Sunday, August 16, 2015

Triggering pronunciation and accent change, safely: the drama, not the "trauma"

Clip Art:
A recent article in the Economist has a great cartoon up top with a sign posted at the front door of a campus: CAUTION: LEARNING MAY CAUSE TRAUMA! Avoiding emotional discomfort, especially events or micro-agressions that might trigger it (See earlier blogpost on that!) is apparently becoming a priority, a growth industry on campuses in North America (according to this recent piece in the Atlantic)--and pronunciation teaching as well.

I had two related conversations about a week ago, one with an instructor who did not do pronunciation, in part because it could make students uncomfortable. One further response to the question why (no pronunciation work) by the part-time instructor was something to the effect that: If students complain of hurt feelings, I'm out of work!

And a second, with a student who had recently completed an "awesome course that had totally transformed my thinking."  Even though the student reported that it had been an extraordinary "growth" experience--and the course, itself, was rated very highly--he had, nonetheless, severely taken the instructor to task on the final course evaluation for "inflicting" temporary, but undue pain and emotional distress along the way.

For decades many in the field have been focused on avoiding discomfort in language teaching, the theory being that learning is always best facilitated in relatively "stress-free" classrooms. (I realize that perspective may still be very much limited to North America, Europe and other pockets of excessively "consumer-sensitive" educational culture.) Research has long since established that some degree of stress is fundamental to learning of all kinds. Inescapable. Unresolved stress is another issue, of course.

From the "traumatized" student's perspective, the process trumped the product. In many ways, the institution's system of course evaluation, focusing on feelings and global judgements, is biased in that direction as well. In effect, his point was that there simply had to be a less emotionally "unsettling" way to achieve the same degree of understanding and "enlightenment". So, how do we construct "safe" challenges for today's students that at least momentarily move them just far enough out of their comfort zones long enough for the requisite learning experience without offending them?

Think back. How many of your "great" teachers could use the same tactics today and still keep their jobs? Two of my all time favourites are the "Rassias Method" founder, John Rassias, who, for calculated, dramatic effect in one famous demonstration, breaks eggs over the heads of select students, and, second, the "theatre of the absurd" approach to French, something like this at Amherst, that I survived as an undergraduate back in the 1970s!

One of the key elements of the earlier attention to culture shock, for example, was attributing emotional ups and downs of the adjustment process to the encounter with the new worldview and cultural norms--not just the teaching style of instructors. There was a time, too, when instructors were  not as vulnerable. As evident in the Atlantic article, even the tenured are no longer "safe" from the consequences of injured student egos and feelings, regardless of source or justification.

Most of the cross-cultural research on culture shock, including my own, was done during the more structural/behaviourist era in the field, where the role and authority of the instructor were quite different from where we are now. Although we have since found any number of ways to mediate the social and cultural dimensions of the cultural adjustment process, something like "pronunciation change shock", often a most personal and unsettling experience, often remains to be consistently and safely overcome or integrated. Can it, too, be made relatively "stressless"? To the extent that relative judgment as to speech "accuracy" is a public, interactional phenomenon, probably not.

A better approach has to be informed instruction that fully recognizes, manages and realistically embodies the essential, natural psychological processes of new identity formation that are especially evident in pronunciation and accent change (focussing on the broader, inherent DRAMA, not the inevitable--but passing--emotions that are being targeted, and consequently exaggerated and triggered much more readily, today).

Again, how do we do that? The "simple" answer is explicit use of drama, both as a metacognitive construct to understand the process and a classroom activity. (My favourite "go-to" or at least place to begin for newcomers to the idea is Gary Carkin's website.)

I have had a book project on the back burner for sometime now, one that, essentially, is composed of videos and annotated transcripts of classes from colleagues in the field that illustrate how that transformative "drama" safely and creatively plays out in the classroom.  I'll talk more about how I, personally, approach that shortly, here (and in v4.0 of the EHIEP system and the accompanying "Best of the HICPR Blog" book, available later this fall.)

In the meantime, I'd welcome your perspectives.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

How YOU elocute is how I elocute: Collaborative haptic motor skill (and pronunciation) learning

For a glimpse into the future of instruction, have a look at Chellali, Dumas and Milleville-Pennel (2010) "A Haptic Communication Paradigm For Collaborative Motor Skills Learning." Their WYFIWIF (What you feel is what I feel) model illustrates nicely just what haptic technology is, in essence using a computer-mediated interface to guide movement, using basically pressure translated through some kind of device such as a glove. In the study, subjects were guided to better performance on a focused manual task, moving a needle, by a haptic-assisted instructor. Not surprisingly, the control group, the visual or verbally-guided only group, did not perform as well. 

Another example of haptic communication, as defined in WYFIWIF, might be an instructor first leading a learner through a gesture pattern with haptic technology and then continuing to provide haptic guidance as the learner attempts to practice and master the pattern. The researchers note that in a virtual environment, as in haptics-assisted surgery or training, " . . . haptic communication is combined (more and more with complementary) visual and verbal communication in order to help an expert to transfer his knowledge to a novice operator."

Although the haptic application to our pronunciation work does not involve haptics technology, but rather hands touching on target or stressed sounds--following the visual and spoken guidance of an instructor or peer--the parallel is striking. It is the collaborative haptic-embodied task (instructor and learner engaged in a tightly linked, synchronous, communicative, embodied "dance") that greatly enables and facilitates learning. 

In the conclusion of the study, there is a truly striking recommendation for further research: the impact on haptic communication of the "verbal communications between the instructor and the leaner." We have  over a decade of experience--and a few dozen blogposts--with that! Now "needle-less" to say,  if we can just get our hands in some of those gloves . . .

Full citation:
Amine Chellali, C ́edric Dumas, Isabelle Milleville-Pennel. WYFIWIF: A Haptic Communication Paradigm For Collaborative Motor Skills Learning. IADIS. Web Virtual Reality and Three-Dimensional Worlds 2010, Jul 2010, Freiburg, Germany. IADIS, pp.301-308, 2010.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sub-par, gesture-enabled (pronunciation) teaching?

FORE! Never quite gotten into the "swing" of using movement and gesture in pronunciation, vocabulary, speaking or general instruction? Being an occasional golfer, myself, this promo for Hank Hanley's stuff immediately resonated. I think it will with you as well. Here's what the great golf swing (as taught by Tiger Woods' former swing coach) teaches us about the effective application of gesture (or movement) to teaching, especially pronunciation teaching. (Hanley's 4 principles)

  • Find your "swing plane". (Use gestures that are visually and physically consistent, that is track through the visual field on the same path--every time.)
  • Tighten your turn. (Carefully manage all other extraneous body movement or random thought during execution of the pedagogical movement pattern.)
  • Finish your bunker swing. (Follow through after using a gesture to anchor a sound or sound pattern by instructing learners as to how to uptake the key feature of that "teachable movement" whether by quickly replaying it right then, writing a quick note or practicing it as homework.)
  • Don't fight the putter. (Putting is about touch. Touch is the centre of haptic anchoring, using touch to focus attention on the stressed syllable of a word or the multi-sensory experience.)

It should be required for continuing certification, that every professional language instructor practice and continue to improve their "swing," whatever form that takes, whether dance, singing, musical instrument, painting, calligraphy or sport. Doing haptic pronunciation teaching well requires--or fosters--continual refining of the "swing," our physical-pedagogical presence in the classroom.

As we say, "See you in the movies!" (or: Keep in touch!)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Back to the future of pronunciation teaching (and the "Goldfish" standard for attention management)

You apparently have a bit more than 8 seconds to read this post. So you may want to just scroll down to the conclusion and start there . . .

Clip art: 
Capturing and holding attention, if only for a few seconds, is the key to effective change in pronunciation work, especially for "mechanical" adjustments--and most other things in life. In earlier blog posts, the "gold standard" or is sine qua non of haptic pronunciation work has been seen to be about 3 seconds. In other words, for a learner to adequately experience the totality of a new sound or word, physically, auditorily, visually and conceptually--connecting things together, before moving on to practice or at least noticing or any chance at "uptake"-- takes complete, undivided attention for at least that long or longer.

Even that is often an unrealistic requirement with all the other potential distractions in the classroom or visual field. Research on the effectiveness of recasting learner utterances by instructors, for example, (Loewen and Philip, 2006) suggests that most of the time that strategy is relatively ineffective. One critical variable is always the quality or intentionality of learner attention, both in term of what the function the instructor is attempting to carry out and general learner receptivity.

Recall that Microsoft claims that our collective attention span, in part due to the impact of technology, has now dropped to about 8 seconds, just below that of the goldfish. (The UK Telegraph report is much more entertaining than that from the techies.

A new study by Moher, Anderson and Song of Brown University, summarized by Science, adds a fascinating piece to the puzzle and may suggest how to begin to maintain attention better in class. What they discovered in an experimental study was that their subjects were, in effect, better able to "block" obvious distractions than they were more subtle ones. Backgrounded images in the visual field had more effect on subsequent action than did foregrounded, more striking elements which appeared to be easier for the brain to manage or ignore. They seem to have "discovered" one possible path into the mind by subliminal stimuli, evading first line conceptual or perceptual defences.

What is the obvious "subtle, unobtrusive, yet potent" application to pronunciation teaching? If you don't have "full body, mind and visual field" attention, there is no telling what is interfering with anchoring of sound change in the brain and subsequent total or partial recall.

Early on in EHIEP (Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation) work I experimented extensively with controlling eye movement, in part to maintain concentration and attention, based primarily on the research underlying the therapeutic model of "Observed experiential integration" (See citation below) developed by  Bradshaw and Cook (2011). The effect was dramatic in working with individuals but applying those techniques to the classroom proved at least impractical. In part because the haptic pedagogical system was just developing, I backed off from eye patterning techniques in pronunciation work in 2009.

Based on Moher et al's research, however, it is perhaps time to again give directed eye movement management a "second look" in our work, going back to what I believe is the (haptic) future of pronunciation instruction, especially in virtual, computer-mediated applications.

Will report back on an in progress exploratory study with one learner using some eye movement management later this summer. Not surprisingly I am already "seeing" some promising results, attending to features of the teaching session that I would normally not have noticed!

Full citations:

Brown University. "Surprise: Subtle distractors may divert action more than overt ones." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 July 2015, (Jeff Moher, Brian A. Anderson , Joo-Hyun Song. Dissociable Effects of Salience on Attention and Goal-Directed Action. Current Biology, 2015 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.06.029)

Bradshaw, R. A., Cook, A., McDonald, M. J. (2011). Observed experiential integration (OEI): Discovery and development of a new set of trauma therapy techniques. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 21(2), 104-171.

Loewen, S., and Philip, J. (2006). Recasts in the adult English L2 classroom: Characteristics, explicitness, and effectiveness. The Modern Language Journal, 90, 536-556.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

/i/ or /ɪ/: Perception to Production

Nice piece of research by Lee and Lyster (Lee and Lyster, 2015 - Full citation below) demonstrating the impact of feedback on "instructed" L2 speech perception. (Hat tip to Michael Burri for pointing me at it!) In a simulated-classroom setting, native Korean language students significantly improved their ability to perceive the distinction between /i/ and /I/ in English. The full article is worth the read. Just a couple of caveats before we talk about what that might mean for teaching in the classroom:
  • The title is a bit deceptive, as the authors note: " . . . our use of simulated classrooms in this study begs the question as to whether such intense instruction would be feasible in a regular classroom curriculum and whether the results would be similar."
  • The tasks are, indeed,  excellent and well controlled--but give almost any competent pronunciation teacher about 6+ hours of classroom time with a homogenous group to work on just that single contrast and see what happens. (I may try to do that, in fact!) 
That does not diminish the importance of the study. The point is that with focused instruction, perception of vowel contrast can be radically improved--and by implication, production also. The question is, how can we begin to approximate that effect in the classroom? (If you are a regular reader of the blog, I'm sure you can see what is coming!)

Photo credit: EHIEP, v4.0 logo
Anna Shaw
Dealing with that /i/-/I/ distinction in North American English (as opposed to British or Australian) is one of the most straight-forward and effective features of the EHIEP (Essential, haptic-integrated English Pronunciation) system. Rather than taking about 5 hours to set things up (and in Lee and Lyster, 2015 there is no long-term follow up on the effect of the study), the EHIEP method, were it to focus only on that contrastive pair, would in toto run less than 1 hour initially and then be integrated into general classroom instruction from there on. 

Without going into all the details here (detailed in AHEPS v3.0 and coming this fall, v4.0), check out the free demos: lax/rough vowels, tense/double vowels and/or our 2012 conference write up, citation below), the procedure is basically:
  • Introduce the EHIEP lax and tense vowel pedagogical movement patterns, either with the video (about 15 minutes each) or do it in person.
  • Practice just those two vowels in word lists and in context in class: about 30 minutes
  • Begin providing both modelling and corrective, in context feedback in class regularly.
  • Watch how the contrast shows up in student spontaneous production
I realize that sounds far too simple and obvious to be effective. Great classroom techniques are often like that! We now have over a decade of experience using that basic procedure. Given Lee and Lyster (2015), a classroom-based study using the EHIEP framework, and integrating some of those tasks, especially the Bingo and card sort techniques, seems very possible. Before we get to that, try it yourself and let us know. 

Full citations:

Acton, W., Baker, A., Burri, M., Teaman, B. (2013). Preliminaries to haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction. In J. Levis, K. LeVelle (Eds.). Proceedings of the 4th Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference,Aug. 2012. (pp. 234-244). Ames, IA: Iowa State University.

Lee, A. H., & Lyster, R. (2015). The effects of corrective feedback on instructed L2 speech perception. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 38. doi:

Friday, July 3, 2015

Putting the festive and 'fʌn' back in (pronunciation) teaching and testing: The Taylor Swift effect!

Following an earlier, tongue-in-cheek post on excessive "fear of micro-aggression" in pronunciation teaching, we have an almost equally "deep" (or surreal) potential antidote for the most obvious kind of macro-aggression: testing! Developed by a sociology instructor, Dougherty, at Baylor University (Summarized by the trick is basically just to bring in "balloons, streamers, treats and music" and call tests "Learning celebrations." There was a little more to it than that, of course--including making items on tests "amusing" . . .  (Of course, just not taking undergraduate sociology too seriously in the first place might be a good place to begin as well.)

But Dougherty does have a point--other than simply bribing students with sugar and creating an atmosphere of "unbearable lightness of being." My son tells a great story of one of his graduate instructors, a phenomenally good lecturer and world famous researcher, who would always serve students homemade cookies before handing out class evaluations and then would play guitar and sing to them while they filled them out--but noting up front that he was in no way attempting to influence their responses . . . 

Making learning fun works, but creating a test that is also a true, formative, fun leaning experience is extraordinary. From the summary, however, it is not at all clear how the sociology test actually contributed to the overall objectives and "delivery" of the course, other than a modest 2 point (out of 100) increase in mean score across semesters. 

I love my work; teaching, for me, is often fun. Making a class "fun and entertaining" is too easy. Making the intrinsic learning experience rewarding and perceived as "fun"--through what is accomplished or learned--is a different matter entirely, although sometimes related. That is especially the case with pronunciation teaching, where the basic tools of explanation and drill and controlled practice are often very difficult to enliven or make at all meaningful. 

In other words, if you can't figure out a way to seriously "embody" fun in the classwork itself, you can at least use Dougherty's approach--which is precisely what so many experienced pronunciation teachers do--especially those trained in earlier affective and holistic methods, such as drama, poetry and music: create a high-energy, fast-moving, entertaining experience to rub off on the grind of mechanical body work required. 

That "rub off" effect is now very well researched in marketing. You may have seen stories in the media where any product in close proximity to a life-size picture of Taylor Swift--regardless of age or whether or not the customer knew who she was--sold better, significantly.  

Your other alternative, of course, is just to "Be Haptic!"

Full citation:
Baylor University. "Tests vs. Fests: Students in 'learning celebrations' rather than exams scored higher and enjoyed themselves." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 June 2015. .

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lying with verbal working memory: the truth about foreign language pronunciation training

“No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar!” (according to  Abraham Lincoln), but according to a recent study by Alloway, et al of University of North Florida, summarized by, 7 year old kids with better verbal working memory (as opposed to stronger visuo-spatial working memory) CAN be--and not only that, but they will probably be better at multitasking and social media and networking and more intelligent as adults!

Wow! Got all that? Sorry. I can't afford the 4-Starbucks-vente-carmel-frappacinno-equivalent to pay for the original article at the expensive Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, title, also courtesy of our friends at (full citation below): Liar, liar, working memory on fire: Investigating the role of working memory in childhood verbal deception. 

Do high VWMs have an unfair advantage in other things, such as learning language and pronunciation as well? Any number of studies certainly suggests that. But can anything be done to level the playing field? Maybe . . .

Reminds me of a note on a back page of an accent reduction website some time ago that said, in effect that if you were happened to be a highly visual learner, as opposed to auditory, it might take you a little longer to fix your accent and cost you a little more money . . . In practice, the company would often turn down extremely "visual" students, based on their simple, online cognitive style questionnaire alone. Actually, my earlier experience in pronunciation and accent work might tend to confirm that, at least in the case of some of the most fossilized among my former students, except for recent fascinating developments in our understanding of both brain plasticity and the "myth" of cognitive or learning style preferences.

Bottom line: learners and their brains can be trained, with less pain than you might imagine, to develop more productive, integrated use of  their "less-preferred" ways or styles of learning. If you doubt that, go to Of course the irony here is that just studying language in school, with a few exceptions (cf. the Pimsleur method), requires a relatively higher level of visuo-spatial operating (and seat work) to survive, along with strong verbal (more auditory) working memory. And we wonder why girls are better language learners than boys?

So what does the study suggest for language and pronunciation learning in general? Basically, two things: First, use of visuo-spatial techniques, such as video and graphics--and even simple written text, without rich, integrated verbal practice is potentially more counterproductive than often thought. (No lie!) In other words, just reading explanations and a bit of "disembodied" practice "silently" done half-heartedly may be more than just a waste of time. It can, by taking an easier, more dis-integrated path, even further disconnect the two modalities, (verbal-auditory) sound from (verbal-visual) meaning.

Second, as noted above, because it is now very much possible to train learners to be more effective in modalities other than their favourite(s)--and counter to a number of other recent studies on the problems with multi-tasking--enhanced meta-cognitive, multi-tasking in verbal working memory is still critical to most forms of language learning, but especially pronunciation. How to integrate those key modalities efficiently or at least better has always been the important question.

I realize that is a lot to think about, but, to tell the truth . . . there is, as always here, at least a haptic answer to that question! Haptic pronunciation work, although definitely more visuo-spatial in practice also adds potent tactile anchoring to the mix, which serves to integrate the other two more effectively. One way, but not the only way, of course.

Keep in touch!

Citation: page: University of North Florida. "Good working memory can make you a better liar." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 June 2015. .

Friday, June 26, 2015

P(fff)FT! Bubble Up Theory! Improve your accent by not thinking about (it)?

According to Passive Frame Theory, (or as I like to call it: Bubble Up Theory) the answer to the question "What was I thinking?" is probably: "I wasn't!"--literally. (Spoiler alert: Some slightly "fishy" metaphors follow.)

Occasionally you stumble onto an idea or model that seems just a great fit for some aspect of your work but, unfortunately, doesn't have quite enough empirical or popular support . . . yet. "Passive Frame Theory," proposed by Morsella of San Francisco State University, attempts a very different characterization of how everyday consciousness works.

For example, as you read this any reaction you have to this post such as "This is really goofy!" is just a brief, near random, unconsciously generated image bubbling up from someplace "in there" that is not much related to what we might have earlier referred to as conscious, logical thinking. About all your consciousness is really capable of, apparently, is something like navigating you into Starbucks safely and deciding on a tall or grande.

There are two recent reviews of that model, one by Science Daily and another more "colourful," readable and entertaining version by the Daily Mail. (Full citation of the original research report below.) Do a quick read of the latter! Citing the Science Daily version:

"According to Morsella's framework, the "free will" that people typically attribute to their conscious mind -- the idea that our consciousness, as a "decider," guides us to a course of action -- does not exist. Instead, consciousness only relays information to control "voluntary" action, or goal-oriented movement involving the skeletal muscle system."

That would certainly help explain a lot the conversation I hear around the office every day--but more importantly, it may also suggest why changing pronunciation can be so challenging--and how to do it more effectively. Without spending too much time thinking about "Passive Frame Theory" (which would be counter to the theory anyway), what "tools" would it provide us in pronunciation teaching Very simply put, it would argue that asking learners to "self-monitor" their speech to avoid pronunciation problems is not only futile; it is counterproductive. (That basic position has been around for decades, of course.) That is not what our fleeting consciousness is for after all. But how do you set up your brain's subconscious circuitry with models to be bubbled up from effectively?

As many "older" models had recommended, especially those in public speaking methodology, rapid improvement must be based on serious previous, focused practice on the specific problematic sounds or processes for the learner--prior to going "live" in conversation. Production "issues" (physical actions and the sounds they create) will then be recognized when one is uttered and the response "from below has bubbled up." In other words, we should allow--in fact encourage--recognition to be noted but only in passing, and then left to be integrated and "re-bubbled" as necessary, trusting the "team" in the bubble factory downstairs to handle it--or perhaps practiced later explicitly in isolation.

The term we in haptic pronunciation teaching use for that is "post hoc monitoring", just acknowledging or quickly noting bubbled up messaging--based on targeted earlier preparation. And we are also, understandably, on board with the idea that consciousness can at least manage " . . .  goal-oriented movement involving the skeletal muscle system . . ." which is the essence of Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation approach (EHIEP) methodology.

And what is the roll of classroom explanation and explicit correction in that model? At least to persuade students with insight and rationales for practice (and drill) and provide them with some opportunities to do so in class or as homework.

Bottom line: physical, experienced practice counts.

An interesting, potentially useful model and metaphor. Certainly worth thinking about!

Full citation:
Morsella, E., Godwin, C., Jantz, T., Krieger, S., Gazzaley, A. (2015). Homing in on consciousness in the nervous system: An action-based synthesis. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2015; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X15000643

Monday, June 15, 2015

Micro-aggression in (pronunciation) teaching

Photo credit:
One of the common responses in research as to why contemporary instructors don't deal much with pronunciation or attempt to correct it is what might be characterized as (fear of) committing a "micro-aggression." New term for you?

In a recent workshop, one of the participants stated his reason for being hesitant about correcting pronunciation (paraphrasing slightly): I'm just afraid that I might hurt their feelings or mess with their identity. He had a good point. How do you avoid that?

The topic of micro-aggression is in the news currently after comments by University of California President, Napolitano, claiming that attention to micro-aggression as an essential way to " . .  . build and nurture a productive academic climate." It is defined, according to the UC Tool: Recognizing Microaggressions and the Messages They Send)  as:

" . . . brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmenral indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, (emphasis, mine) that communicate hostile, de­rogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of colour. Perpetrators of micro-aggressions are often unaware that they engage in such communications when they interact with racial/ethnlc minorities."

Noting that "The context of the relationship is critical," the Tool, nonetheless, lists about two dozen statements and "attitudes" (and interpretations) to be avoided such as these four language-related, examples:
  • Asking: "Where are you from or where were you born?” 
  • Attempting a compliment: "You speak English very well." 
  • Inquiring of a Latino: "Why do you have to be so loud/animated? . . . " 
  • Telling an Asian: "We want to know what you think. . . . Speak up more."
There are at least four general types of micro-aggressions, according to the original formulation by Wing, et al. (2007) of Teachers College of Columbia University: (a) micro-assaults, (b) micro-invalidations, (c) micro-insults, and (d) environmental micro-aggressions. 

We could easily add some more potentially micro-aggressive statements of the b, c and d varieties that could "hurt," related to pronunciation instruction: 

"I don't understand what you just said." 
"I have no trouble understanding you." 
"X is a good model for your pronunciation." 
"X isn't a good model for your pronunciation." 
"There is no need for you to sound like Tom or Penelope Cruise." 
"There were several pronunciation problems that came up during the discussion . . . " 
"That's a "th" at the beginning, not "d" . . .  
"Listen to your partner's pronunciation. Write down any mistakes you hear."
"You need to improve your pronunciation a little."
"You have a delightful accent."
"Stick out your tongue . . . "
"That's pronounced X, not Y."
"Repeat that after me, please."
(Nonverbal) Grimace but didn't say anything.
(Nonverbal) Smile, despite unintelligibility. 

All of those could, according to Wing, et al.'s framework,  convey the message that there is something seriously "wrong" with the learner's pronunciation--or identity. How do you insure that the target is only the former, not the latter? Or can you? Or is it better not to take the risk of "micro-agressing in the first place? Look forward to your comments. (No micro- or macro- aggression, please!) 

Full citations:
Sue, D., (2010). Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation, New York: Wiley & Sons.
Wing, S., Capodilupo, A., Toprlno, D., Bucceri,J., Holder, A., Nadlll, K. and Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial Micro-aggressions in Everyday Life: implications for clinical practice, American Psychologist 62:4, 271-286 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

High intensity training: Mind, body--and pronunciation!

Clip art:
It is no coincidence that many, if not most, "hapticians"(those who teach pronunciation with a focus on systematic gesture and touch) tend to be avid "exercisers"--or at least try to workout regularly.  If you are not already into "high intensity training" (HIT), you should be! Here is a good article on website that lays out the case well, especially for those of us who spend more than 15 minutes at a time at a keyboard.

It is possible to get and stay very fit in about 3, 30-minute sessions a week--without equipment (a Spartacus body-weight workout, one of my favourites!) The same goes for efficient (haptic) pronunciation practice (with 3 or 4 good practice sessions a week.)

One of the main problems today with pronunciation teaching is that it often lacks the intensity, disciplined practice and focus that it had decades ago when the drill and practice model was in vogue.  We have the solution, at least for that! The parallels between HIT and HIPT (haptic-integrated pronunciation teaching) should be no surprise either. Four in particular are worth noting, especially the last one:

  • Both require intense effort and near total, undivided attention for relatively short periods of time.
  • Both depend upon strict attention to correct form. 
  • Progress requires consistent practice with good form. 
  • "Corrections" or refinements depend critically upon direct reference back to earlier training

  • HIT seems to work incredibly well, as long as you start slowly, getting the fundamentals down. From there you can exponentially crank up the intensity without injury, constantly monitoring form. 

    HIPT works equally well--as long as the basic (pedagogical movement) patterns are developed early on so that they can then be used in the classroom for modelling, feedback and correction. 

    v4.0 of the haptic pronunciation system (coming out this fall) will have some HIT features, especially for core and cardio enhancement. But you don't have to be in great condition yet to do HIPT--just go here!

    Thursday, May 28, 2015

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

    Clip art:
    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

    Clipart by:
    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: 

    Clip art:
    "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!!!

    Clip art: 
    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