Thursday, May 28, 2015

Front and back-brained creativity--"monkeying around" with (haptic) pronunciation change!

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One argument against extensive kinaesthetic involvement in general instruction or pronunciation teaching (using gesture and movement) has always been the superiority of "front brain" as opposed to more "back brain" learning -- or the excessive "flamboyance" of many overly "gesticular" promoters of such systems, myself included up to about a decade ago, unfortunately!

That also seemed to be supported by the apparent separation between areas of the brain involved with "higher" executive, cognitive functions such as planning and strategy use (in the prefrontal cortex) from those that have more to do with motor control and learning, for example, the "lowly" cerebellum at the back of the brain. In other words, the more conscious, cognitive insight, control and involvement "up front", probably the better.

But consider this new research by Saggar, Quintin, Kienitz, Bott, Sun, Hong, Chien, Liu, Dougherty, Royalty, Hawthorne and Reiss of Stanford University (longest list of co-authors I have ever seen!) entitled:  Pictionary-based fMRI paradigm to study the neural correlates of spontaneous improvisation and figural creativity. (Full citation below).

According to the Science Daily summary, the researchers have discovered "unexpected brain structures" that connect creativity to motor centres in the brain. In effect, they have demonstrated that motor involvement or embodiment is apparently fundamental to a much wider range of learning and cognitive functioning than thought previously.

And why was this just now revealed? Simple, perhaps. According to the authors, previous models were based primarily on earlier research with primate/monkey brains. Not surprisingly, in retrospect, the connection between thinking and moving in the monkey brain might, indeed, be a bit different than that--in at least most of our students . . . 

The research design was ingenious, using Pictionary/creative drawing tasks with fMRI monitoring of brain engagement. (Being a great fan of Pictionary, that is not surprising!) What was surprising, however, was that the motor centres in the cerebellum remained active and engaged long after the actual body movement activity had subsided, revealing the "embodied" side of what would normally be assumed to be visual/cognitive thought or processing.

In other words, the creative, improvisational activity was being carried on best, at least to some degree, outside of awareness, by what had appeared to be primarily "motor" circuits. Relatively too much pre-frontal involvement in the task was clearly counterproductive. 

One of the section subtitles of the Science Daily summary highlights a very relevant implication of that "discovery" (for haptic or other highly kinasethetic pronunciation work): 'The more you think about it, the more you mess it up' . . . Or, to quote the great Nike slogan: Just do it!

That may explain some of the current ineffectiveness of pronunciation instruction: Too much cerebellum or not quite enough!

Think about it!

Full Citation from Science (To appear soon in the Journal Scientific Reports):
Stanford University Medical Center. "Unexpected brain structures tied to creativity, and to stifling it." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 May 2015. .

Monday, May 25, 2015

Are you out of your brain? More evidence why warm ups work in (pronunciation) teaching

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Always good to get a bit more empirical confirmation of our common sense and practice in teaching. As any experienced pronunciation or speech instructor will tell you, kicking off a lesson with a brief warm up that shifts attention to the resonance or awareness of the voice--or the body in general--is essential for effective and efficient intervention.

In a study by Hajo and Obodaru of Rice University, summarized by Science Daily (See full citation below), subjects were first given training that focused their sense of self as "residing" more in either their "brains" or their "hearts." (One interesting finding in the study was that those "American" subjects tended to see themselves as more "brain-centred", as opposed to those from what is vaguely described as an "Indian" culture, who tended to be more "heart-centered.") The observation was made that the former also tended to be more self-centred or independent; the latter, more relationally-dependent.

They then worked through a second task that asked them to indicate how much they would, in principle, contribute to a charity focused on Alzheimer's disease, as opposed to one aimed at helping to prevent heart attacks. You guessed it. The "brain" group went more with the former; the "heart" group, with the latter.

In the summary it was not clear exactly how the researchers guided the attention of the subjects in either direction, toward mind, as opposed to body, awareness. That can be done in any number of ways. (For example, the popular Mindfulness training, ironically, uses extensive body awareness to help clear the mind. Perhaps, "Mind-less-ness" training would be a more accurate label!)

So what does that suggest to those of us in many disciplines who work with changing speech? Simple, in some sense. Haptic pronunciation teaching was inspired early on by Lessac's dictum of Train the body first! Here we see more evidence as to why that point of departure, a body-based warm up of some kind, is often critical in getting learners to then attend long enough and intensely enough to anchor (establish) new movements, sounds and sensations.

If that doesn't immediately "make sense" to you, it is obviously time you "took it to heart!"

Full citation:
Rice University. "Do you see 'the self' in your brain or your heart? Decision-making differs." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 May 2015. .

Friday, May 8, 2015

Been there, done that: One-shot (pronunciation) teaching and learning!

When  or how does pronunciation work STICK--quickly?

Here is a fascinating new, seemingly counter-intuitive study on what people do with some types of new information they encounter - by Lee, O’Doherty, and Shimojo of CALTECH: Neural Computations Mediating One-Shot Learning in the Human Brain. Summarized by - Full citation below, whose title I like: Switching on one-shot learning in the brain. Essentially what they found was:

"Many have assumed that the novelty of a stimulus would be the main factor driving one-shot learning, but our computational model showed that causal uncertainty was more important . . . If you are uncertain, or lack evidence, about whether a particular outcome was caused by a preceding event, you are more likely to quickly associate them together."

For example, if a learner immediately associates or links a pronunciation correction back to some (probably conscious, cognitive) aspect of previous instruction, the brain may just switch off the "one-shot" learning circuits and activate "been there, done that" processing instead. In other words, taking the "time" even if involuntarily to connect back mentally to a previous schema or visual image can actually inhibit "quick" learning. Any number of studies over the decades in several fields have established the concept that in some contexts, the faster something is learned, the better. (That was, in fact, the motivation behind early development of Total Physical Response teaching.)

So when might quick or "one-shot" learning happen? My two favourite questions for speaking/listening/pronunciation classroom teachers are: (a) How (if at all) do you follow up in class after you present and (maybe) practice some aspect of pronunciation? (b) How (if at all) do you do spontaneous correction of pronunciation in class?

 . . . I'll wait a minute while you answer those questions, yourself . . . The general answer, in one form or another, is: Not much, if at all. Frequent reasons for that: (a) Don't know how. (b) Don't have time. (c) Not necessary, as long as I do a first rate job of presenting and practice in class and (d) Learners are pretty much responsible once I have done "c"!

Bottom line: One of the reasons that gesture works--and that haptic works even better by adding systematic touch--is that to some degree it bypasses conscious cognitive "cause and effect" processing. (Asher described that more or less metaphorically as by passing the left hemisphere in favour of the right, which was earlier said to much more holistic, more consciously analytic, etc. As a shorthand, I'm ok with that but in reality it a gross oversimplification and probably creates more problems than it solves today.)

I'm not saying that we should do away with formal instruction in pronunciation, including books, explanation, drill and contextual practice in class--just adding another "quick change channel."

Using EHIEP (Essential haptic-integrated English pronunciation) pedagogical movement patterns (PMP, a gesture anchored by touch associated with a sound of sound pattern) generally will not interrupt the flow of conversation or narrative as a correction is performed. It is, in effect, operating on another channel, more outside of language awareness, not disrupting as much speaking and thought. That assumes that learners have been earlier introduced to the kinaesthetic patterning of the PMP; haptic "signalling" during classroom instruction or during homework can be exceedingly effective and seamless to the course of the lesson and on other modalities.

In some sense, mindless drill doesn't engage the cognitive side of the house either--but it also can easily deaden all the senses instead if not done very carefully with as much somatic engagement as possible. (A very good example of doing drill well, however, is Kjellin's approach which I often use when anchoring a specific sound articulation.)

Haptic pronunciation teaching--Give it a shot! (A perfect place to start is here, of course!)

Full citation:
California Institute of Technology. "Switching on one-shot learning in the brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 April 2015. .

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Are you an "intelligent" pronunciation teacher?

A Fluid-, Kinaesthetic- and Haptic-intelligent practitioner, that is!

Putting together a light-hearted battery of adapted tests to run on my students this summer, something of a "(haptic) pronunciation teaching aptitude" test. It has four subtests:

1. Fluid intelligence - The geometric task described is always very revealing--and predictive. (from Wartenburger, et al., 2010) - Full citation below. Excerpt from the abstract:
" . . . perform very efficiently in problem solving tasks and analogical reasoning tasks presumably because they are able to select the task-relevant information very quickly and focus on a limited set of task-relevant cognitive operations. Moreover, individuals with high fluid intelligence produce more representational hand and arm gestures when describing a geometric analogy task than individuals with average fluid intelligence."

2. Kinaesthetic intelligence (There are many informal tests that work fine) and this from Turkmen, et al. (2013) - Full citation below. Excerpt from the abstract:
" . . . a significant positive relationship between bodily/kinaesthetic intelligence and internal motivation sub-scales and significant, weak negative relationship between bodily/kinaesthetic intelligence and a motivation."

  3. Haptic intelligence (original test, not available) or something like this one.
A few subtests from the test for the adult blind description: (Done blind folded)
  • assembling puzzle parts such as cubes
  • analyzing dot patterns
  • examining and reproducing peg board patterns
  • identification of the missing part of an object, for example, a comb with a missing tooth
  • blocks with different sides of varying textures are rearranged to resemble patterns on plates

4. Salad dressing preference test (One of my favourites, invented by a colleague some time ago. Just ask teacher trainees to write down their salad dressing preference and why in exactly 150 words. Generally accomplishes the same thing as 1, 2 and 3 combined!)

If you haven't got time to do the first three, at least try the 4th, yourself. Keep in touch.

Full citations: 

Turkmen, B., Bozkus, T., Ocalan, M., Kul, M. (2013) A Case Study on the Relationship Between Sport Motivation Orientations and Bodily/kinaesthetic Intelligence Levels of University Students
World Journal of Sport Sciences 8 (1): 28-32, 2013. DOI: 10.5829/idosi.wjss.2013.8.1.1186

Wartenburger, I.,  Kuhn, E.,  Sassenberg, U., Foth, M., Franz, E., van der Meer, E. (2010). On the Relationship between Fluid Intelligence, Gesture Production, and Brain Structure.  Intelligence, v38 n1 p193-201 Jan-Feb 2010.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

ADHD and good pronunciation teaching: Move it or lose it?

Have had this "intuition" for decades that most (if not all) great conversation and pronunciation teachers are basically ADHD or close to it. Conversely, great reading and writing instructors (and all tenured researchers in the field) tend to go in the opposite direction.

During my decade in Japan I was fascinated by one of the tenets of the Aikido school of martial arts: Do not block the thrust of your opponent but redirect the energy and movement for your purposes. That is also a first principle of early elementary education, especially in dealing with boys . . .

Now comes a study by Shaver and colleagues at Central Florida University, summarized by Science Daily - full citation below) demonstrating how leaners with ADHD function and learn. In effect, they learn better on cognitive tasks when they "squirm" as they do, to quote the researchers. Apparently what is happening is that the movement is activating areas of the brain controlling executive/control functions to maintain alertness. But here is the more interesting finding:

"By contrast, the children in the study without ADHD also moved more during the cognitive tests, but it had the opposite effect: They performed worse."

That must apply to adult learners as well. The delicate balance between the  facilitative role of movement and gesture in pronunciation teaching and the potentially disruptive effects is key. Pronunciation teaching is, of course, somewhat unique in that regard, some aspects are more motor-training-centered; others are more cognitive in nature, such as rules and explanations. 

This study helps in understanding more about how movement affects or interferes with some kinds of  cognitive processing--and the obvious aversion to kinaesthetic work by some on the other end of the ADHD scale.  We know that most cannot learn better pronunciation just by talking or thinking about it--or by simple, mindless repetition. It does suggest what an optimal instructional model may look like, however . . .

A modest example: Haptic pronunciation work is based on the idea of managing extraneous, random movement so common in unsystematic (but enthusiastic) use of gesture in the classroom, while at the same time still keeping both mind and body engaged. Try it or something like it. (It is impossible to sit still while you do!)

Full citation:
University of Central Florida. (2015, April 17). Kids with ADHD must squirm to learn, study says. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 22, 2015 from

Monday, April 13, 2015

Prosody practice, pragmatics and attending skills training

At the upcoming, Annual BCTEAL conference in Vancouver next month, Angelina VanDyke and I will be doing a new workshop, one based on an excellent presentation that she did last year, entitled: Pragmatic Attending Skills Training for Oral Skills Classes

Here's the program summary: 

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"Being able to better facilitate development of pragmatic competencies with ELLs is a priority of most programs.  This workshop gives participants experience in combining attending skills training with prosodic pronunciation teaching techniques to enhance use of conversational strategies and responses appropriate to a variety of socio-cultural contexts."

And this excerpt from the proposal:

"This workshop uses a combination of attending skills training (Ivey, 1965; Acton & Cope, 1999) and select procedures derived from prosodic pronunciation teaching to create a framework that facilitates systematic attention to pragmatic strategies and appropriateness, with learners of a wide range of general communicative competence. [It] begins with a general overview of the use of pragmatics applied to conversational interaction teaching, followed by training modules in attending and haptic pronunciation teaching techniques."

The key to the integration of prosody and pragmatics in this case, as we have seen in research in haptics in general, is systematic use of movement and touch to "embody" prosody and expressiveness. Instruction and "uptake" of the pragmatic dimension of the interchanges take place in short dyadic conversations that provides context and opportunity for on-the-spot informal conversational analysis and anchoring of key expressions and speaker intention.

(Pragmatically speaking!), even if you are new to haptic pronunciation teaching, this one should be more than worth attending! (Check out this previous post on an attending skills workshop done at BCTEAL in 2012.) 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Love your English Consonants Repair Workshop!!!

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This is big. I love English consonants, most all of them. I didn't always. My relationship with them changed when I was introduced to Lessac's Use and Training of the Human Voice. In Lessac's system each consonant is identified with a musical instrument of the (classical, Western) orchestra. To "do" the consonant, then, the student "impersonates" the instrument, perhaps even by acting out the
movement associated with it. (My favourite, by the way is the N-trombone.)

Our haptic approach takes Lessac as a point of departure and adds touch and conscious attention to movement in various ways. Of course, most good consonant work entails some degree of tactile and kinaesthetic awareness. (Speech therapists have an advantage on us in being licensed to actually touch their patients! We use coffee stirs instead!)

May 23rd, 2015 at the BCTEAL Annual Conference at UBC in Vancouver, BC we'll be doing the FIRST Consonant Repair Workshop EVER! We have been trying to get this proposal accepted at a conference for several years now with no success. (I do not give up easily!) The basic comments from reviewers have often been something to the effect of: "Who cares?" "Segmental issues (vowels and consonants) are not that important." "Not a high priority!"

That attitude is changing, as research points out how for some learners from diverse L1's (such as Vietnamese) certain consonant issues can be exceedingly disruptive to intelligibility and need to be addressed early in instruction.

Join us!

Here is the abstract:

This workshop presents haptic-based (movement plus touch) techniques for improving pronunciation of select English consonants. Depending on participant preference, included are: th/th, f/v, l/n, r, s/z, sh/zh, y, w, voiced final consonants and initial consonant aspiration. It is appropriate for relatively inexperienced instructors of middle-school age learners and older.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Executive indecision: pronunciation teaching overthink and attention management

An essential problem in contemporary pronunciation teaching with adults (as opposed to children) is that it entails both highly "physical" and "cognitive" engagement. I think it is safe to say that most methods, as evident either explicitly or implicitly in available textbooks, leave the question unresolved by presenting both type of exercises and explanations--and letting the instructor and learner figure out how much of what to do when. 

Intuitively, we understand that too much analysis, explanation--or worry--probably does not help all that much in being able to learn how to pronounce or remember a sound or word. I have often poked fun at what I term the "hyper-cogs" in the field who overemphasize meta-cognitive side of instruction, that is insight, planning and explanation at the cost of sufficient attention to the physical side of the process. 

Now comes a fascinating study by Grafton of UC Santa Barbara and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins University (summarized by full citation below) that identifies the culprit: excessive activity in the frontal and the anterior cingulate cortices of the brain.

In essence what the study demonstrated was that those subjects who learned a task involving identifying patterns and responding by pushing a button FASTEST had significantly less "activity" in those areas of the brain responsible for executive functions, managing thought and critical functions. (Recall that Asher's initial interest in Total Physical Response teaching of language was based on the concept that faster learning was generally more successful as well.) 

There could, of course, be a number of reasons for that finding which probably involves overall mental functioning, but the implication for instruction is interesting: More efficient teaching and learning of skills that involve physical patterning, such as pronunciation, should consider carefully the balance of attention to executive functions (conscious analysis and explanation) and embodied training (kinaesthetic, somatic and tactile involvement). 

Probably the answer for us lies in understanding better the changing qualities of attention (awareness) in the sequential tasks of ongoing, moment-by-moment pronunciation instruction.  From our perspective, haptic work involves almost continuous attention to and monitoring of what bodies are doing during the lesson. Think of that as the baseline that explanation and reflection are then "added on to" and you'll be on the right track. 

Record one of your classes or segments of one and review it from that perspective. And, of course, keep in touch. 

University of California - Santa Barbara. (2015, April 6). The brain game: How decreased neural activity may help you learn faster. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 8, 2015 from

Monday, April 6, 2015

Power Posing as (but) feelings of confidence?

There was a well-publicized study and TED talk in 2010 by Cuddy of Harvard School of Business that demonstrated that "power posing" (striking and briefly holding a confident pose) actually made you feel more confident and showed up in changed action and blood chemistry. Those findings certainly resonated with our consistent observations as to the impact of embodied, haptic pronunciation teaching.

But now comes a new study by Ranehill and colleagues at the University of Zurich, calling into question the early research, (summarized by Science -- see full citation below) that comes to this conclusion:
"This indicates that the main influence of power poses is the fact that subjects realize that the [sic] feel more self-confident. We find no proof, however, that this has any effect on their behavior or their physiology." (Emphasis, mine!) Feelings of confidence but no observable other effects? Really?

On the face of it, the new study does seem a fair replication, except possibly for this: subjects in the first study were students in the Harvard School of Business; subjects in the second: " . . . 102 men and 98 women, most of them students from Zurich . . . " (Emphasis, mine.)

Need I pose the question?

Probably not!

Full citation:
University of Zurich. (2015, April 1). Poses of power are less powerful than we thought. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 6, 2015 from

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Haptic Highlights at TESOL 2015 - 3 (Hand to hand combat!)

Random notes from TESOL 2015 
  • Hot topic: Identity
  • Hot topic: Teacher cognition
  • Waning topic: Action research (being replaced by more “empirical” quantitative studies before long that teachers don’t have time to do) 
  • Applied linguists were polled (at AAAL) and found to be not too concerned about application of their research to teaching or whatever
  • Shrinking number of exhibits and sellers of books, souvenirs and ethnic stuff – Some of that, of course, has to do with online shopping; some with bringing goods into Canada from US, etc. 
  • Twitter impact – The number of people not walking around with an iPhone- like device was negligible . . . 
  • Weather was generally windchill -5 to -15c but there was a tunnel that we discovered last day back to the hotel, 30 minutes away. 
  • 8 a.m. Plenary, in massive room, plus streaming – Unintended consequence: people were watching it from their hotel rooms and Starbucks
  • Small rooms for popular talks – Could not get in to 5 or 6 of them.
  • (Really) Cheap bags with no goodies in them – serious issue!
  • Expensive taxi from the airport ($60) or $3, 2-hour journey/adventure on public transportation
  • Recognition because of haptic videos on the web – Had several stop me and ask if I am me . . .
  • Expansion and development of education technology - probably the most significant “change” evident in the event. 
  • Conference attendance – classified, but apparently down substantially. (Some US visa issues, etc.) 
  • Ribbons saying what you are doing at the conference or what you did earlier – you could stick on as many as you wanted to. Started out w/8 but felt guilty and backed off to just one, deserved. 
  • Opening plenary – Inauspicious – 3 “veterans” began last gasp attempt to salvage the Communicative Competence model, outlining initially a 5-point framework by Richards which they never referred to again . . . 
  • Interest section quotas of presentations – The Speech Pronunciation Listening Interest section (SPLIS)--mine--like all others got a number of presentations on the program based on the number of proposals submitted. This year proposals were down; so were the number of presentations, from about 35 to 23
  • Haptic adherent – One conference attendee identified herself that way, as doing haptic pronunciation teaching. Great haptic metaphor, eh!
  • Staying awake during presentations – Had rough time with one talk but ran into colleague who loved it and recapped it for me immediately--before running into the presenter! 
  • Bathroom icons issue – the pic of the boy looked much too much like the girl . . . 
  • Bad food in exhibition area; spoiled veggie wrap was days beyond edible.
  • Cost for beer at President’s reception: $11 domestic and bad food as well: uncooked chicken and bacon, spoiled tabouli-like filling of pastry; rock hard, dried mini French bread slices
  • The Haptic Pronunciation teaching workshop could not have gone better!

Haptic Highlights at TESOL 2015 - 2 (Macdonald on Pronunciation and Identity)

Probably the highlight of the conference for me, personally, at least theoretically, was a presentation by Macdonald of Victoria University/Melbourne, based on his 2015 paper, “The tutor never asked me questions”: Pronunciation and student positioning at university, (See full citation below.)

Quoting from the abstract: " . . . puts forward a model for understanding pronunciation and its role in speaker identity formulation. Theory underpinning this model is based on sociolinguistic work on speaker identities as formulated through spoken interactions (Bucholtz and Hall, 2005)".

What Macdonald's framework provides is an intriguing approach to bringing together constructs from a number of fields of study related to pronunciation, including drama, music, voice training, sociolinguistics, paralanguage--and, of course, embodiment. The key is to begin from the perspective
of learner identity as a point of departure, focusing on three of the five components of Bucholtz and Hall (2005): Positionality,
 partialness (the other two being, emergence, and indexicality).

Macdonald's striking conclusion in his TESOL 2015 paper, Pronunciation and Speaker Identity, cuts both ways. First, pronunciation, itself, probably does not contribute as much variance to L2 identity as is currently believed. Second, that a wide range of variables related to speaking production and social context must be taken into account to understand L2 identity formation and the relative role of pronunciation or accent in the process.  

And finally, the real impact of L2 pronunciation development at any point in time can ONLY be understood in the context of the identity of the individual learner, not in relative isolation. Will unpack the implications of Macdonald's perspective for haptic pronunciation work in subsequent posts.

Full Citations:
Bucholtz, M. and Hall, K. (2005). Identity and interaction: A sociocultural linguistic approach. Discourse Studies, 7(4-5), 585-614.
Macdonald, S. (2015). "The tutor never asked me questions”: Pronunciation and student positioning at university, Journal of Academic Language Learning 9(2), 31-41. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

The posture of (haptic pronunciation) teaching and learning

Especially if you are new to language learning--or a robot, here is fascinating study by Morse, Benitez, Belpaeme, Cangelosi, and Smith of Indiana university, "Posture Affects How Robots and Infants Map Words to Objects," summarized by ScienceDaily (See full citation below).

Basically what the research demonstrates is the role of body attitude (or orientation) in space in name and concept learning. From the summary:

"Using both robots and infants, researchers examined the role bodily position played in the brain's ability to "map" names to objects. They found that consistency of the body's posture and spatial relationship to an object as an object's name was shown and spoken aloud were critical to successfully connecting the name to the object."

And a quote from the lead author as to the implications of this line of research: 

"These experiments may provide a new way to investigate the way cognition is connected to the body, as well as new evidence that mental entities, such as thoughts, words and representations of objects, which seem to have no spatial or bodily components, first take shape through spatial relationship of the body within the surrounding world," . . .

In haptic pronunciation teaching (Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation, EHIEP) we basically associate the sounds, words and patterns of language (English in this case) with specially designed gestures across the visual field, what we call 'pedagogical movement patterns' (PMPs).  We realized almost a decade ago that, at least for some learners (those that are more visually eidetic), the precision with which those models are presented and practiced initially is critical.

Studies in any number of "physical" disciplines, such as athletic training, rehabilitation psychotherapy have long established that principle, that where the new learning occurs in the visual field--and in the body--is integral to efficiency and effectiveness of learning. 

Of course the relevance of those studies goes far beyond learning pronunciation. Depending on your agenda and method, the "context of learning" extends out from the body to the concepts to the words, to the social milieu--even to the room. 

Sit up and take notice! (And join us at the TESOL Convention in Toronto this week on the 28th!)

Full citation:
Indiana University. "Robot model for infant learning shows bodily posture may affect memory and learning." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 March 2015. .

Thursday, March 19, 2015

(New) Haptic Pronunciation Teaching at TESOL 2015 - Introductory Package!

Even if you aren't coming to Toronto next week, you can still "get haptic!" The Haptic Pronunciation Teaching Workshop (Saturday 9:30~11:15, room 206A) at the TESOL Convention in Toronto will introduce several new features of the AHEPS system, including the new "PronHaptic (recycled tennis) Ball" versions of most of the protocols. We've put together a special, limited-time introductory package offer.

It takes (tennis) balls to teach (Haptic) Pronunciation!

For five years or so we have been using tennis balls for one of our haptic pronunciation teaching protocols (techniques). A couple of months ago, while looking online to renew our recycled tennis ball supply, I stumbled onto a website that had this intriguing set of (haptic) "qualities" for tennis balls that might equally apply to our work, with analogical-metaphorical lenses on, of course. Among them:  

"Soft, thick felt, designed for beginnersconsistent, delivers a great gaming experience, very responsive, highly visible, can handle a beating while not playing too fast or bouncing too high . . . "

Within a few days, I made the decision to try using recycled "PronHaptic (tennis) Balls" in almost  ALL of our initial presentations of haptic pronunciation teaching techniques. The preliminary  results from the classroom have been stunning.

Basically, it works this way. The ball is held in the right hand or the hand that is touched (or squeezed) on the stressed syllable or a word or phrase (as the other hand moves from across the visual field to land on that spot). It appears to strongly increase concentration and energy expended on the stressed syllable and give the instructor a new, more visual perspective on monitoring what students are doing and how they are doing it. Holding the tennis ball, students generally speak louder, more confidently and move more consistently.

There are probably any number of reasons for those effects, including consigning touch to a hand on a ball rather than a hand on another hand, or a shoulder, or a forearm or the abs. We'll figure that out. My guess is that the uniquely "haptic", felt-sense qualities of the tennis balls contribute greatly to holding attention and linking the sound to the syllable. (That is, in essence, what our haptic modality does for us!)

We have tried many other kinds of balls, including stress balls, baseballs, golf balls, sponge balls, oranges, etc., but none seem to have the consistent impact of yellow (not white or red) tennis balls. Used ones are fine as long as they are reasonably clean and have adequate colour left.

In meantime, if you haven't already, get some recycled tennis balls and have students use the protocol linked above (The Rhythm Fight Club--substituting a yellow tennis ball for the cute chickadee, of course) with new pronunciation or vocabulary or idioms.

Game. Set. Match.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Why cognitively lazy women (and their smart phones) may make better language learners!

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Women are (in my experience, intuitively speaking) generally:

Most now realize that the attitude in education of "It is not so important what facts students have in their heads, but rather if they can find the right answer on the web!" does, indeed, have it's downside--particularly when there is an urgent need to impress somebody at a party--without Siri being part of the conversation.

We also know at least intuitively (rather than analytically, based on hard research) that successful language learners tend to be better at "looking up" words (either from other people or "books" of some kind, online or dead-tree) and are better at remembering them--which probably doesn't mean just memorization.

New study by Barr, Pennycook, Stolz, and Fugelsang of University of Waterloo, summarized by ScienceDaily, found that intuitive, as opposed to analytical thinkers, tend to use their smart phone web browsers more to arrive at answers, as opposed to "thinking" it out themselves. (Full citation below--To paraphrase Will Rogers, I only know what I read on

Here's the bad news: According to the researchers, reliance on the smart phone may well make the more intuitive user "lazy" cognitively: "They may look up information that they actually know or could easily learn, but are unwilling to make the effort to actually think about it".

They did not find any correlation between use of smart phones for entertainment or social media and intelligence or cognitive "decline," however. (Clearly, a "no-brainer" . . . )

Here's the good news:. As we use more and more hand-held technology in language teaching and learning (especially pronunciation work), it should just get easier and easier--at least for some of us! And simply from an analytical perspective, or is it just intuitive, nothing in "print" says that smarter language learners are necessarily better ones?

The reported correlations between learning language in school and general academic success really don't count here, for a number of reasons, including gender bias. Again, in my experience, the less "intelligent" (boys) have to be even more ambitious and work harder at it. They cannot afford to kick back and take it easier.

Probably should have done more web search to explore this, of course, but being the wannabe analytic that I am, just figured it wasn't all that necessary.

Full citation:
University of Waterloo. (2015, March 5). Reliance on smartphones linked to lazy thinking. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 11, 2015 from

Monday, March 9, 2015

Language teaching insights from other fields? (a new book from TESOL Press)

Credit: TESOL Press,
Although only a few chapters qualify as directly applicable to haptic pronunciation teaching, Language teaching insights from other fields, (from TESOL Press) edited by Stillwell, certainly captures the spirit of the HICPR blog in demonstrating the great commonality in principles of teaching and learning across disciplines.

Most importantly, however, I think it makes another point, albeit indirectly,  that research studies and practice paradigms from other fields should be seen as potentially valid and credible evidence to support teaching practice in this field.

That was, understandably, more in vogue a couple of decades ago, before more empirical studies (in the area of pronunciation, for example) began to appear. Like all developing fields, we borrowed heavily from models of  related disciplines--until our "native" research base and identity emerged. A sign of the recent maturation of the field is appearance of  the new Journal of Second Language Pronunciation.

Lately the pendulum has also begun to swing back in the other direction, however, a trend evident in the social sciences in general: the territorial, professional, "pedagogically correct" (PC) imperative: (For at least some theorists today) only research done in the classroom or the laboratory of language teaching by language professionals/researchers can be considered as adequate or sufficient support for classroom practice.

This book provides some welcome perspective on that issue.


Dance your way to better classroom management (and pronunciation teaching)?

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Here is a moving study--especially if you are a dancer or dance fan (of which I count myself a member) --summarized by ScienceDaily, conducted by Hujala, Laulainen and Kokkonen of the University of Eastern Finland: "Manager's dance: reflecting management interaction through creative movement," published in the International Journal of Work Organisation and Emotion

The researchers' methodology and conclusion, excerpted from the abstract on (To buy this piece would cost $41 CAD, or about 8 Vente Carmel Frappuccinos, so we'll just have to go with what we have here!)

"Four managers and three researchers participated in two creative dance sessions with a dance pedagogue. The sessions were videotaped, and the visual material and reflections of participants were used in the interpretation. The use of creative movement 'revealed' unconscious dimensions of behaviour and the relevance of feelings in management interaction. In addition, the therapeutic outcomes appeared to be an essential part of the study for the participants."

Here is what ScienceDaily pulled from the study (boldface, mine):

"They suggest that creative movement harnessing the whole body may give rise to new knowledge about management interactions. Most intriguingly, they suggest that a person's dance moves might reveal unconscious and unnoticed thoughts about their life and their position in the workplace and so highlight the aesthetic and embodied dimensions of management."

We often characterize what we do in haptic pronunciation teaching as a kind of dance, where instructor and learner move together as they work on new or "correctable" sounds, as if in synchronized dance across the room from each other. We have not, however, formally looked at the class management side of what is going on, that is exerting control over the "whole bodies" of learners as we do that.

The methodology seems pretty straightforward (from what we can get from the abstract). Might be a bit uncomfortable for some, to sit and watch videos of themselves teaching, talking about their feelings during synchronized "haptic dance" and how they managed it, but to paraphrase Garth Brooks, to avoid the "pain" might be to miss the "dance!"

Keep in touch.

Full citation:
Inderscience. (2014, March 6). Hey, boss! Lose yourself to dance, know yourself better. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 9, 2015 from

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Signs of spontaneous change in pronunciation teaching: more than just "weist darauf hin" . . .

Photo credit: Sunburst
Marsha Chan has a "handy" system (including demonstration video) for using the hands to support English pronunciation teaching. Have used aspects of it and similar techniques for decades. Still do, in fact. Adam Brown describes somewhat similar techniques in teaching phonetics.

Chan's repertoire of hand gestures used for both initial teaching and providing feedback is, in many ways, emblematic of behaviourist approaches to language teaching: the instructor signals to the learner, points out what to correct. The idea is that the learner then takes note or "uptakes" the correction and goes ahead to integrate that new form into spontaneous speaking or at least spontaneous listening.

Had a German English teaching colleague a couple of decades ago who fervently believed that to "weist darauf hin" (point out) was his only pedagogical responsibility when it came to assisting students with pronunciation change. It was their problem from there on . . . He, too,  had a neat gesture system. It was, indeed, only a "gesture," however.

We "hapticians" (haptic pronunciation teaching enthusiasts) who work with EHIEP (Essential haptic-integrated English Pronunciation) or the haptic video system, AHEPS (Acton Haptic English Pronunciation System) have been focusing for some time now on spontaneous correction of pronunciation in class. The basic concept is that (a) students have been earlier introduced to not just a sign that lets them know what they may need to work on, but rather (b) how to figure out the source of the problem, themselves, and (c) what to do once they do.

For example, say a student uses the wrong vowel in a word. The interaction may go something like this:

A. Instructor: What is the number of the vowel in that word? (Morley, 1992)
B. Learner: (Considers for a second and then takes her best guess: "Ah . . . vowel #4)
C. Instructor either confirms or provides the correct vowel number.
Students had earlier been introduced to the vowel system and a set of haptic techniques for anchoring the sound (with gesture and touch). 
D. Learner and instructor then practice the word briefly 3 or 4 times together with a (haptic) pedagogical movement pattern, i.e., "Do that word with me!" (We do not use the dictum: Repeat after me.)
E. Learner writes down the problematic word/phrase immediately and then later
F. She puts it on her current practice word list that is systematically practiced for about 2 weeks, 3x each week.

If you are new to haptic pronunciation teaching, now might be a good time to "sign on!" A good place to start would be at the Haptic Pronunciation Teaching Workshop on Saturday, March 28th, 9:30 a.m., at the TESOL Convention in Toronto!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The sweet spot: Motivation and self-discipline in (pronunciation) teaching

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The term, self-disciplined or its distant cousin "will power," does not seem to show up much in research on second language pronunciation teaching today (cf. Bunrueng, 2014) --or most anywhere for that matter. Ever since elementary school where I was continually bribed with sugar to calm down and pay attention or be rewarded for demonstrating a little of that,  I've been sold on how important it is . . . (self discipline, that is!)

Helping students become more independent, autonomous and better managers of their learning and study is ostensibly a goal of most contemporary, post-modern-method, "pedagogically hip" programs. But how do you do that, especially if they (naturally) lack motivation and self-discipline, and blatant bribery of at least adults with sweets is pretty much out of fashion?

Ah . . . not so fast there . . .

In a fascinating piece by Herbert at, entitled, "Where does self-discipline come from?" (Full citation below), reporting on research by Molden at Northwestern university, we find that even just quickly rinsing out your mouth with sugar water occasionally may serve to seriously restart your motivation to get something done. (But you knew that already!)

They are not sure exactly why that works but, apparently, just the hint to the brain of some later "reward" works nearly as well as the real thing. So it is not the blood sugar that immediately gets you going when you wolf down that bear claw and latte, it is the THOUGHT of what it is going to do for you that gets your juices flowing, so to speak!

So what is the obvious takeaway here? (Should you live close to a Tim Hortons or KrispyKreme shop, you are way ahead of me!) If self-discipline is a plus in your work (or your life)--and it certainly is in getting students to take responsibility for their own learning, in doing the heavy lifting of homework and practice in haptic teaching pronunciation, then my occasional, strategic use of chocolate and "Timbits" is fully justified!

Just think about it . . . 


Full citation
Herbert, W. (2015), retrieved from (February 23, 2015)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Flirting with pronunciation teaching: I like the way you move there!

The scientific study of flirting may have something interesting to say to us in language teaching. In a follow up to a 2010 study, Hall and Xing of University of Kansas (Full citation below, summarized by ScienceDaily) identify "verbal and nonverbal correlates of flirting styles." Their conclusion was " . . . everybody does it differently. Because flirting is low-key and varied, we're often oblivious when people send us signals of romantic attraction." 

Everybody does it differently . . . Really? The 5 styles identified are: (A) physical, (B) traditional, (C) polite, (D) sincere and (E) playful. You can check out your own style by going to Hall's website, taking a questionnaire. Those even translate into styles of pronunciation teaching (or methodological bias), as well--with a bit of unpacking:
  • Styles A, Physical, and B, Traditional, probably fit. 
  • I read C, Polite,  as "cognitive" and empirical (Think and talk first; act second, if at all!)
  • D, Sincere,  as "affective-communicative" (Enough meaningful communication and time can cure most any problem. Or: Care a great deal, but do nothing!) 
  • Style E, Playful,  implies both fun activities in class and innovation (playing with paradigms). 
One reason that pronunciation teaching and flirting appear to have so much in common is that all conceptual frameworks dealing with styles can usually be characterized using the same two dimensions or axises: External (mind) vs Internal (body), and stability vs change. (See earlier post on that and its application to haptic pronunciation work in the visual field.) The five styles can be displayed something like this:

C. Polite
(External, mind-oriented)

B. Traditional
D. Sincere
(Nice, but static, nondescript)
E. Playful
(Change- oriented)

A. Physical
(Internal – body oriented)

Pick any three, the first one being your dominant style and locate yourself somewhere among them. Many of us are B-A-Es or C-E-As. I know a few B-C-Ds, as well, those who only occasionally "flirt" with pronunciation teaching!

 "Haptic A-C-E Style"

Part of what a psychological "style" does is determine your default response to the unexpected. A style can be established by any number of factors.  Our haptic pronunciation teaching style is definitely A-C-E!

How is yours working for you in class, responding to pronunciation problems that may pop up spontaneously? 
    Have begun (flirting with) categorizing pronunciation instructors, textbooks and methods using that framework. (My poor graduate student "guinea pigs" will bear the brunt of some of that exploratory work soon, in fact!) 

    Keep in touch!

    Full citation
    Jeffrey A. Hall, Chong Xing. The Verbal and Nonverbal Correlates of the Five Flirting Styles. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 2014; 39 (1): 41 DOI: 10.1007/s10919-014-0199-8