Monday, September 19, 2011

Pronunciation change: The feeling of what happens

Clip art: Clker
One of the books (and theorists) that has greatly influenced my thinking on teaching pronunciation, and especially the benchmarks in the process from the learner's perspective, is "The feeling of what happens: Body, emotion and the making of consciousness," by Antonio Damasio. To wildly oversimplify Damasio's main argument: the "feeling" or emotion underlying a thought, in neurological terms, happens before words or images come into awareness. At the time of the publication of the book, over a decade ago, that was a more striking assertion than it is today, of course, but he helped establish (or re-establish in Western thinking) the role of the body and embodiment in consciousness. (Another of his great books, Decartes' Error, earlier set out the philosophical position.)

How that figures in to haptic-integrated, more body-centered pronunciation teaching is that it sets up learner awareness to recognize when a targeted sound is at least being mispronounced--and does it in a way that generally does not disturb ongoing spontaneous speaking. As most would recognize, once a learner begins to recognize or notice the "old" pronunciation in oral output, the "game is afoot" (to quote Sherlock Holmes.)

The feeling, or haptic anchor of the sound will often be felt or experienced by the learner, momentarily, after the "error" occurs--but not before, interfering with thought and conversation. That post hoc (after the fact) monitoring is nearly certain to happen if the anchor has been well established with touch and movement and the learner has accepted the suggestion (in the best sense of hypnotic suggestion) that it is going to happen when constructive change is "afoot!" So "suggest" that benchmark to your students, and see what happens . . . or at least get a feel for it.

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