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 PsychologicalSciences.org, 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 http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/full-frontal-psychology/where-does-self-discipline-come-from.html (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!) May even use it in a workshop this coming weekend

    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

    Friday, February 13, 2015

    Out-of-touch kinaesthetic (gesture-based) teaching: Mora* or less!

    Very interesting (and revealing) piece of research from Hirata and colleagues at Colgate University, entitled, "Effects of Hand Gestures on Auditory Learning of Second-Language Vowel Length Contrasts". The short-term, 2014 experimental study, in effect, tested the hypothesis that using a wave-like gesture (by both instructor and learner) would at least temporarily enhance learning of vowel length in Japanese. (See full citation, below.)

    Results based on pre-and post- auditory tests (to see if subjects could hear the long-short distinction) turned out to be a mixed bag: "The overall effect of hand gesture on learning of segmental phonology is limited."

    In some contexts it seemed to work: " . . .observing the syllabic-rhythm hand gesture (of the instructor) yielded the most balanced improvement between word-initial and word- final vowels and between slow and fast speaking rates." What did not seem to work as well (or at all) was when subjects just " . . . produced the moraic*-rhythm gesture (along) with the instructor." 
    Credit: Clker.com
    Library of Congress

    An earlier blog post looked at a number reasons why kinaesthetic-only techniques (those that are not haptic) may not work--that is using a gesture, like the "waving hand" in this study. Probably the most important factor is the potentially unsystematic use of the gesture, especially for highly visual and emotionally "conservative" learners.

    That was an important early discovery in our haptic work, which involves anchoring all gestures with touch in various ways on the stressed syllable of a word. Any number of students told us unequivocally that unless (a) the gesture moved through something close to the precise, same track in the visual field and (b) "felt the same" in their bodies each time that it was used by the instructor or themselves, they found the procedure at best irrelevant, at worst very disconcerting.

    The Hirata et al (2014) study not only used "unanchored" gesture, it used the same long or short gesture(s) for signalling length, regardless of the vowel. That is not unlike having students stretch a rubber band on long vowels (Gilbert, 2012), a technique that gets across the concept of vowel length very well but probably does little to transfer that idea into ongoing production in speech.

    With apologies to G.K. Chesterton: (Unanchored) kinaesthetic teaching of pronunciation has not been tried and found wanting here; it has, not surprisingly, been found inconsistent and unsystematic. But a touch of "haptic" might have made a very significant impact. Keep in touch

    *For more on the concept of mora and how it affects syllable length, see the succinct wikipedia note.  

    Hirata, Y., Kelly, S., Huang, J., Manansalaa, M. (2014). Effects of Hand Gestures on Auditory Learning of Second-Language Vowel Length Contrasts, Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 57: 2090–2101, December 2014.

    Monday, February 9, 2015

    Fit for integrated (haptic) pronunciation teaching?

    A common finding in research on instructor attitudes toward pronunciation is that they feel like they don't know enough about it to do it, e.g., Baker (2014). There is also no lack of published opinion on what you should know to teach pronunciation, depending of course on where and with whom you do it--including an earlier blogpost summarizing recommendations by a group of such authorities.

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    In more kinaesthetic or haptic-based teaching, the concept of fit may go in a somewhat different direction. To teach from that perspective requires at least some body aptitude and an understanding of how body-based training works. (There are any number of cognitive and physical preference instruments available to do that with.) I am always intrigued by the parallels between the two processes or approaches, i.e, pronunciation and fitness training.

    Here is one, acronym-ed, S.H.R.E.D. (from one self-described as an Icon of the fitness world,-- Jillian Michaels, new "face" of Curves, Inc. ), that has a great subtitle: YOU'RE EXPLORING AND EXPLOITING THE POSSIBILITY OF HUMAN MOVEMENT IN WAYS THAT FACILITATE ULTIMATE PHYSICAL CONDITIONING. (Full disclosure: I'm a big fan of the Curves system!)


    That SHRED system (Synergistic, High-intensity,  Resistance, Endurance and Dynamics) is based on the idea of three phases of a learning cycle (There would be typically 5 of those in a 30-minute workout):
    3 minutes of strength training
    2 minutes of cardio training
    1 minute of core training

    Translating that into integrated pronunciation teaching, when a new "target of opportunity" comes up in class,  you get something like this:
    3 minutes of exploration (modelling+training+drill), 
    including minimal, necessary explanation 
    2 minutes of fluency work
    1 minute of integration work

    If it takes about that long, 6 minutes, to work on a new sound issue (probably 1/3 of that for a recurrent problem), does that fit into your method? If not, shred it! (Your method, that is! And join us at the Haptic Pronunciation Teaching Seminar on the 28th of this month!)

    An upcoming post will illustrate both 6 and 2 minute haptic pronunciation INTRA-dictions such as this one. 

    Baker, A. (2014). Exploring teachers' knowledge of L2 pronunciation techniques: Teacher cognitions, observed classroom practices and student perceptions. TESOL Quarterly, 48(1), 136-163. doi: 10.1002/tesq.99

    Saturday, February 7, 2015

    Why haptic (pronunciation) teaching and learning should be superior!

    Wow. How about this "multi-sensory" conclusion from Max-Planck-Gesellschaft researchers Mayer, Yildiz, Macedonia, and von Kriegstein, Visual and motor cortices differentially support the translation of foreign language words (full citation below)--summarized by Science daily (boldface added for emphasis) :

    "The motor system in the brain appears to be especially important: When someone not only hears vocabulary in a foreign language, but expresses it using gestures, they will be more likely to remember it. Also helpful, although to a slightly lesser extent, is learning with images that correspond to the word. Learning methods that involve several senses, and in particular those that use gestures, are therefore superior to those based only on listening or reading."

    The basic "tools" of haptic pronunciation teaching, what we call "pedagogical movement patterns," are defined as follows:

    As a word or phrase is visualized (visual) and spoken with resonant voice, a gesture moving across the visual field is preformed which culminates in hands touching on the stressed syllable of the word or phrase (cognitive/linguistic), as the sound of the word is experienced as articulatory muscle movement in the upper body and by vibrations in the body emanating from the vocal cords and (to some degree) sound waves returning to the ears (auditory). 

    And what bonds that all together? A 2009 study by Fredembach,et al demonstrated just how haptic anchoring--and the PMP should work: in relative terms, the major contribution of touch may generally be exploratory and assembling of multi-sensory experiences. The key is to do as much as possible to ensure that learners keep as many senses in play during "teachable moments" when new word-sound complexes are being encountered and learned. 

    Make sense? Keep in touch!

    Fredembach, B., Boisferon, A. & Gentaz, E. (2009) Learning of arbitrary association between visual and auditory novel stimuli in adults: The “Bond Effect” of haptic exploration. PLoS ONE, 2009, 4(3), 13-20.
    Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. (2015, February 5). Learning with all the senses: Movement, images facilitate vocabulary learning. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 7, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150205123109.htm

    Wednesday, February 4, 2015

    From warm up to wacky: Experiential learning and expressiveness in pronunciation teaching

    This is a follow up to last week's post on a new haptic pronunciation teaching workshop we are doing this month at the BCTEAL Regional Island conference focusing on expressiveness. A recent study by Rangel, et al. looked at the interaction between instructor expressiveness and learner experiential learning style preference. (Hat tip to Mike Burri.) What they found, in effect, was that expressive delivery in training works well, or at least better, when the trainee is more amenable to experiential learning. 

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    What all of us in pronunciation work know is that you must engage learners expressively--or you lose them. Furthermore, getting beyond the basics is futile without something of that experiential "abandon" and receptivity. This is the conundrum: pushing learners beyond their comfort zone so that they can both understand and communicate expressiveness can be lethal. (It is the "Achilles Heel" of many loveable but wacky practitioners!) 

    For that "expressive" instructional style to work requires a complementary openness to a less explicitly cognitive and more intuitive response from students. Here is how experiential learning style  is defined (excerpt from Rangel, Chung, Harris, Carpenter, Chiaburu and Moore, 2015. See full citation below.) 

     ". . . a form of processing that is intuitive, automatic and associated primarily with affect and emotional responses (Novak & Hoffman, 2009; Pacini & Epstein, 1999). 
     . . . the experiential learner typically demonstrates low(er) levels of cognitive engagement in the traditional learning process, and instead requires external, affective cues to effectively activate the experiential system and, thus, information processing. Such cues can be provided by one’s instructor when he or she employs expressive, stimulating delivery techniques." 

    Does that sound like your typical (traditional?) pronunciation class or lesson? The problem, of course, is setting up the classroom experience so that effective experiential learning can happen, so that even the less naturally experientially-oriented learner can still join the party. 

    Haptic pronunciation training is, by definition, highly experiential (as unpacked in any number of previous posts) and (should be) very stimulating, but why is requiring "uptake of" expressiveness, which requires more experientially-directed learners, especially at the conversational discourse-level absolutely essential? 

    The Rangel et al. study points toward the answer: It allows more direct, albeit perhaps temporary, unfiltered access to the intentions and emotions being communicated by the speaker. Meta-communicative analysis can follow, of course, but the research would suggest that reverse is almost surely not the case. 

    So how do you do that? How do you create an environment where experiential, expressive learning is not only tolerated but embraced by students, especially those in highly visual-cognitive career tracks? (Recall the great Nike commercial: Just do it!) 

    One image that certainly comes to mind for me is that of a poetry instructor I had as an undergrad. She gradually enabled/required an extraordinary level of expressiveness in reading poems, where we all seemed to be completely at ease, uninhibited and "in" the experience. 

     If you have thoughts on that or references to published methods that do that quickly and well . . . please express them!

    And stay tuned. We'll be trying out a new expressiveness-orientation model in the workshop at the conference. 

    Full citation:
    Bertha Rangel, Wonjoon Chung, T. Brad Harris, Nichelle C. Carpenter, Dan S. Chiaburu and Jenna L. Moore (2015 ) Rules of engagement: the joint influence of trainer expressiveness and trainee experiential learning style on engagement and training transfer. International Journal of Training and Development 19:1 ISSN 1360-3736, doi: 10.1111/ijtd.12045

    Tuesday, February 3, 2015

    Context rehabilitation in (or as a substitute for) pronunciation and accent work

    Part of the system I wrote about in 1984 (Acton 1984) included the almost tongue-in-cheek notion of "context rehabilitation." (See recent, relatively accurate, 2014, outline of that article by Polinedrio and Colon). The idea was to very proactively train students in how to influence the attitudes of their supervisors and co-workers as regards their  improving comprehensibility--while at the same time making substantive, noticeable changes in intelligibility as soon as possible in the program, of course! Some of that came from the early work of Rubin (1975) and others, and work on attending skills, e.g.,  Acton and Cope (1999).  

    A recent, very informative review of research on the effectiveness in pronunciation instruction by Thomson and Derwing (2014) concludes with this interesting and revealing comment:  

    "In immigrant situations, native speakers of the L2 can be helped to become better listeners as well (Derwing et al. 2002; Kang and Rubin 2012) . . .  Communication is a two-way street, thus L2 speakers’ interlocutors sometimes need support in building confidence that they have the skills to interact with L2 accented individuals." 

    Other than the near-comma-splice, love that word "support" in that final statement. It may well be that educational campaigns and law suits to change societal attitudes toward accents will, indeed, in the long run be the most cost-efficient and effective approach to improving intercultural communication--and making much pronunciation instruction less (or ir-)relevant . . .

    For a much fuller exploration of that and related themes, get a copy of a great-looking new (VERY EXPENSIVE - $176 CAD in hardcover and I can't find it in paperback yet) book, Social dynamics in second language accent (2014), edited by Levis and Moyer! (My library doesn't have it yet but most of the chapters seem to be obvious continuations of each author's best stuff.) 

    Keep in touch. 

    Saturday, January 31, 2015

    Touching teaching of expressiveness!

    Photo credit:
    On February 21st, at the 2015 BCTEAL - Island ConferenceProfessor Aihua Liu of Harbin Institute of Technology, a visiting professor here at Trinity Western University, and myself, will be doing a workshop entitled, "A touching and moving approach to teaching expressiveness."

    Here is the program abstract: 

    In this practical, “hands on” workshop, a haptic-integrated (using movement and touch) classroom-tested system for teaching conversational intonation and expressiveness will be demonstrated and practiced by participants. The 8 basic techniques include 5 for intonation and 3 others for adding on changes in pitch, pace, volume and discourse foregrounding.

    And the detailed summary:

    Teaching English intonation can be challenging for any language teacher, due in part to the unique uses of intonation patterns at the discourse level.  Although pronunciation textbooks for students generally present basic intonation patterns with practice activities, that is, of course, only the beginning. It is one thing to be able to imitate or use a simple rising intonation contour on a type of yes/no question or a falling pattern on a simple statement, but it is still quite a leap to expressing a wider range of emotion in speaking.

    The haptic model presented has students initially speak along with a model or instructor when working on a new or unusual stretch of expressive speech. Rather than just speaking the sentences, however, learners gesture along with the model to enhance their ability to not just produce but recall more accurately the “extra” features of pitch, pace, volume and discourse focus (or foregrounding).

    The workshop is based on principles of “Essential haptic-integrated English Pronunciation,” developed by Acton and colleagues. Participants are provided with guidelines for using the framework in classes with teenage and adult learners and given access to video models on the web of the techniques presented.

    Join us, if you can!

    Thursday, January 29, 2015

    A new angle on (kinaesthetic geometry or haptic pronunciation) teaching

    "Embodied cognition" is, or should be, the point of departure for pronunciation teaching--and for elementary math-geometry, according to a "moving" study by Smith, King, and Hoyte, University of Vermont (Summarized by Science Daily). "Learning angles through movement: Critical actions for developing understanding in an embodied activity." (Full citation below.)

    Here is one researcher's take on embodied cognition: ". . . the brain alone does not generate behavior, but that it actually works in concert with physical movements and other environmental and neural processes such as perception, action and emotion."

    In the study, elementary school-age subjects who formed geometric shapes or angles with their bodies " . . . made significant gains in the understanding of angles and angle measurements . . . while interacting with a Kinect for Windows mathematics program." 

    The function of body movement (and gesture) in learning has been established and understood in many disciplines or fields of research. This study adds a more direct connection to abstract concepts, not just communicative intentions or emotions. In pronunciation teaching there are several dozen "concepts" that can be used pedagogically (such as symbols for vowels), all of them, or at least most of them can be represented in visual schema, or (in haptic work) in pedagogical movement patterns (gesture plus touch on a focal element in the word or phrase). 

    What is also nice about this study is that to create those angles with the body requires a requisite degree of accuracy and dimensionality--kinaesthetically for the learner and visually (for feedback) for the instructor. That is also the key to haptic pronunciation work--and what makes it particularly effective; precision of body position and gesture in the visual field. ( One of the chief criticisms of gestural work, in general, is the inconsistent presentation of patterns in the visual field and variability of emotional expressiveness.)

    The future of pronunciation teaching lies in such embodied technology.  May be time to connect with Kinect . . . 

    University of Vermont. (2015, January 26). Students master math through movement using Kinect for Windows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 28, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150126135210.htm

    Saturday, January 24, 2015

    Clear advice: Love your (pronunciation teaching) method!

    Have recently "discovered" the popular blog of James Clear who, to quote his self description:  . . . writes about science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick.

    I was, of course, immediately hooked when I got to the last word there--and great haptic metaphor! Full disclosure: He is also a weight lifter. Sports and exercise coaches are simply the best when it comes to developing systems that involve movement and discipline--like pronunciation teaching.

    He concludes an intriguing post entitled "Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead" with the striking line: "Fall in love with systems!" (Required reading!)

    Clear is not referring to "Aims and aspirations" that provide motivation and passion, as described by Wells (2003) :

    "What are the student’s personal aims and aspirations in language learning? . . . Some just want enough English to communicate at a basic level, or indeed just enough to pass some examination. Others aim to achieve the best they possibly can. We must cater for both types and for those who fall somewhere between. Speaking personally, I must say that my own aspiration in learning languages is NS-like proficiency. I acknowledge that I may be unlikely to attain it. But that doesn’t stop me aiming for it. I try to inspire my students with the same high ideal. If it were suggested that I should not even aim so high, I should feel short-changed. "

    Many describe today's language teaching as "post method," meaning that there are no longer any generally applicable systems that work in a broad range of contexts. Very true. That does not mean, however,  that a "local" method is not necessary. On the contrary . . .

    Balancing "high ideals" and feasible process is the trick. For example, the "wrong" kind of goals for learners working on pronunciation are often simply unrealistic, given the time, talent and resources available. Nothing wrong with aiming at NS-like level, unless you are an intermediate-level student with only three months to get there, etc. Even a goal such as "fixing" use of "th" or a particular vowel in a week or two by the same intermediate student can be at best counter-productive. That is especially true without a very rigorous practice regimen handy to direct energy and effort.

    Do your students "fall in love" with your system or one that they have adapted from yours? Do you provide them with a "clear" framework detailing their part in the process, understanding of what is behind it and how it facilitates progress? Do you follow up with them consistently on how they are doing and how they working in it?

    Clear's point is that making change "stick," which demands discipline and limiting attention and focus, also requires commitment to a set of principles and consistent scheduling--along with having confidence and trust in both the system and the provider of it. Once a learner's general, realistic goal has been articulated and locked in, attention (and passion) must shift to the systematic "heavy lifting" of the day-to-day training process and stay there. Trust, love (and obey) the method, the system! (See his framework for getting started in that direction.) What an absolutely radical, "retro" notion today!

    Do you have a "clear" one-page description of your system that students can easily understand, follow--and love? A quick review of published pronunciation textbooks didn't turn up anything close to that. I am working on one now (for haptic pronunciation teaching) that will serve as a model for my graduate students in applied phonology this semester to follow as they develop their own.

    I'll share that shortly here, too,  a "loveable" system of sorts. If you have a good one now, please pass it on. I'll create a "Love-my-methods" page off the blog to display them.

    Love to see yours . . .