Baker’s Laws Second-Language Acquisition

BAKER’S FIRST LAW OF SECOND-LANGUAGE ACQUISITION: You can’t hear it unless you mentally understand what it is you are trying to listen for.

And its COROLLARY: Once you hear it purely (free of your native-language expectations), in time you will be able to repeat it.

So, if you’re a native Spanish speaker, and are trying to make improve your English proficiency, you would want to know what new things in the codas of English syllables that you will have to do with consonant phonemes that you already know in the onset position: You know how to say Chucho, but not church. If you’re from Spain, you can say /gra.θ but not /pæθ/ (path) or /dɛθ / (death). For all Spanish speakers, /dɛt / (debt) is difficult because they are unaccustomed to pronouncing the /t/ in the coda.

I would have been helped by a table that showed, for example, that the English /r/ does not in Spanish.

And native Spanish speakers would be helped if they were to understand that the terminal -er. -ar, -ir, -or and -ur are to be understood as nasal vowels that have to be understood uniquely on their own terms, and not the sequence of /e/ plus /r/. If they were to apply this understanding they could say /baker/ without making me wince.

Table 4 (from Market Note 181) illustrates the asymmetry of English and Spanish vowels in relation to their occurrence at the beginning (onset) or end (coda) of a syllable. English consonants, with two exceptions, may occur in the positions of onset and coda.

Table 4

Some Spanish consonants are only in the onset. In English, they are also in the coda.

Onset Coda As in
b† b bomb
ch† ch church, which, witch
f phonograph
k† k clock, trick
m† m Liam, madam
p† p pep, stop
sh sh shoot, mush, shush
t t treat
v† v above, five

† In Spanish, only in the onset position. The ‘m’ in a coda is pronounced /n/, as in Miriam.

Written by

Mexico Energy Intelligence

Baker & Associates offers niche-market business and policy intelligence related to Mexico's oil and gas, power and chemical industries. Over 1,000 reports have been issued in the last 20 years. Subject matter expert and publisher George Baker, who directs the firm, has carried out consulting assignments starting in the late 1970s at the height of the Oil Boom in Mexico. He brings bilingual and bicultural skill-sets to understanding and responding to challenges of business and public policy, coupled with a deep familiarity with the history and idiosyncrasies of the Mexican operating environment.