B. & Cope, J. (1986) Foreign language classroom anxiety. The Modern Language Journal, 70: 125–132.
ESL Stories, [blog] blog/ learn-languages/ afraid-fear-speaking-foreign-language/ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]