Naomi Sveholm: What a Toddler Can Teach Us about Language Acquisition

Naomi with SonWhen my son was born, I was excited to interact with him (after some sleep, that is). We’ve been communicating his whole life, but his speaking didn’t really take off until he was around 16 months, when I noticed a lot of parallels between my son and my English students, some of which matched my own experiences learning other languages.

English learners, take heart! It’s not easy to learn another language, and even native speakers have trouble at first. Here are some tips for communication, inspired by a toddler but helpful for all language learners.

Listening and Pronunciation

Learning vocabulary only by listening is hard
It always helps me to see a word in addition to hearing it. But it does sound awfully cute to hear my son ask to hear “siwik” (music) or eat “granbabies” (cranberries).

Certain sounds are hard to produce, but they don’t have to be perfect
TH, L/R and consonant clusters, particularly those with L/R—think GReen, BLue, TRain and ice CReam—are especially difficult. My son says the word “bathroom” like “bahfum,” but it’s pretty close and easy to understand. He also says “uncle” like “unco,” which is a great substitute for an L at the end of a word. W in place of an R at the beginning of a word is also an okay substitute if you’re having trouble (“wooster” instead of “rooster”).

Your pronunciation improves with practice
This is probably a given, but you will improve as you practice. For my son, “boo” has become “boobewy” (which will someday become “blueberry”), and “suss” has become “horse.” It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you keep listening and practice speaking, your sounds will improve.

Helpful Cues to Help Others Understand You

Gestures and sound effects help
I never would have known that my son was asking for help unless he had used the ASL (American Sign Language) gesture, because when he said the word “help” it sounded just like “up.” He also made an elephant “brrr” noise well before he could say “elephant,” and he regularly points or otherwise indicates objects. Use what you have, even if you feel silly.

Context is everything
“Bunny,” “banana” and “button” sound almost identical when my son says them, but it’s often clear which one he means based on the context—if he’s playing, eating (or if he’s hungry) or touching someone’s shirt, for example. Similarly, don’t expect your teacher to know what word you want to say unless you share more information or the rest of the sentence.

Be creative
If you don’t know a word, substitute something as close in meaning as possible. I was tickled when my son, at about 10 months old, called the wind “fan.” And because he loves vehicles, he called everything “car” for a long time.

A little “please” goes a long way
People (including tired parents) are much more patient when you’re polite. In fact, people will often go out of their way to help. With a few polite words in your arsenal, you can feel much more confident simply because people will be more receptive.

General Tips for Studying

Read…a lot!
At 19 months, my son called a penny “shiny” and his diaper changing pad “squashy.” To the best of my knowledge, he has only encountered those two words in books. He has learned many words for vehicles as well as many sound words, and I often see him reading books on his own, pointing to pictures and saying words. Reading is one of the best ways to learn vocabulary and grammar.

Pay attention
Anything is an opportunity to practice, including hearing an airplane fly overhead or a radio story about big cats. It’s best to read or listen to things that are at or just above your level, because the more you understand, the more energy you have to pay attention, but even something well above your level can help.

Learning a language takes a lot of energy, but confidence comes as much from feeling competent as it does from actual language ability. By using all of your resources, you’ll have the confidence to interact with others. And that’s when it really gets fun!

Naomi Sveholm is a Voxy tutor.

Naomi Sveholm is a Voxy tutor.

Clothes Idioms of the week

Idioms of the week: clothes

In this blog series, we’re breaking down common English expressions that are used in everyday conversation, so you’ll be able to expand your language skills and have fun with new English phrases. This week, we’re keeping to the theme of clothes.

1. old-fashioned (noun phrase): of or relating to the past
Ex: Vintage clothes are making a come-back: I saw a young girl wearing a white, old-fashioned dress in the street this morning.

2. dressed to the nines (verb phrase): to be dressed elegantly, to be dressed very well
Ex: It was a beautiful wedding, everybody was dressed to the nines.

3. put oneself in somebody else’s shoes (verb phrase): imagine what it would be like to be in someone else’s situation
Ex: Stop complaining and try to put yourself in my shoes for once!

4. hit someone below the belt (verb phrase): to do something in an unfair or cowardly way
Ex: Mike is usually a nice guy, but his last comment on John’s questionable work ethics really hit below the belt.

5. do (something) like it is going out of fashion (verb phrase): enthusiastically, to an extensive degree
Ex: Tom is eating his burger like it’s going out of fashion—he is going to get sick!

6. fit like a glove (verb phrase): fit perfectly
Ex: This dress fits you like a glove, you should buy it!

7. fall apart at the seams (verb phrase): in a very bad condition, likely to fail
Ex: I quit my old company because it was falling apart at the seams.

8. hot under the collar (noun phrase): very angry
Ex: He got very hot under the collar when the waiter spilled a drink on him.

9. roll up one’s sleeves (verb phrase): prepare for hard work
Ex: Everyone had to roll up their sleeves to meet the client’s demanding request.

10. cut from the same cloth (verb phrase): of the same nature, similar
Ex: She and her mother are cut from the same cloth, their personalities are so similar.

Try using these idioms the next time you practice your English skills. You’ll find yourself using them more naturally in conversation in no time!

The Best and Worst Ways to Provide Feedback to Learners

Today we bring you the latest segment in a video series by Voxy’s Chief Education Officer, Dr. Katharine Nielson, who’s answering all your nitty-gritty questions about how people learn languages.

As a language instructor, when and how should you be offering your learners corrective feedback? And what’s the worst thing you can do when a learner is in the middle of completing a task, answering a question or telling a story? In this video, Dr. Nielson explains the difference between implicit and explicit instruction and feedback,  talks about the most effective kind of corrective feedback (and when to use it) and some common pitfalls to avoid.


Dr. Katharine B. Neilson, PhD, is Voxy's Chief Education Officer.

Dr. Katharine B. Neilson, PhD, is Voxy’s Chief Education Officer.

Voxy News

Voxy Launches Popular Digital Marketing Course from General Assembly

Voxy is proud to be working with General Assembly (GA), a global education company specializing in 21st-century skills, to deliver its Digital Marketing course on the Voxy platform.

This collaboration will bring GA’s popular Digital Marketing course to the Voxy platform for English language learners around the world. The professional-level foundation course has been taken by more than 10,000 employees at large companies and uses exclusive content from GA’s online curriculum. The online course covers functional and relevant topics including: social media, UX (user experience), mobile strategy and content marketing.

GA addresses the skills gap in today’s tech- and data-focused workforce and provides professional development and training in areas like marketing, data science and visual design. This new offering will allow Voxy’s learners to access applicable skills to further   their comprehension of the English language.

“Voxy’s partnership with GA is 100 percent aligned with our unique task-based approach to language learning, which takes authentic materials and converts them into language lessons that address real-life goals,” said Mari Nazary, Voxy’s VP of Pedagogy & Curriculum. “Thanks to GA’s rich and effective Digital Marketing course, we’re continuing to address our learners’ needs for improving their professional development skills while also practicing the English they need to advance their careers.”

Want to check it out? Visit the Voxy Unit Catalog and choose Courses from the dropdown menu at the top of the page.


Coffee Break: 10 Expressions About… NYFW

Today is the first day of New York Fashion Week (NYFW). This week, top fashion designers from all over the world will show their 2017 Spring/Summer collections to buyers, the press and the general public. This semi-annual event kicks off the fashion season, with shows in London, Milan and Paris that follow shortly after. Come discover the fashion world with these 10 new words to add to your vocabulary:

1. runway (noun): a raised aisle extending into the audience from a stage, especially as used for fashion shows
Ex: Models will walk down the runway wearing fashion designers’ latest collections this week.

2. sartorial (adjective): of or relating to tailoring, clothes or style of dress
Ex: The wide range of designers present during the week usually offers something for every sartorial inclination.

3. must-have (noun): an essential or highly desirable item
Ex: The bomber jacket is definitely a must-have item in 2016.

4. trend (noun): something that is currently popular or fashionable
Ex: This week will determine what some of the fashion trends for 2017 will be, which will influence what people wear next summer.

5. fashionista (noun): someone who is very interested in fashion or who works in the fashion industry
Ex: Social media and blogs offer a platform for fashionistas to follow and write about fashion trends and shows.

6. apparel (noun): refers to any men’s, women’s or children’s clothing
Ex: In 2013, Eden Miller was the first designer ever to show plus-size apparel at New York Fashion Week.

7. garment (noun): a particular article of apparel
Ex: High-tech garments, such as 3D-printed dresses or glowing sportswear, have also started to make an appearance on the runway.

8. craftsmanship (noun): the quality of design and work shown in something made by hand; artistry
Ex: Attending fashion shows gives you the chance to see how the clothes appear from a 360-degree viewpoint and to appreciate their craftsmanship up close.

9. ready-to-wear: clothes made for the general market and sold through stores rather than made to order for an individual customer; off the rack
Ex: Some luxury brands such as Chanel, Prada and Gucci also produce a ready-to-wear line, which returns a greater profit.

10. fashion icon (noun): a person or thing that is very well known as being highly fashionable
Ex: Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly are considered some of the biggest fashion icons of all time.

Even if you’re not a fashionista, these words are definitely must-haves in your sartorial English vocabulary and will help you follow any apparel-related conversation you may have. If you want to learn more, log in to your English course now!