Monday, October 31, 2011

Fossilized pronunciation repair--with a touch of haptic "cement"

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There are probably two or three dozen different blogposts here that report research that indirectly supports the claim that haptic anchoring should be effective in working with learning new sounds and changing fossilized pronunciation. (I have been "looking" for studies such as this one for a couple of decades!) This study by Fredembach, Boisferon and Gentaz, summarized by Science Daily, makes the connection more directly.

The research examined the effect of using touch to assist learners in making associations between new symbols and new sounds. While looking at the graphic form of a letter/symbol and saying or hearing the sound, subjects in the experimental group "explored" the form with their hands as well. The haptic effect was clear: " . . . the explication lies in the specific properties of the haptic sense . . . in the hands, which plays a "cementing" role between sight and hearing, favouring the connection between the senses."

What that helps explain is why using haptic anchors in fossilized pronunciation work should, indeed, assist learners in "replacing" sounds embedded in specific words more efficiently. Done haptically, that does not have to be an especially time consuming process. (See earlier posts on how that process is carried out.) For most advanced learners, de-fossilization is, unfortunately, a painstaking, one-word-at-a-time problem: a new sound has to be associated with the graphic representation of every problematic word, not just encouraged to generalize unattended out through the learner's interlanguage.  In other words, just teaching the "fossilized" how to correctly articulate a sound in isolation is nearly pointless--unless every "misuse" is systematically ferreted out (Ready?) . . . manually, of course!

Moving accents (a kinaesthetic, Hollywood approach)

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Over a decade ago I had explored the concept of beginning by attempting to change the overall body posture and typical gestural patterns of learners to be more "English-like" (whatever that was going to mean!) In a few specific instances, where the ethnic nonverbal "accent" was markedly different from, for example, typical North American business presentation style, I had some success, but as I became more involved with haptic work, I gave up on trying to identify a more general body-language-based "target" for  learners.

I have read numerous accounts of how Hollywood approaches the problem, seeing accent or dialect and body representation as being almost inseparable. Dr Glass (and her blog) provide a hint (only) into the way it is done. (Note the list of her former clients!) At some point in the future, using virtual reality technology--with haptic interface, of course--we will be able to truly "train the body first!" For the time being, however, we must be satisfied with just a glimpse into the "Looking (at) Glass" . . .

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Native-like pronunciation? You must be dreaming . ..

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In a widely publicized study by Dresler and Czisch of the Max Plank Institute, it was discovered that when we dream we are moving . . . our brain responds as if our body is, in fact,  fully engaged in the activity.  The research suggests that movements experienced in dreams may then be carried out more "fluently" when consciously performed later.

Many who learn to speak an L2 reasonably well, myself included, recall those first nights when they began dreaming in the L2. It generally comes as a surprise, often suggesting fluency and expressiveness far beyond where one is in reality. The brain is, obviously, practicing for us, rehearsing what is ahead. Although the same process may relate as well to pronunciation change attempted with mouth and mind only,  you'd think that full-bodied, engagement should make for at least more "moving" dreams, near "somnabulantic" or even some "hapticulantic" episodes! Pronunciation like a native speaker? Dream on!

"Funderstanding" how the brain works (and how to change pronunciation)

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Are you left or right-brained? (If you don't know,  here is a website that even has a free test to help you figure out which.) If you answered "left" or "right"--and are serious about pronunciation work--you may be working against yourself and your students, best case.  (If you missed the August 21st post on the "Myth of learning styles," you might want to go back and review that one at this point. as well)

Neuroscience has, in general, progressed far past the idea that the left/right brain distinction has any important neurological relevance. Pedagogically, it may be a convenient shorthand for various purposes, but the implication that one's learning style preference characterized from that perspective is relatively permanent and unchangeable finds little if any empirical support today. As discussed in several earlier posts, the continuing discoveries of brain plasticity, multi-site functionality and interconnectedness-- and adaptability have demonstrated that learning style preference is very amenable to retraining and change.

The HICP model of brain function as it relates to pronunciation change is three-dimensional, attempting to reflect more accurately "where" in the brain things "happen" and identifying key functions needed for effective management of the process: (a) left-right dimension is "analytic-holistic," reflecting the input/output processing tendencies of the two hemispheres (parts vs "wholes"),  (b) front-back is "cognitive/visual idetic," representing the pre-frontal cognitive and back visual processing centers which tend to anchor experience more either through "reasoning" or accepting visual images less critically, i.e., seeing is believing, and (c) body/mind or lower/higher, suggesting more body- or emotion-based felt sense, "up" to more "mind-based," less emotionally anchored experiencing.

From that perspective, any pedagogical procedure can be placed within that 3D field, situated using various intensity scales, and used to design and conduct classroom instruction. Ironically, I could not (understandably!) create an adequate 2D graphic here to represent that framework, but you get the picture.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Disembodied Pronunciation done well--by Rosetta Stone

Although there appears to be no readily accessible published research as to the efficacy of the widely promoted language teaching program, Rosetta Stone, if the testimonials on the website are to be believed,  it certainly works for at least some learners.  Having reviewed the Korean and ESL programs, I am struck by how well it does a little--a good business model.

Image: Rosetta
For the visual-auditory, literate learner (See previous posts on the myth of learning styles, however!)  for whom pronunciation will not be much of an issue, it offers reasonably good, low cost, individualized access to at least functional vocabulary and structure. In fact, that it does not do active pronunciation instruction (other than repetition with some feedback) may almost be a plus, as opposed to presenting it even more "disembodied," as is the case with many current, computer-based systems.

A haptic interface could certainly be developed to use with it. I suggested that when I talked to one of the designers a couple of years ago. Basically, he confidently informed me that according to Krashen and most experts in the field, comprehensible input and aural comprehension were generally sufficient for developing acceptable pronunciation--and selling the product. Well . . . duh. He was at least half right. And besides, recall that the pronunciation of the original Rosetta Stone took over three decades to figure out . . .

Managing attention during pronunciation change: jogging the mind

This Science Daily summary of 2010 research by Seidler et al. looked at the effect of aging on inter-hemispheric connectivity in the brain. As we age, the corpus callosum (Latin: tough body)--my new nom de plum, the bridge between or manager of left and right side communication, begins losing its ability control "crosstalk," allowing random interference from the "other side," especially on motor tasks involving only one side of the body. The implications of that are far reaching.

On some cognitive (vs motor) tasks, "full brain" engagement is beneficial; on others, it may not be. (That the Tough Body in women is much larger than that of men is interesting here as well but apparently was not a relevant factor in the study.) The "good news" from the study is that aerobic exercise may function to strengthen and regenerate the Tough Body. I had some time back been using highly energetic (near aerobic) warm ups and rhythm-focus activities.

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For various reasons, I have since moved to more controlled, haptic anchoring throughout the EHIEP system, backing off from more dramatic, uninhibited and emotionally "unbuttoned" engagement. I,  personally, begin the day with aerobic work of some kind and have often observed that "exercisers" seemed to have an advantage in personal pronunciation change, especially in dealing with fossilized pronunciation.

This may help explain why, other than blowing off stress and pumping more blood into the Brocas area, regular physical exercise has been proven to complement all kinds of learning. Our general approach has been to manage attention by requiring constant, multiple modality "mindful" attention--which may also serve to further invigorate your Tough Body as well.  But perhaps it is time to reexamine that assumption, add a touch of haptic "boot camp" up front every morning! Clearly, a tougher Tough Body is worth attending to, too!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Teaching pronunciation by the numbers

At a recent workshop I was asked why we use vowel numbers. My standard response (which includes all of the vowels of North American English): "Using or employing vowel numbers for haptic teaching and correcting pronunciation is not just a good idea, it is probably the only way!"

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In order,  the vowels there are: 11w+2, 8, 4+8y+2,  6w+12, 7+12, 8, 5+2, 1y+2, 5, 8+4+2, 12+12+1y+3y+12, 2, 6, 7, 12, 10, 6y+1y+12,  2,  2,  6+12+1y+1y, 1y, 9w+1y, 3y! I began using that system when I was a student of Joan Morley back in the 70's at the University of Michigan (Here is the link to her great student text, Improving Spoken English, still one of the best ever written.)

The benefits are several, including being able to quickly make sure that the learner gets the right vowel noted, without having to fish around in class verbally for the right vowel quality--which may not happen anyway. Once the vowel felt sense and number and key word are anchored effectively, ability to change and recall are enhanced significantly.  If you are relatively "dys-haptic" in your work, it probably doesn't make much difference how you correct vowels . . . but your days are numbered!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The "Harold Hill" approach to pronunciation change

In my graduate methodology class I have often poked fun at what I refer to as the "Harold Hill" method. In the musical, The Music Man, the con-man band instrument salesman is suddenly forced to actually teach some of his victims how to play the instruments he has sold them. Knowing nothing about music, he simply urges them to "Think, men, think!" And, miraculously, of course, they start playing . . . sort of. (In no time at all, they have turned into a 1,000 piece marching band w/baton twirlers, et al.)

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The more I have explored haptic phenomena and learning, the more I realize that Hill was on to something. The strong, somatic "hedonic" focus (see recent post) of a hands-on experience can rapidly anchor desired behavior or movement, even if stumbled upon by accident with a trombone. And the reverse is true. Even visualizing yourself moving an object--or trying to do it "telekinetically", if you will, can focus the attention dramatically and sometimes create workable haptic-like anchors, as well--a "standard" technique in some types of hypnotherapy, virtual training systems and contemporary "haptic" performers (See earlier posts.)

Once PMPs, pedagogical movement patterns, are established in HICP/EHIEP, learners often report "feeling" the anchor, the touching of hands, even if using only one hand-- a good test of the "stickiness" of an anchor. So, if you are not yet "moved" to join us or get "in touch," at least imagine that you are. That will probably suffice.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pronunciation change anxiety? Check your analogy!

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As explored in an earlier blogpost, golf may be one of the best analogies for the process of pronunciation learning, especially the relationship between skill development and "competence" on the course under pressure. There is a mind-boggling array of techniques and mental tricks to keep the golfer in the game, "mindful," as noted in another recent post. In studying why professional athletes "choke," exploring the effect of, for example, paying too much attention to mechanics momentarily--and how they manage not to, researchers were surprised to find a common strategy: analogies. Who'd of thought . . .

Here is one they suggest: "For example, a golfer who grips the club too tight when she's nervous might benefit from an instruction like 'Imagine you have an open tube of toothpaste between your hands and the contents must not be pushed out.' This would both address the problem and get her attention away from how well she's doing."

Wow! I never thought of that. We clearly need some good haptic analogies like that one. Do you have any? Well . . . how about: Imagine you have an open tube of grey poupon in your hand and the contents must be pushed out gently on your stressed syllables as you talk to your boss, telling him that he is a real jerk and you quit! See if you can squeeze or "sandwich" that one in sometime!

Pronunciation change is just (like) a piece of (cup) cake!

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Another nice summary from Science Digest. It is, indeed, so intriguing that I really hesitate to even explain it. What the study demonstrated was that word of mouth (WOM) explanation had differing effects on attractiveness or emotional engagement, depending on whether the object in question was to be a sensory or "hedonic" experience (such anticipation at eating a cupcake) or more practical or functional (such as buying a new USB stick.) As the researcher Moore (University of Alberta) notes, "Although we have a natural tendency to explain the events in our lives, it is not always in our best interests to do so." Explanation tended to enhance attractiveness of the USB stick and diminish appeal of the cupcake.

Likewise, the parallel for our work--since we certainly do do WOM!-- would be that to the extent that pronunciation change is essentially physical/somatic (Cognitive Phonologists' "manifesto" not withstanding), excessive explanation and "meta-cognating" on it may work against adequate engagement. On the other hand, doing the same with grammar or rhetorical analysis or verb conjugations might just have the opposite effect. Delicious thought, eh? Don't mention it . . .

A moving and touching example of the power of prosody . . . and good acting!

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You may have seen this already but it is a great piece. Reminds me  a recent conference presentation that  I felt compelled to sit through . . . Because the words are recognizable and the rhythm and intonation of the conversation are so "comfortable" and "intimate," the native speaker's brain will keep trying to turn it into a story of some kind. The power of prosody . . . and (near) haptic video!

Pronunciation Instruction (instruction) for Dummies

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There is no such book in the "Dummies" collection, although there is an EFL teaching dummy version--which, by the way I do NOT recommend. However, in that book, in the section on teaching pronunciation, the writer got a few things right, at least in terms of priorities--and the general assumption that without much background or training you can work with pronunciation, at least without doing much damage. The simple, recommended techniques are generally not the best but the emphasis is ok: stress, intonation, basic vowels and rhythm--and a little consonant work on the side, mostly just by repetition.

The EHIEP (essentials of haptic-integrated English pronunciation) system we are developing, which will involve using video clips to do all initial instruction, essentially follows a similar path: warmup; stress; vowels; thought group; intonation; speech rhythm; selected consonants. Most importantly, it has to be accessible, inexpensive and readily adoptable by "dummies," including those with excessive training in phonetics, disembodied professional experience or enthusiastic (but overly complicated) "dumbed up" pronunciation teaching methods.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The "Cognitive Phonological" map and Lessac's pedagogical territory

In the linked article by Fraser is something of the Cognitive Phonologists' manifesto: “Pronunciation is primarily a cognitive phenomenon rather than a physiological problem." The CP's approach to teaching and learning pronunciation is, not surprisingly, highly metacognitive, requiring insight, explanation, conscious frameworks, planning and, of course . . . understanding. The driver of change is seen as basically cognitive, not the felt sense of speaking and pedagogical drill and practice. Simply put: ontologically, once the mind is online, the body must follow.

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From a HICP perspective, that is to fall for the classic, map/territory illusion, in Korzybski's words, "the map is not the territory." Even if the map or characterization or origin of the problem is "primarily cognitive," that does not mean that the approach to the solution or treatment "on the ground," in the classroom must be. On the contrary, in many systems of Western (as opposed to Eastern) human behavior change, the effective therapy or training must be considerably more and more noncognitive today, at least at the outset, in effect side-stepping or creating an offsetting balance with the problematic "phenomenon." (See earlier post on "Changing the channel fallacy.")

Lessac's "territorial" manifesto, Train the body first, is admittedly no less directional in design, but it has one enormous advantage . . . it works.

Haptic-action, action research

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As we go about the process of figuring out what works haptically and what doesn't, establishing the empirical grounding of HICP/EHIEP, the type of research and how it is presented is, of course, very important.  An interesting model for the process of evaluating the efficacy of haptic treatment and devices is that used by Evans, et al., in mechanical engineering. Essentially, they used a "felt sense" scale to explore the "stickiness" of the haptic anchors as researcher/participants in the proces. On a 1-5 Likert scale of "intensely moving" to "touching" to "disembodied," how would you rate that idea and its resultant rubric? And your anchoring of vocabulary and pronunciation "repairs?" 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sticky, persistent, integrated pronunciation change

Disintegration of Persistence
of Memory by S. Dali:
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A favorite image or visual metaphor of mine for the current state of pronunciation teaching, especially understanding of how to make change "stick" is Dali's "Disintegration of Persistence of Memory." Although the 1954 painting probably relates a little better to the evolving mind and memory of modern man than getting learners to integrate repaired or new pronunciation, the existential issue is the same: flooded with information, insight and other random "edutainments," how can we remember anything? Better yet, with virtual memory in the "clouds" all around us now, why bother?

Several aspects of pronunciation change still require decidedly "pre-modern" kinaesthetic engagement to stick efficiently, where the potentially neurotic, "self talk" interference is at least temporarily absent--what a recent post referred to as "mindfulness" focusing on just one objective: anchoring in memory, or in HICP terms, haptic anchoring. In yesterday's workshop, in response to the question: "What makes pronunciation change stick?",  the suggestions from the audience ranged from "context" to "real communication" to "opportunities for usage" to "collocation" to "paradigm-relation" (similar form) to "comprehensible input" to "personal relevance."

What was not mentioned is most revealing: saying the word or phrase out loud for practice or some kind of somatic "felt sense" of the sound(s), the basis of HICP work. It is as if much of the basic understanding of how pronunciation was to be integrated or "drilled in" of only a couple of decades ago has been lost. Stick with us. Memory persists here . . .

Incomprehensible output: Krashen @ 2011 KOTESOL

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To understand the current place of pronunciation instruction in English language teaching you should hear Professor Krashen's recent comments at KOTESOL. His "message" for the last 30 years or so has been that, in essence, quality input is the central driver of acquisition. On that most agree, of course, but his stance toward learner output, especially managed speaking and pronunciation has been equally consistent: it is potentially problematic and should not be a high priority--for any number of reasons. His position, methodologically, is still dominant. It is quite common sense-based and, in some respects, from the standpoint of the classroom instructor . . . less hassle.

Why worry too much about accuracy (or pronunciation in this case?) Theorists argue principally for the more achievable goal of intelligibility; learners (What do THEY know, anyway?) in almost every study "demand" assistance with accuracy of pronunciation and to be more "native speaker-like," especially if their job depends upon it. Obviously, there is an "information gap" here. Hear it straight from "Dr Gap," himself, in this typically engaging and revealing interview at KOTESOL.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Magic of Pronunciation instruction: distractions and "Burriers!"

Adam Gopnik, quoting Jamy Ian Swiss on distractions [in magic]: "Magic only ‘happens’ in a spectator’s mind….Everything else is a distraction. . . . Methods for their own sake are a distraction. You cannot cross over into the world of magic until you put everything else aside and behind you—including your own desires and needs—and focus on bringing an experience to the audience. This is magic. Nothing else."

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Several recent posts have pointed to the problem of capturing the complete attention of the learner in anchoring pronunciation change. The distraction may be of many kinds, from formal instruction to wandering thoughts of tomorrow's fishing trip to past worries. For haptic anchoring in the instructional process to work, the "magic" must be there. The learner must be completely "in" the moment, the felt sense of the sound without distraction.

Whereas in magic the distraction is used to draw attention away from the slight of hand, in HICP the pedagogical movement patterns of the hands, in a sense, create a similar distraction, keeping the eyes "entertained" so the sound and somatic experience can be absorbed better. In fact, it may be necessary to first perform a preliminary trick--what we call a "Burri-er,"  named after Mike Burri, who recently reminded me of that technique, which we had experimented with a few years ago. To turn off the cognitive, analytic pre-frontal side of the house in the head temporarily, when it cannot shut up and stop commenting on what is going on, we may use a procedure like that developed in EMDR and other "quick change" therapies (noted in earlier posts.)

For example, try having patients/learners follow their hands with their eyes, going back and forth slowly in the visual field between 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock for about 30 seconds. (That has been shown to also improve performance on problem solving for some right handed college sophomores at least . . . ) A quick little "Burri-er" such as that should remove any barriers . . . like magic!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Sensational" pronunciation teaching? Chances are about 50/50.

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Here is a brief summary of an article by Killingsworth and Gilbert published in the journal, Science. It includes this interesting quote from the article: “The ability to think about what isn’t happening is a significant cognitive achievement, but one that comes at an emotional cost.” The data revealed that most of us are "in the present moment" emotionally, only about 50% of the time, at best. The concept of "mindfulness," sensing as much as possible the "felt sense" of our body (e.g., heart rate, muscle tension, breathing) and learning to function within it--not trying to escape it or cool it down consciously-- is applied extensively in many fields today.

One of the great advantages of multiple modality instruction is that it provides a means of (at least momentarily) capturing the full attention of the mind to the task at hand. Haptic techniques, engaging the body as they do, if done with correct form and perhaps some eye tracking, are "mindful" or mind-filling in the best (felt) sense. It is not that clear explanations, discussion, insight, planning and disembodied drilling related to a learner's pronunciation are not helpful; they are, of course--but they can also easily interfere with efficient anchoring of sound change.

In other words, stop thinking about pronunciation and how difficult, time-consuming and anxiety-producing it can be. Just do it (haptically)!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Moving Pronunciation, Meaning and Usage from the Dictionary!

Mike Burri, Brian Teaman and I are doing a workshop at the 2011 TRI-TESOL conference this Saturday. From the conference program: "This workshop introduces a haptic-based (movement and touch) set of procedures for helping learners efficiently get pronunciation, meaning and usage information from English learner dictionaries. Included are six techniques that can also be applied to dialogues, connecting pronunciation and vocabulary learning with controlled and then more integrated, spontaneous speaking." If you are in the Des Moines, Washington neighborhood, stop by. Looks to be a very good conference!

Pronunciation of "w" - a colorful green EYE-dea that sweeps curiously

With apologies to Chomsky, previous posts have explored the potential "hexus," or connections between the perceptual and neurophysiological nature of the visual field, the color spectrum and the phonaesthetic qualities of the English vowel system. (In addition to the metaphorical visual "space" used by various philosophical and other more down-to-earth conceptual systems.)

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We have known for some time that the pedagogical movement pattern (PMP) for the English glide, 'w,' produces a momentary green hue in the center of the visual field. (Try this: Imagine a 6 inches in diameter, about 3 inches in front of your face, centered on your nose. Beginning at 11 o'clock, trace that circle with you right forefinger with both eyes fixed upon it, at moderate speed.) The PMP for 'w' begins with a semi-circle in that area as the sound is articulated. Actually the PMP begins in the green quadrant (NW) and ends in the blue (SW) or sweeps back up to NW.

Exactly why that happens is not entirely clear but obviously the circuits between the red and green sensors in the eyes are getting entangled. (Here is a summary of how the eyes process color, in general, that suggests something of what is probably involved.) As a student once remarked, it creates a temporary, rat-like worldview. That PMP, by the way, is a great quick fix for a learner who cannot do a word-initial 'w' as in "wood." The word, woo, even has that PMP on both ends! In HICP/EHIEP, even going around in (curious, colorful, green) circles can be productive . . .

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Forget, trying to learn new pronunciation

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Now here is a potentially useful idea. Before working on correcting a mispronunciation, have students "forget" the current version first. In the linked summary by Science Digest of a study by Strom of the University of Illinois at Chicago, subjects were instructed to, in effect, forget a set of words to make "room" in short term memory space for new ones. It appears to have been quite effective, demonstrating empirically the importance of some degree of forgetting to remembering, so to speak.

I'll have to work on this, but might not the concept of haptic de-anchoring of problematic sounds be worth some serious thought and experimentation? Ah . . . forget it!

From vowel color to vocabulary recall

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Common sense and marketers' and advertisers' collective wisdom suggest that color does have meaning, some of it culturally determined. As noted in the previous post, HICP assumes that the visual field also "contains" quadrants that have different emotional or experiential sensitivities. In very general terms, we associate basic colors with each quadrant: Northeast=yellow, Southeast=red, Northwest=green and Southwest=blue. Depending where in the quadrant, in the articulatory "chart" (a mirror-image of the standard IPA chart) a vowel is located, its intensity or hue may be increased or diminished accordingly. 2006 research by Spence, Wong, Rusan, and Rastegar of the University of Toronto makes a fascinating point as to when the color association must be made for maximum effectiveness.

In that study, various color conditions of natural scenes are used in different timings. Essentially what they discovered was that for best recall, color had to be very focused and associated with basic features or figures of the picture immediately, and not just the overall scene. One implication for our work is that color may work best in conjunction with haptic anchoring if it is introduced "from the beginning" of the process and (probably) limited to the vowel or syllable only and not the entire word, as is the usual practice with color/vowel pedagogical practices. Remember that, next time you need to make your vowels and vocabulary work more memorable, eh! 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Coloring (haptic-integrated) English vowels

There are traditions and analogous studies related to synaesthesia and vowel symbolism that link colors with vowel quality, both neurophysiologically and metaphorically. How about if were were to combine some of those frameworks, identifying vowel positioning in the visual field with their relative intensity, energy and hue, roughly speaking: high-front=yellow, mid-front=orange, high & mid-back=green, low central and back=blue, and schwa=dark gray. It might look something like this: We linked this 2007 study by Lowrey and Schrum last year in an earlier post on the phonaesthetics of English vowels. (with "gray-ground," of course!) 

In HICP we use something similar, except typically "coloring" only stressed vowels in words and/or phrases and altering hues as appropriate. (The coloring of the previous sentences uses only basic colors.) There are many different pedagogical systems that use colors mnemonically to connect to vowels, such as blue, red, green, etc., to help students remember vowels. One of those three, "red" colored red, actually does, in fact, match the HICP framework, using the intense red/orange for the mid-front (relatively vibrant) vowel felt sense in (at least) some dialects of English, including my own! (Note: This is a pedagogical system that has developed and been tested in the classroom, primarily.) 

The connections to research are intriguing but not the "prime mover" in what has evolved in the last year.) Forgive the vocal singing performance pun, but what your vowel teaching may need is just a little "color-a-tour-a!"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Asher's (TPR) hypothesis: pointing to a solution for "r" and "l" pronunciation

Here is a nice review/critique of a 2002 article by McClelland done in 2007 by James Asher ("Godfather" of the Total Physical Response Teaching Approach.) Asher's work was among the most influential in forming my understanding of the role of the body and brain in instruction. What he proposes, using basic TPR methodology (If you are not up to speed on that, check here.), is that a series of commands be used to have learners point to objects or pictures of objects in the visual field that have the r/l distinction as critical to understanding--after the command is given. For example, locket, rocket, rhyme, lime, liver, river, etc.

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He is challenging readers to try that experiment. I assume his idea has been taken up and tried but I can find no published research as to the outcomes. The HICP/EHIEP version of that idea might be to first follow Asher's protocol and then "finish" with haptic-integrated anchoring of the word, probably using the pedagogical movement pattern (PMP) for 'r' or 'l' (See earlier posts for a description of how that is performed.) Asher is (as always) clearly pointing in the right direction!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Widdowson's Error II: Focus on form during "communicative" activities

Following up on the previous post, here is a 2010 study by Ellis looking at how corrective feedback and intervention happens in what he refers to as "communicative" classroom instruction. What is typical and fascinating is that at no place in the description of the study does he provide any real detail as to what was actually going on in the classroom--or whether it was being done well. We are to assume that it was, and that we all agree what we mean by communicative--and that most any type of communicative activity is, for research purposes, of equal effectiveness and impact. That is almost standard practice in research related to pronunciation teaching practices.

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You will rarely get much information as to what went on clinically, only pedagogically--which means just providing the name of the technique(s) used. Imagine a psychotherapist trying to convince colleagues of the efficacy of a new protocol simply by focusing on the results, not the details of the process. From that perspective, it is just as reasonable in reviewing many studies of attempts to correct pronunciation in oral communication classes to ask whether the communicative dimensions of the class were conducted well. Unless proven otherwise, we have to assume that the problem with the focus on form may have been also caused by or at least exacerbated by poor communicative instruction.

True to "form," from a HICP/EHIEP perspective, that should almost always be the case: unless the class communicative narrative is strong, haptic anchoring of pronunciation change will not work either. Maybe Widdowson was right after all.

Correcting pronunciation: Widdowson's error

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Recall Widdowson's famous dictum "Learners should communicate to learn, not learn to communicate." It doesn't take a great deal of reading or research to come to the conclusion that "error correction" in pronunciation work is both essential--and probably not a very useful concept. The relationship between what comes out of the learner's mouth and the appropriate target form is, of course, very much context dependent. For example, I have often used Hammerly's 1991 article as an example of structuralist error correction that probably worked. In week 4 of a tightly controlled, audiolingual method-based foreign language program for college freshman, his framework for providing appropriate feedback seems both workable and potentially very effective. (I know that it was, in fact.) However, once you step outside of that type of setting and into today's post communicative methodology, it gets very messy.

In previous posts we have explored many of the factors that can override or at least undermine haptic-based integration of sound change, effective "uptake" of modified forms--most recently visual field distractions. Ironically, the most powerful distractor of all may be genuine, fluent communication, as strange as that might sound at first. Pulling learners away in the middle of good communication and then struggling to get them back on course can often be pointless, at best.  For that to work in HICP both the engaging nature of the ongoing communication and the strong, anchored felt sense of the focus of the brief haptic aside must be in balance.

In spontaneous, efficient haptic integration and anchoring in the classroom, it is as if learner and instructor momentarily are able to "drop out" of the flow of communication to attend to formal feedback and then step back in, returning to the "higher level" work of the lesson naturally, seamlessly--as long as the lesson, itself, is inherently coherent and attention-grabbing as well. The seed of change is well planted and the learner's immediate conscious point of reference and interaction is seemingly unaffected.

Widdowson was actually right--as long as we understand "communication" in our work to also involve "talking directly to the body," in a sense, by passing the frontal "executive" part of the brain during some pronunciation feedback and adjustment. In fact, what I just described, the effective cutaway to attend to form and then return to the narrative, is the basic stuff of hypnotherapy. If that doesn't make sense now, it will later . . . "These are not the Druids you are looking for . . . "

Friday, October 14, 2011

The power of PowerPoint Pronunciation

Photo credit: Wired Magazine
I love this 2003 prophetic piece from Wired Magazine (and the wonderful "visual" from AP/World Photos.) In the "competition" between visual and haptic for the attention of the learner, research linked in several earlier blog posts demonstrate convincingly that visual wins almost every time. In other words, in a very fundamental way, visual schemas can interfere with and work directly against (haptic-integrating) pronunciation change. So, before you fire up that PowerPoint for your next pronunciation lesson, stick that in your visual field (or maybe not) . . . See what I mean?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Haptic "hand" and kinaesthetic sky writing for spelling and pronunciation

Clip art: Clker
This video clip on the 5-step protocol of "Guided Spelling" for new readers has all the necessary EHIEP/HICP components: (1) Read the word, (2) Say it, (3) Write it on paper, (4) Write it in the air with pencil, (5) Close eyes and visualize it, and (6) Open eyes and "erase" the image in the air. (The testimonials from the kids are about all the confirmation that's needed.) With a little tweaking, that set could be adapted to do more with pronunciation, especially if some of the steps were done simultaneously. (See earlier post on the "Haptic Dictionary Pronunciation Protocol.)

Many adults anchor the spelling of a word as well when working principally on pronunciation. If you have worked with Japanese you have almost certainly had students who use "haptic hand-writing" on the palm of their hands, spelling out words as a favoured memorization strategy. When done by some learners, in fact, it is almost spell(ing) binding (or anchoring!)

A "cursive" look at haptic anchoring

With the coming of the digital age, some public schools have begun to eliminate training children in cursive handwriting. Research such as this nice piece by Mangen of University of Stavanger, Norway and Velay of the Université de la Méditerranée, Marseille, France which explores the potential impact on early reading development and general literacy that removing that visual/haptic "nexus" may have for at least some types of learners.

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There is substantial research on the kind of encoding and memory trace created by keyboard input with adults. In essence, the pattern of action of our fingers on the keys in most seems to be not as bound up holistically with the word being inputted. In other words, although we may be a very fast inputter, as we type a new word, or even a long one, the brain is still creating a more linear string that is for the most part temporary. Our fingers may not be of much help later in recalling the pronunciation of most words "digitally," what only the hands and not the full body (including the eyes) were involved in anchoring in the first place.

Not so with cursive encoding the argument goes, especially with early literacy development, requiring full arm, rhythmic movement. Having worked with many pronunciation students over the years who report that their best strategy was writing a word over and over in cursive as they said it out loud, I'm sure there is something to this. With those who know and are "fluid" in cursive--and that is not many younger nonnative speakers now--I still sometimes use that technique, even adding some additional anchoring on the stressed syllable and possibly a special "anchoring" rolling ball pen. Try it. Write (in cursive--sorry no appropriate font available here) if it works.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Wii sample of haptic anchoring of rhythm

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To see how easy it would be to bring haptic anchoring into video and virtual reality, check out any of  the Wii teasers. The touch function in this case is carried out by the hand-held controllers. In the current version there is little active haptic feedback provided directly (it is primarily visual) but some others do have such response systems already. Likewise, the controllers could be set to require a squeeze or button push or move across the visual field on a stressed syllable. The EHIEP "Fight club" protocol (linked here in the "Hollywood" version) uses a very Wii-compatible pedagogical movement pattern, just with boxing gloves on the attacking hands--and the targets, the opponents abs--practicing the 16 basic rhythmic feet of English. (The usual disclaimer: No animals or graduate students were harmed in the production of this YouTube video . . . )

What we (apparently) cannot learn from singing instructors

I've long been intrigued by two perhaps related "symptoms": (a) pronunciation instructors who seem to have a very high tolerance for their students' pronunciation problems (i.e., do not seem to be much affected by them or even perceive them) and (b) instructors who have great difficulty recognizing and dealing with their own "vocal health" issues (e.g, vocal stress, misuse or improper breathing).

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In this article summarized by Science Daily (with no authors noted!) investigating ability of singers to self-assess voice production problems, amateurs (not surprisingly), those over age 50-- and (surprisingly) singing instructors--were shown to be significantly less perceptive in that regard than professional singers. Why that might be the case is not explained, but (from a HICP perspective) it must have something to do with not being able to access the felt sense of the voice, either due to lack of training, age or being in a role where such (at least temporary) self awareness could be counterproductive.

I'm sure you can imagine instructional contexts where differing levels of such voice awareness could, in fact, be productive or beneficial as well. In both cases, either lack of awareness of self or other problematic voice/pronunciation, body-based vocal training such as the Lessac Method (which involves a great deal of  haptic integration) has been shown to be highly effective in establishing and managing voice awareness. If you are a singing (pronunciation) instructor, like I am, there may be much more your can learn from your body about your voice . . . and that of others.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Using Laugh(t)er Yoga in voice work is no laughing matter!

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Clip art: Clker
I have meant to link to the website of Pamela Prather for some time. Although not clearly (or simply) "haptic" in practice, her use of "Laughter Yoga" (not to mention her extensive background, endorsements and glitz) is certainly worth a visit. And, indeed, a "laughing matter!" I have experimented with similar techniques. Working one-on-one as she does with uninhibited, riotous laughter is incredibly powerful in getting the learner into a near perfect state of mind and body for voice--and personal style--change.

As explored in previous posts,  generous, occasional doses of laughter in pronunciation work are invaluable, but if not managed right in the classroom setting that can also undermine the anchoring process, distracting focus on targeted sounds and disciplined practice.  In fact, managing nervous tension has become an explicit component of the EHIEP methodology. If I lived in New York City, however, had a problematic accent and money--or even just to have her "life coach" me for a few sessions--Pamela would seem to be well worth consulting in person . . . at least be worth a couple of good laughs . . .

Monday, October 10, 2011

Seeing (haptic-integrated pronunciation) is (mirror neuron) believing!

This article from makes an important observation. The response of the mirror neurons of dancers is much stronger when they are watching familiar dance elements of new dances that they are familiar with, as opposed to seeing new elements in new dances. They are, in effect, able to learn the complete routines "simply" by watching, without physically being on the dance floor because their brains are mirroring and then committing to kinaesthetic memory a new arrangement of familiar elements.

That explains, in part, why learners are often able to quickly "uptake" haptic feedback or correction by instructors. Learners both see the pedagogical movement patterns and (usually) hear the "correct" form or pronunciation performed by the instructor--which they have been introduced to earlier in the course. Their mirror neurons should lock on the PMPs, which are anchored to the felt sense of the sounds.  It is a case where we learn best what we know already, what we have been touched by or touched. See what I mean?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

12-step learner pronunciation goals, process objectives, benchmarks and haptic anchors

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Let's say a learner has a GOAL of being able to produce an acceptable "th" sound. A HICP-based model that would give the learner a relatively clear "line of march" might look something the following. (Note: I have linked above one of the most well-known "12 step" processes. I was tempted to unpack the rich analogy, theology and all, between that and this process, but I'll leave it for another post!) Here is the HICP 12 step learning model for fixing such a segmental problem, based, in part, on the types of staged treatment plans used by speech pathologists. (HICP seeks to bring to pronunciation teaching several of the key techniques from that discipline--adapted to the classroom, rather than the individual client.) It helps to focus the learner on what needs to be done and frames the tasks so that progress can be identified. Also, of course, feedback and "homework" can be reasonably concrete. For an upper beginner, this might be a two or three-week project. (PO~= process objective; BMK = benchmark)
  1. PO~ Recognize current version and target sound (aural discrimination).
  2. PO~ Achieve new articulation (target sound), in this case both voiced and voiceless.
  3. PO~ Practice haptic-anchored new articulation.
  4. PO~ Achieve appropriate version of target sound in main word-contexts (initial, medial, final.)
  5. PO~ Practice haptic-anchored sound in contexts.
  6. PO~ Create target word list.
  7. PO~ Practice haptic-anchored word list as necessary.
  8. PO~ Create target phrase list.
  9. PO~ Practice haptic-anchored target phrase list as necessary.
  10. BMK I - Recognize instances (the felt sense) of "current" versions (mispronunciations) in spontaneous speech after the fact.
  11. BMK II - Recognize instances of target version usage in spontaneous speech after the fact.
  12. Goal achieved: Integration of target sound successfully in most contexts.
That protocol is generally appropriate for changing pronunciation at beginning and intermediate levels. Heavily fossilized pronunciation, however, often requires something closer to the "other" 12 step approach!

Alexander's "Floating Head" and great looking haptic anchors

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I have linked to articles and research related to the Alexander Technique several times before. The felt sense of upper body freedom and movement that is a primary goal of that system--a sensation of the head seeming to "float" above the shoulders, disconnected from upper body tension--is well worth exploring. (Even better, do a course yourself. A bit pricey but well worth it as a HICP instructor if you experience any chronic upper body stiffness and rigidity.)

One result of good upper body fluidity is that with correct breathing the head and upper torso will typically nod forward slightly when one is emphasizing a point in speaking. (That is generally the case in English but other languages may  communicate that function in many different ways and directions.) Ideal haptic anchoring, bringing the hands together on a stressed element in the visual field, results in a similar, distinctly felt but almost imperceptible upper torso nod from the observer's perspective. Although not a substitute for Alexander training, the "Exercise 1 - Posture" on the website will give you a very good felt sense of optimal upper body movement or engagement in haptic anchoring. It certainly has my "nod of approval!"

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hand signs and symbols in HICP

I have described the pedagogical movement patterns (PMP) of the hands in HICP work in various ways: sign language-like, choral conducting, baseball hand signals, ballet-like, etc. The best analogy for me has always been classical dance of Japan and India. Having attended many dance performances in both traditions, the use of hand and arm movement still seems to me to best illustrate the ideal felt sense of PMPs in our work. The problem with bringing in those artistic "hands," has always been the lack of a description or analysis accessible to outsiders, not those of the culture.

Clip art: Clker
This link to an article by Parimal Phadke in a less-than-scholarly website (w/apologies, of course), is one of the best I have seen in conveying the meaning of the hand and foot engagement in (some) Indian classical dance. The "take away" from the piece, is that the hand and arm movements--from that cultural perspective--do not have intrinsic meaning, are not associated with baseball or iconic gestures, but, instead, serve to give "rhythmic form" to the dance so that the artistic expression can be more freely presented.

And so it is with HICP: the PMPs need to be learned at some level initially for the process to work. The PMPs of each of the six protocols take about 30 minutes to learn sufficiently so that the instructor can begin to integrate them regularly into the classroom instruction. If you do or have done or love interpretative dance or a related form, you are a step ahead. Or, might want to start here . . . HICP hand and arm movements across the visual field should not be thought of as conveying any deep "social meaning" or connection to common conversational gestures. They comprise but a form to put the dance in . . .

Friday, October 7, 2011

Better looking (and longer) stressed vowels

Linked is a great Linguist list post from 1995 by Laura Koenig that presents just about every way imaginable for getting learners to notice and remember lexical stress (and related vowel lengthening), including several hand clapping variants and using rubber bands. Most are visual/cognitive with no overt use of movement or touch. Judy Gilbert's workshops all come with free kazoo and rubber band. Just in terms of haptic anchoring, stretching a rubber band to anchor vowel length seems to work pretty well. 

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One reason that we don't use rubber bands is that the upper torso motion involved, expanding the chest with lateral hand and arm motion as the chin goes up, creates an anchored felt sense that is not generally within the normal range of motion used in spontaneous speaking--unless of course you are at the gym. The anchoring done in the visual field should involve natural, "bobbing-like" torso nods, which serves to coordinate diaphragmatic breathing involved in producing stressed syllables such as in clapping. (In addition, the rubber band touch involved is continuous, often lacking a sharp, defined point of contact for stress anchoring.) 
I do, however, highly recommend the use of chest expanders for general conditioning and developing good upper body strength, breathing and flexibility--and working off stress. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Clap-haptic improvement of motor, cognitive and pronunciation skills

In a study to investigate the effect of clapping hands on affect and cognitive processing, by Sulkin and Brodsky at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, reported in Science Daily, it was discovered, among other things, " . . . that children who spontaneously perform hand-clapping songs in the yard during recess have neater handwriting, write better and make fewer spelling errors." Young adults, " . . . once they start clapping, . . . report feeling more alert and in a better mood  . . . more focused and less tense."
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Clapping on stressed syllables is among the most common haptic techniques used in English language teaching, as well. In informal surveys of experienced and novice instructors, however, it appears that clapping, if used at all, is generally employed only in beginning stages of instruction with adults. (In children, the "clapping period" appears to be between the ages of 7 and 10.)

Using clapping in pronunciation work, although potentially effective, especially in anchoring rhythm patterns, requires an instructor who is comfortable with a higher level of physical engagement in the classroom, in general. (There are, however, some other issues related to effectiveness of repeated haptic anchoring which are addressed in other blogposts as well.) It is probably not necessary to work at the level of Marsha Chan--of whom I am a big fan--but one must be a bit more gesticular and outgoing than average, as are most pronunciation teachers. Are you a clapper? If so, according to this research, you deserve a hand!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cooperative Attending Skills Training for ESL students and haptic feedback

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I was not aware that this article by Corrine Cope and myself from 1999 on "attending skill" training was still accessible. (The linked Eric version is a relatively poor quality pdf, but still readable.) It provides what I think is still an excellent framework for creating very focused, peer monitoring group conversation where students can work on integrating in new and corrected sounds or words or phrases or strategies into their spontaneous speech. I have used some version of attending skill training in virtually every ESL/EFL class I have taught (of any size and level) and I recommend it highly. In addition to assisting students in becoming simply better listeners, it provides them with a (relatively) stress free and supportive setting where they can  experiment with new language and where peers can actually be of real value in helping them do that.

Two "haptic" applications:  (1) Learners are relaxed to the point in speaking that they have a much better chance of staying tuned in to the "felt sense" of their voice, and, consequently are more likely to detect (unobtrusively) haptic anchored-errors or changes, and (2) when peers observe a problem with a targeted element of pronunciation in one of the speakers, they, or the instructor can provide appropriate "haptic feedback," that is (possibly) saying the word or phrase using a haptically anchored corrected version or request that the speaker try to provide it in the debriefing session.

It can be clinical pronunciation work at its best--in part probably because attending skill training was developed in counseling psychology in the first place. It can also change the way you "attend to" integrating sound change in the classroom.

Very touching: virtual inter- and intra-personally anchored emotion in HICP

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When we attempt to anchor a new or changed word, speaking it while haptically anchoring the stressed vowel, for example, the expressiveness that accompanies that action conveys or encodes the emotion of the moment with it, whatever it is. (One "underwhelming" emotion of general pronunciation work, for instance, tends to be either boredom or apathy.) In 2007 "Virtual Interpersonal Touch" experiments by Bailenson at Stanford, participants were quite capable of conveying and interpreting seven basic emotions (disgust, anger, sadness, joy, fear, interest and surprise) via a joystick. (The fact that contemporary college sophomores could do that should come as no surprise . . . )

The same applies to the "intra-personal touching" anchoring of HICP/EHIEP. In addition to the four basic types of anchors (ways in which the two hands make contact, i.e., light tap, touch-and-hold, touch-and-push, and brushing past) a much larger set of emotions are, of course, available. Not only is it possible to intentionally and by design articulate an anchored word with a chosen emotion as it is spoken, such as joy or surprise--or a basic feeling such as pleasure or warmth, it is often essential to do that for efficient assignment to memory.

In other words, if anchoring is done with a consciously selected and somatically experienced emotion or sensation, the chance of "up take" occurring (to use the more technical, "focus-on-form" term currently applied in such cases today) is greatly enhanced. Do you find your pronunciation work enjoyable, moving and "touching?" If not, you should.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Haptic anchoring with eye tracking: for right handers only?

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Early in the development of HICP, I explored using eye tracking to enhance anchoring, a technique used in many disciplines and therapies. (See earlier posts.) What I discovered quickly was that that technique seemed to work well for some but, for others, it could be disconcerting or even disorienting to the point of feelings of vertigo and nausea! This 2008 research summarized by Munger of Cognitive Daily by Logan and Roediger, helps to explain why.

For the strongly right hand dominant, those procedures, in some contexts (such as recalling lists), can be highly effective. For others, the eye saccade exercise seems to downgrade performance. When working with individuals I still may use significant eye tracking of hand movement, but not if they are ambidextrous (as I am) or occasionally left handed, depending on their real eye dominance. In class work, likewise, we have learned that even excessive repetitions of basic haptic anchoring, which do not require explicit eye engagement (which should NEVER be necessary if done correctly anyway) should be avoided.

What is interesting is that a similar "follow the windshield wiper" technique is used to desensitize emotionally traumatized (left or right handed) patients in psychotherapy. You might try that version on "haptically or methodologically challenged" colleagues or students, in fact. It works "both ways," so to speak . . .

Monday, October 3, 2011

Preparing hands (and body) for haptic anchoring and ballet

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Here is a 1937 newspaper article describing an absolutely amazing exercise reportedly used by Russian ballerinas in developing hands that are " . . . graceful in repose, direct and free in movement . . . ", an almost ideal "felt sense" for haptic integration work.  After you have practiced it yourself daily for about a week, begin having learners do this deceptively simple routine occasionally, especially if the class is tense or not focused, before haptic anchoring (where hands touch in various ways on stressed syllables or words.) Follow the directions carefully and repeat exactly as prescribed. The efficient, systemic effect on the body is striking, the best I'm aware of . . . hands down (gracefully in repose, of course!)

Dynamic HIPoeces/HICPR Blog view

I am trying out this new dynamic setting for a bit just to see how it might work for the new HICPR (Haptic-integrated Clinical Pronunciation Research) blog--which will probably go up next month. In this format, viewers can select different displays themselves. It is currently in "magazine" view, which shows the top few lines of blogposts, requiring viewers to click on the post itself, not the linked material to read the complete post. It does not allow access to the current sidebars or direct archive access but may be an ideal venue for HICP practitioners' field reports. Will flip back to the "mothership" regularly, however.

Reflecting on "deliberate practice" vs rote repetition in pronunciation teaching

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Here is a nice presentation by Brabeck and Jeffrey (2007) on what they term "Practice for knowledge acquisition" that uses the term, deliberate practice, in summarizing the research literature on potentially repetitive classroom practice. The key to deliberative practice is said to be: ". . . goal-directed rehearsal paired with reflection on problem-solving processes." For example, the "goal" of practicing the "th" sound is not to pronounce it correctly but the words in which it happens, in the contexts in which the word occurs. More important, however, is the place or quality of reflection in HICP/EHIEP, as opposed to the usual pronunciation class approach.

Typically, reflection, that is conscious attention to goal of practice, happens primarily before the repetition exercises and after, as follow up. In EHIEP, the critical role of attention occurs during articulation and oral practice, in the form of the "felt sense" of the sound being anchored. As discussed exhaustively in earlier posts, that is possible due to the nature of haptic anchoring and how that anchoring is available for recall without inordinately interfering with spontaneous speech and meaning creation.

We need a new term, one that captures the function of reflection in making practice relevant (deliberate) but from a haptic perspective. How about "hapticulation" or "hapticoflection" or "hapticonation?" Anyway. Reflect on that and post your haptical-somatic impressions here!